CULTURE: Buildings' Celebrity Death Match; Can BBC2's New Blockbuster Series Restoration Inject New Impetus into the Conservation of Britain's Built Environment, or Is It Simply a Beauty Contest? Terry Grimley Looks at the Contenders
Byline: Terry Grimley
You've probably noticed that the BBC is launching a series called Restoration tomorrow night. Apart from being extensively trailed on air, it's also been getting the epic billboard treatment. It is, as the BBC says, the major television event of the summer, and as well as ten one-hour programmes there's a nice book for the coffee table.
The series draws attention to the UK's historic buildings at risk by focusing on just 30 of them, evenly spread across the country with three to each region.
In some respect it recalls Spirit of the Age, a BBC architectural blockbuster from 30 years ago. But in the spirit of the modern age of television, it is celebrity-heavy, with not only Griff Rhys Jones to front it but a well-known personality to plead the case for each building (Birmingham's Newman Brothers coffin furniture factory gets Ulrika Jonsson).
And in a nod to the age of competitive and interactive television (in fact, Restoration was made for BBC by Endemol UK Productions, who developed the UK version of Big Brother as well as Changing Rooms and Ground Force) Restoration is both com-petitive and interactive. Viewers will be able to vote for a regional winner from the three buildings featured in each programme, plus an overall winner which will receive the funds necessary to restore it.
The snag, of course, is that this will leave 29 buildings facing further dereliction. But this is where wishful thinking kicks in. It is hoped that the publicity provided by the series will help each of these buildings -or, rather, those campaigning on their behalf -to raise the necessary money from elsewhere (an aspiration somewhat undermined by the poster campaign, with its slogan 'Restoration? Dereliction? You Decide.'). But time is surely of the essence for Bank Hall, a ruined and inexplicably neglected Jacobean house in Lancashire, or Broomfield House in London, which is probably closer than any of these buildings to vanishing altogether.
The 30 contenders are a fascinatingly diverse bunch which give a sense of just how rich and varied Britain's historic built environment is. The are nine houses, two music halls, four fake castles, a windmill, two chapels, four factories, a fort, a Second World War POW camp, a cemetery, a mausoleum, a swimming baths, a port, a tower and a TB sanatorium.
None of these buildings is famous, apart from Arkwright's Mill in Cromford, Derbyshire, one of the pioneering sites of the Industrial Revolution, which has a surprising conservation deficit. Coalhouse Fort, built to defend the Thames in the late Victorian period when it was thought French ironclads might attack London by that route, certainly looks a bit big to overlook. The same might be said of Nairn's lino factory in Kircaldy, which once covered the nation's floors. …