Tv review: George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations

Benjie Goodhart / 15 July 2021

George Clarke returns with more remarkable renovation projects, this time focusing on old commercial and industrial buildings. Plus the best of the rest of this week's TV, including the start of Tokyo 2020.



George Clarke’s Remarkable Renovations, Wednesday 21st July, 9pm, Channel 4

I am not what you’d call handy. When qualities were being doled out, I was given many marvellous attributes – I can hear those laser alarm sensors when I walk into a room, play a tune by hitting myself on the mouth, and raise a single eyebrow in time to music – but in terms of things that are practically useful, I’ve got pretty much nothing. When a lightbulb needs changing, my wife rolls her eyes and asks me if I want to call an electrician.

As a result, our house is basically a litany of jobs simply waiting to be done. We have lived here for five years, and in that time we’ve not even managed to change the curtains in our room that actually seem to magnify the light rather than keep it out. That was a job we swore we’d do in the first week. Instead, we’ve had five years of waking up at dawn.

So I watch programmes like this fabulous new series on Channel 4 with something approaching awe for the individuals involved. The series follows people who are repurposing commercial, industrial or agricultural buildings and turning them into homes. It’s a sort of Grand Designs, but with added recycling. And the projects involved are remarkable.

There are 600,000 unused buildings in the UK, and a third of them are commercial, reports presenter and architect George Clarke. “The digital age is altering our architectural landscape.” Thanks to a relaxation in planning laws, these buildings can now be turned into homes.

Richard and Sarah, a couple from Cornwall, put in a bid for a 19th Century bank building in the Cornish village of St Columb Major, when Lloyds finally closed the branch in 2017. They didn’t expect to win it, with a sealed bid of just £50,000 – but win it they did, securing a fantastic 5,000 square foot property for peanuts.

This programme follows their efforts to convert it into a family home. It’s safe to say, it’s not your average project, from the 2-tonne safe door to the grade-two listed staircase, not to mention the fact that the place is five times the size of your average home. The building itself is a piece of local history, designed by celebrated architect Silvanus Trevail (those Victorians really knew a thing or two about giving kids names!)

Richard and Sarah have set aside a budget of £100,000, and plan to be in in eight months. This, as anyone who has ever watched a property show like this will know, is entirely arbitrary, and the eventual bill will be infinitely larger, and they will be lucky to move in before the middle of the 21st Century. But wow, if it comes off, they’ll have a hell of a place to live.

George Clarke is an engaging and enthusiastic presenter, and Richard and Sarah are a likeable couple with vision and conveniently deep pockets. But these shows live and die by how the build goes. If it is an utter triumph, we are treated to a gorgeous spot of property porn, as we ooh and ahh over how beautiful homes can be. If everything is a complete unmitigated disaster, and a shattered and broken couple are left standing in a six-inch-deep puddle in what is meant to be their living room, we can quietly thank the saints that we are comfily settled on our sofas, and reflect upon the dangers of hubris.

I won’t spoil the ending to this, but suffice to say, it is worth sticking with. And the safe door is put to remarkable use, too.

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Olympics 2020, Friday 23rd July, 12pm, BBC One, and then basically every waking moment on BBC One and Two for the next 16 days

Something bizarre has happened to my mother.

Mum has always regarded sport in roughly the same way she regards a fungal infection: Singularly unpleasant, and to be avoided as much as is humanly possible. I once saw her play tennis, but that was about 45 years ago, and even aged three I could see that her heart wasn’t in it. And she’s always felt the same way about televised sport. On the rare occasions dad put some sport on the telly (Ski Sunday was a winter staple, and the occasional bit of Wimbledon) she’d huffily produce a tapestry or theatrically leave the room. This may, it’s true, have been because dad had a particular interest in watching Chris Evert’s matches, but even so…

When London hosted the glorious 2012 Olympics, she treated the whole thing as an enormous personal inconvenience, and spent weeks in an apoplectic fury about road closures in the city.

But in recent years, mum has had a complete volte face. It turns out she can’t get enough of sport on TV. During the last Olympics, she and I would speak every day about the forthcoming action, and the previous evenings highlights. That was assuming she would even take my call, depending on the state of the current Taekwondo bout she’d be watching.

After the Olympics, things pretty much returned to normal, but in recent months, it’s happened again. She was absolutely hooked on the European Championships. She watched more games than I did – even if her grasp of football’s finer points continues to be somewhat shaky. (She has a habit of referring to a 0-0 draw as ‘love-all’, and calls half time ‘the interval’, as if she were at the opera.)

But it isn’t just football. She’s been watching snooker. And tennis. And the other day, she announced to me that she and a friend were meeting up to watch the Tour de France. My flabber is well and truly gasted.

Now, with the cheers (and tears) from the Euros barely dying (or drying) on our lips, and the flags barely taken down off a fleet of car aerials, the Olympics are upon us. And mum is agog with excitement.

