Nice beveling, Andy!

Nice beveling, Andy!

I’ve been watching Changing Rooms.

A whole internet of TV to choose from, and I choose Changing Rooms. Episodes back-to-back. In this hot weather, with the windows open, one imagines my neighbours thinking, “No, that can’t be…” as they catch snatches of Phil Burns’ 1 urgently upbeat theme tune tootling through the haze.

It’s strange revisiting a once-TV phenomenon like this. Something that came along in 1996, perkily changed lifestyle programming forever – and neighbours’ homes less permanently – then DIY’d a sudden death in 2004 and was never spoken of again.

The several or so episodes I watched were spread across the series’ lifespan, opening with decoupage in Woolton Village, Liverpool, and a cream and biscuit colour scheme from Graham Wynne. Decoupage. Graham Wynne. I’m certain no-one’s typed either phrase for 10 years.

"Here's a handy tip to age it - teabags!"

“Here’s a handy tip to age it – teabags!”

"I'm *really* happy with it, Carol"

“I’m *really* happy with it, Carol”

Watching the show feels like attending a party where everyone’s there under sufferance, but keen to jolly things along. There’s a tinge of desperation to each exchange, as people who aren’t necessarily witty look for humour – “Ah! Mr Kane! How are you getting on with that fretwork?”/”I’ll give you fretwork in a minute, gal! ” And interjecting regularly are those shrill musical stings, as if anxiously shuffling guests from buffet to bar area.

I kept watching.

"Oh you!"

“Oh you!”

Quintessential shot of LLB essaying his bold paint choice to this week's possibly LGB couple

Quintessential shot of LLB essaying his bold paint choice to this week’s possibly LGB couple

By the time I got to the 1998 episodes 2 we have the Changing Rooms leitmotif captured in the opening titles – Graham’s tart “oh you!” expression as he busily exits a room. There are other things going on too. Linda Barker brings out a big stencil, but insists it need not be naff; the show now aware of its own cliches. And there are same-sex couples joining in the fun but it’s never a thing, which is quietly impressive.

As I continue, a second generation of designers arrive. The Tank Girl-esque Laura McCree who’s desperate to ‘do’ the banter but can’t quite put it together. Oliver Heath unpacks technical drawings and scaffold poles and then there’s Michael Jewitt. I refuse to pop a grab of him onto the site, because I got a real thrill from not only realising that’s a name I’d comprehensively forgotten, but also a face too. Michael Jewitt, eh? Used to watch him on Wednesday nights. There’s also an evolution within the old guard. By 2002 Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen had (PVC) trousered a more grown-up gig on BBC2 with Home Front: Inside Out, and it’s notable that here he begins to refer to his design ideas a little loftily as “the scheme”.

I actually think LLB has been ill-served by television, because he’s a natural and effortless educator. A Johnny Ball in a massive shirt. But it’s he who quickly sinks Changing Rooms when Carol Smiley exits in 2003.

Captured here is the moment the leak is sprung. It’s all about to happen in Conisborough on Changing Rooms

It’s wrong, isn’t it? That level of self-awareness. Sure, you could argue it’s prescient – this we-know-we’re-a-bit-crap-really style of presentation has become the standard mode of address for some of the BBC’s more arch entertainment shows. But on Changing Rooms? You’ve got to be in the moment, not outside it, smirking. As a result, the feeling of urgency goes 3 and the programme brought down the (distressed in wax) shutters the following year.

We didn’t want our show trying to be clever. We wanted a clutch of good-hearted, resoundingly average folk coming together to make a nice thing within a spuriously prescribed time-frame. We wanted medium-density fun.

Ends

  1. Of course he has a website
  2. The point at which the show transferred from BBC2 to BBC1
  3. …along with those bluebottle-esque musical stings
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2 Thoughts on “Scumble glaze

  1. Stuart Ian Burns on August 1, 2013 at 9:38 pm said:

    Oh all the episodes! The Woolton Village is the one I remember because I was friends with someone who lived in the same street in a house with exactly the same layout. Watching it being made over on television was erie.

  2. Billy Hicks on August 11, 2013 at 11:01 pm said:

    Great to see OTT back 😀

    Hard to believe that for the Hicks family of 1998 this was ultimate family television, before ‘Millionaire’ arrived and dominated household viewing for the next year. Main memory is the episode where LLW completely ruined some poor woman’s house (from what I remember the floor became a sort of chess-table checkerboard pattern for one) and on seeing it she burst into tears, although interestingly back then such emotion was clearly seen as a bit inappropriate for such a programme and her breakdown was only shown in a series of still pictures. A post-credit sequence had a sombre Smilie reveal that she had the whole room stripped bare again almost immediately after filming.

    The clip attached is horrendously terrible for all the reasons you describe.

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