Such is the total state of this country that when I first saw the title of this series I assumed it was a euphemism for Britain. As in: here’s Worst House on the Street, a hard-hitting Channel 4 documentary about the UK housing crisis. Next, set the tape – as my mum would say – for Sick Man of Europe, an unflinching look at our shrinking economy, how countries closed their borders one by one to UK air travel during the pandemic, and … you get my drift. How grim. But, also, nice one, Channel 4. What else should a public broadcaster be doing while the ideological – sorry, formal – process of selling it off continues? You get the TV programming you deserve.
Then I Googled Worst House on the Street (Channel 4). Oh. It’s another property programme. The Place in the Sun of 2022, if you like. The logical outcome of a situation, where, even if you have a place in the sun – which, obviously, you don’t – you can’t get to it because all the flights are cancelled. And a place in the sun is deeply concerning because Europe is on fire. What does a nation primed over generations to be infatuated with home ownership need in such end times? A classic Channel 4 property programme about how whacking a £4,750 porch on to the front of your “ultimate doer-upper” could add 2% to the value. What the Worst Country on Mainland Europe needs, in short, is Worst House on the Street.
This warped mirror held up to our broken society is presented by a chipper brother and sister duo, Stuart and Scarlette Douglas. They have been renovating properties for 15 years and were on George Clarke’s Flipping Fast, in which six novice teams fought it out over a year to make the biggest profit on their properties. Which sounds about as fun as finding asbestos in your ceiling. The Douglas duo seem lovely even if it’s all a bit gendered: he’s the haggler when it comes to natural stone worktops; she does the sensitive chat about whether to go for flatpack or bespoke built-in wardrobes blah, blah, blah. There are some half-hearted attempts at sibling rivalry, but my cynicism levels are so high now that I found myself wondering if they are even related in real life. They are, and run an aspirational property design and development agency called Kindred Elite. Of course they do.
WHOTS is based on the adage that says you buy the worst house on the best street if you want to maximise profit. Or, find a property show loophole at a time of rising rents, house prices, pay freezes and a dearth of affordable homes. In this case, the worst house is a 1930s three-bed terrace in Purley, Croydon, that costs … £415k. Which, for anyone outside the sick man of Europe, is a perfect example not of picking up a bargain, but the eyewatering extent of our housing crisis. And our mauvaise foi.
Harry, a public affairs consultant, and Yimika, a marketing manager, are in their late 20s. They recently married, and have scraped every penny together to buy the house, paid £15k over the asking price, and have been living with Yimika’s family for a year to save for renovations. One can only assume they must have cancelled their Netflix subscription and put the kibosh on takeaway flat whites, too. Anyway, they’ve got “just” £40k to do up the wreck and plan to move in in six weeks. Cue, leaping off the sofa to scream at the TV: “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?!’”
The rest is like bad graffiti printed on the peeling wallpaper of your mouldy British soul. There’s the near-disaster relating to the removal of a chimney breast. The discovery of, yup, asbestos in the ceiling. The incessant talk of maximising budget, profit, and light. The happy ending, in which three valuations are done and, in direct opposition to reality, they have made a £32k profit. And the increasing pressure on our young couple, as the weeks drag on, the budget dwindles and the momentum of the build wanes. My favourite unintentional-exposition-of-the-patriarchy moment (most property programmes have them lurking in the walls) comes when Harry waxes lyrical about the spreadsheet they created “automatically” calculating their spend. “No, it doesn’t do it automatically,” says Yimika. “I put the figures in.” “Oh,” says Harry. “Ok. Cool. Sorry.”
Look, I’m not being sniffy about property programmes or escapism. I understand that it’s part of the British psyche to watch endless episodes of 24 Hours in A&E, while the NHS is being dismantled. I’ve put in my fair share of Grand Designs hours over the centuries. I had a crush on Sarah Beeny in the 00s, like everyone else. But when you can picture the hand-rubbing execs around the table blue-sky-thinking-up-outside-the-box a property series for an age in which frontline workers are priced out of owning their own home in 98% of the country, you wonder if it has gone too far.