Private investment

Thursday, November 9, 2006 by

Thankfully, no-one in the office noticed I was blubbing silently.

Sometimes programmes roll along with a killer format. The Heist for one. That was C4′s 2004 series in which a group of ex-cons were challenged to perform a series of audacious robberies while the camera rolled. Sounds great, right? Here’s another: A group of real people are dropped into a fictional town, populated entirely by actors and assigned to solve a “murder”. That was BBC1′s The Murder Game, from 2003. And then there was Wanted. A decade ago, it blazed across C4, sending contestants out across the UK, charged with avoiding bounty hunters while completing daily tasks. And how about the Beeb’s 2004 effort Spy? Members of the public are put through real-life MI5-style training in the art of espionage. A winner, surely. 

However, aside from just sounding ace in synopsis, all these shows share another common trait – they came and went with barely a ripple. I’m the only person I know who watched The HeistThe Murder Game is acknowledged only as a Saturday night flop. Wanted proved 10 years ahead of its time. And Spy was bunged out on BBC2 in a teatime slot following the departure of The Simpsons with little promotion… and little effect.

So, here’s hoping C4′s upcoming The Secret Millionaire manages to dodge the bullet seemingly reserved for these neat, high-concept shows. The format in one line: A millionaire integrates himself within a community and – hiding his wealth – secretly decides who is most deserving of a £20k cash injection. It’s a great idea, and pretty good in realisation. Okay, we’re firmly in Faking It territory here with deception and life lessons a-plenty, but I have to admit I’ve just watched the preview DVD from C4, and I was genuinely moved. 

The money bags in question is Ben Way, a twentysomething millionaire who becomes a volunteer working at The Pedro Club, a youth centre on Hackney’s “murder mile”. During his 10-day stint, he integrates well with the locals, attempting to find out where an investment would best help the community. Come the final reel, when Way hands out the cheques – and, don’t worry C4, I won’t mention who gets the dosh – I was sobbing quietly. 

It’s a powerful format. Not only a neat idea, but over its hour run time, there’s a real sense of catharsis. Aside from the fact it’s gratifying to see people who contribute a vast amount to their community finally being rewarded, it’s a huge relief when Way’s able to reveal just who he is – although his sense of humilty prevents him from saying, “I’m a millionaire”, which is kind of what you want to hear. “I run a very successful business,” is as broad as he gets. 

So, let’s see what happens to this latest killer concept. It’s on Channel 4 on Wednesday, November 29.


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