The Million Pound Property Experiment

Tuesday, December 23, 2003 by

Making TV programmes is a bit like property developing. You spot an emerging trend, jump in to exploit it, and by the time your plans come to fruition you find everyone else is at it, the market’s overcrowded and the value of your stock is on the slide.

Two years in the making, BBC2′s The Million Pound Property Experiment met the television schedules slap-bang in the middle of a deluge of property programmes. The genre fast on its way to becoming the biggest stick with which to beat-up unimaginative commissioning execs, on first glance the show looked to be another worthless wannabe. And with Channel 4′s holy trio of Property Ladder, Grand Designs and Other People’s Houses covering all the bases, who needed another home “how to” anyway – particularly one fronted by two of BBC daytime’s more unpalatable ghouls?

However, what The Million Pound Property Experiment has proved over eight highly enjoyable weeks is that in every market there’s always room for more if that “more” is something imaginative and well made. And, against all the odds, this series has also managed to emerge as something truly distinctive, thanks to the unique relationship it adopted with its own presenters, designers Justin Ryan and Colin McAllister. Sparky, over-dramatic, absurdly verbose and highly opinionated the pair eschewed their leaden daytime personas and quickly made for the most watchable couple on television. Less your traditional presenters and more the subjects of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, we’ve been witness to Justin and Colin’s spontaneous quarrels, deliberations and pontifications. And funnily enough seeing them at their most tactless and fallible – a million miles away from the groomed persona of the presenter – has made the pair all the more endearing.

With tonight’s episode being basically an extended post-mortem on the whole experiment, reuniting “the boys” (the accepted term to describe them, it seems) with their erstwhile project manager Nigel Leck, it became apparent that, aside from the huge whack of cash they’d risen for charity, the note that would most stick with all the participants was the sense of the damage done to relationships. This was an extraordinary conclusion for a mainstream lifestyle programme to make, but one that – yet again – marked out The Million Pound Property Experiment as something different from the rest of the pack. As they relived the failures and successes on the way to their million pound house there was barely concealed hurt and recrimination between Nigel and the boys. As Colin railed against Nigel for only ever giving them good advice after the event the atmosphere was understandably strained, but bursting with electricity. Great television, in short. Nigel’s later admission that he’d withdrawn from the experiment halfway though due to his depression about the way things were going was an equally brave moment, and worlds away from the general chitter-chatter of “wow-factors” and Belfast sinks that proliferate the genre.

The recriminations, however, finally gave way to rapprochement and some overall sense of satisfaction at a job well done. And that was all to the good because, despite the vicarious pleasure in watching other people disagree, one couldn’t help but ultimately root for all the parties involved. For the boys who’d climbed the property ladder with wit, anguish and a sense of adventure. For Nigel who’d endured some hideous slurs against his professionalism (“I don’t give a toss what Nigel says” commented Justin at one stage, prompting Nigel to demand an apology upon viewing the footage back), kept the engine room stoked up and – thanks to his acknowledged experience in the trade – shouldered a vast slice of the responsibility for the whole thing coming good.

Unlike Jamie Olivier, Justin Ryan and Colin McAllister were never obvious candidates for a public reappraisal. Popping up during the day to chirpily offer tips in “juicing up” that house always lent them an air of disposability and kept them off the main television byways where their crimes would have been magnified. Nonetheless, The Million Pound Property Experiment has been their Jamie’s Kitchen, and their rehabilitation equally fulsome. And to do all that in the now saturated market of property programming is an achievement indeed – their value is skyrocketing.


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