She’s not the only one.

Tokyo 2020 promises to be a spectacular event – a year late, and well worth the wait. It’s been a pretty ruddy awful patch in many of our lives, and there is still much to be concerned about. But the simple fact that the games are going ahead at all is a triumph of human resilience, scientific ingenuity, and hope. This isn’t just a sporting extravaganza. It is a beacon of joy, and one that we all deserve.

The opening ceremony takes place on Friday 23rd July, at 11am. It should be spectacular (as opening ceremonies invariably are), showcasing the best of Japanese culture and technological prowess. Clare Balding and Alex Scott will introduce coverage, and Hazel Irvine and Andrew Cotter will commentate on proceedings.

After which, the games will commence. (Actually, rather confusingly, they start before the opening ceremony – Team GB’s women’s football team plays its first match against Chile at 8:15am on Wednesday).

The BBC’s coverage is always magnificent, and this time should be no different. Sadly, due to a cheeky little bug that’s been doing the rounds (you may have read about it) the coverage will come from a studio in Salford rather than downtown Tokyo. The BBC has made a great fuss of the fact that presenters will be in a brand new virtual reality studio ‘allowing for a stunning backdrop of the host city’. I suppose it’s better than seeing Clare and company looking out over Salford Asda’s car park.

There will be over 350 hours of coverage on BBC One and Two, covering 33 sports. Each day, Hazel Irvine and Gabby Logan will helm proceedings from 9am to 3pm, after which Jason Mohammad will do 3-6pm. Clare Balding and Alex Scott will host ‘Today at the Games’ from 7:30pm-9pm each evening, and then Olympics Extra will be fronted by Jeanette Kwakye and Nihal Arthanayake from 9-10pm on BBC Two.

Commentary and analysis will come from a panel described as ‘some of the nation’s most loved Olympians,’ including Chris Hoy, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Katherine Grainger, Nicola Adams, Rebecca Adlington, Victoria Pendleton and, er, Michael Johnson, who will no doubt be surprised to be referred to as a British favourite.

As regards names to watch… well, it’s the usual roll call of greatness. Adam Peaty, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, Dina Asher Smith, Laura Kenny, Tom Daley, Max Whitlock, lots of people in boats. But keep an interested eye out for Sky Brown, too. She may have a name that sounds like it describes the weather so far this summer, but she’s actually a genuine medal hope in the skateboarding (yes, that’s an Olympic event now). And – get ready to feel ridiculously old – she was born in 2008.

Anyway, for the sports fans among you, settle in for an absolute feast of entertainment over the next couple of weeks. And for the sport haters – take a leaf out of my mum’s book. Give it a go. You might surprise yourself.

The best… and the rest:

Saturday 17th July

Charles and Diana’s Wedding: The Revelations, 9pm, Channel 5: Hmmm. Revelations might be pushing it a bit, but this is a documentary looking back at the week of the royal wedding 40 years ago, and what it meant to the nation.

Sunday 18th July

Baptiste 1/6, 9pm, BBC One: Second series for the French detective played by Tcheky Karyo, who is summoned to Hungary to investigate the disappearance of the ambassador’s (Fiona Shaw) family.

Professor T, 9pm, ITV: Ben Miller plays a cleanliness-obsessed Professor of Criminology from Cambridge University who is called upon to help investigate a serial rapist. Co-stars Frances de la Tour.

Monday 19th July

Killing Escobar, 9pm, BBC Two: Feature-length documentary about a Scottish mercenary, Peter McAleese, who was hired by a rival drugs cartel to murder cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, with some very messy results.

Taken: Hunting the Sex Traffickers 1/3, 9pm, Channel 4: New documentary series following a police investigation into a human trafficking gang taking women from South America and forcing them into prostitution in the UK.

Tuesday 20th July

Secrets of the Museum, 8pm, BBC Two: A return of the documentary series going behind the scenes at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Uprising 1/3, 9pm, BBC One: New documentary series from Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen (not that one) looking back at a devastating house fire that killed 13 black Britons in 1981 and led to an uprising. Continues over the next two nights.

Our Family Farm Rescue with Adam Henson ¼, 9pm, Channel 5: The Countryfile presenter investigates how farmers are diversifying to make ends meet, from food-to-plate dining to setting up luxury accommodation.

Wednesday 21st July

Les Dawson: The Lost Tapes, 9pm, ITV: Unseen clips and family footage of the legendary funny man, who would have been 90 this year.

Thursday 22nd July

Inside Hampton Court 1/2, 8pm, Channel 5: A behind the scenes look at Henry VIII’s favourite palace.

Friday 23rd July

Reclaiming Amy, 9pm, BBC Two: It’s a decade since the troubled but magnificently talented singer’s death. Family and friends remember her, and reflect on how her death has shaped their lives.

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