Magazine article The Spectator

Television Sage Advice

Magazine article The Spectator

Television Sage Advice

Article excerpt

To the Manor Reborn (BBC1, Thursday) is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant programmes in the history of television. But then I'm biased for the Rat is in it, and what a splendid, handsome and talented young fellow he has turned out to be. If you looked very carefully about halfway through episode one, you'll have caught him standing facing interior designer Russell Sage, holding a sheet of wallpaper or something. And then later, you'll have caught him again being told by Sage to remember something he'd forgotten. Superb! The boy is a natural, he'll go far, and as his proud stepfather I shall accept nothing less than the highest offers for his services. If, say, you're a trillionaire Turkmenistani homosexual and you want a hunky catamite for your harem, don't even think of calling me with an offer of less than two million (not incl. transfer fee).

No, it's OK. I don't really want to sell the Rat into gay slavery. And I am hugely proud of him. He has now fallen on his feet working for a firm of high-end architects, using skills he picked up as an apprentice working for Sage. Sage is the interior-design genius who did the suite Kate Middleton stayed in at the Goring Hotel the night before her wedding; and also, the new interiors at the Savoy Grill, the Zetter Townhouse, Stapleford Park, and so on. He's kind of the Anti Philippe Starck: sumptuous, eccentric, cluttered, slightly frayed, trad English craftsmanship, lush fabrics, antlers, stuffed cats.

And now Sage has been given - as they say on TV - his toughest challenge yet. He has been charged with completely revamping a National Trust property so as to make it fit for the modern age: no more oppressive rope barriers, no more things you're not allowed to touch, no more anally retentive edicts forbidding any paint scheme that isn't a proven part of the house's history.

You can see why purists might object to this approach. Tudor ceiling roses, for example: were they ever painted or were they always left white in order to reflect as much light as possible? Clearly this matters, for if it's the second then Sage's plan to pick them out in colour might suddenly look rather tacky. If, on the other hand, there's precedent . . .

This tension is, of course, what lends to the project that vital quality of 'jeopardy'.

What all reality TV producers fear is that if the viewer doesn't imagine that the whole edifice could collapse at any moment he'll get bored and stop watching. So, for example, it is an iron law of any archeological dig involving Tony Robinson that he has just half an hour to complete it before they build a multistorey car park on top of it and history is erased for ever. …

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