Four Rooms brings home the (Francis) Bacon for Channel 4

It's Dragons' Den meets Deal or No Deal meets Antiques Roadshow - and it's good...

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Good things always seem to come in fours. Four Non Blondes, Four Seasons in One Day by Crowded House, for he’s a jolly good fellow…you catch my drift.

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It’s with this in mind that I wasn’t surprised, but still delighted, when Channel 4’s latest foray into jeopardised infotainment arrived on my telly at 8pm last night.

Behold, it’s Dragons’ Den meets Deal or No Deal meets Antiques Roadshow… yes, it’s the televisual opium of the people that square-eyed post-Marxist couch potatoes have been waiting for, and it’s double strength.

To cut an hour-long story short, here’s what happens:

A member of the public arrives toting a curiosity that they’re looking to get shot of.  Instead of pretending they’re on the show for an insurance valuation, they admit they’re greedy (or desperate/confused) and, as P Diddy might put it (see, I’m down with the kids), it rapidly becomes “all about the Benjamins”.

Enter four hard-arsed antique dealers – think three Lovejoys on a power trip, oh, and a beautiful Gothic Lady Jane.  After perusing the items and eyeing up the owner – our “experts” retire to their rooms (hence the name of the show) and await the commencement of pecuniary battle. 

Now the power is with the seller.  They can enter any room and start negotiations first – but here’s the catch, any offer they receive is only valid whilst they’re in that room.  Yeah, baby – you want pressure, you got it.

And so it begins… almost always with a visit to Emma Hawkins’s room.  Why the largely male contestant base of a certain age is so keen to squeeze in a small room with the attractive and wealthy, leather trouser-clad, feline-faced beauty remains unclear, but generally that’s the way it goes.

And at this stage the fun really begins.  Will the owner of the object, be that a slashed Francis Bacon oil painting or a Norman Foster table (yes, he makes tables as well as gherkins), sell to the right dealer for the right price? 

Although watching fiscal negotiations between two abject bores might not sound like the most compelling telly, it’s an oddly fascinating experience.  The dealers attempt to mask their interest in items over which they’ve enjoyed recurring wet dreams while devious vendors attempt to play the pseudo-dragons off against one another. Throw in the occasional curve ball – let’s roll a dice to decide the price – and this warms up to be a very tasty TV dinner indeed.

But no programme these days could be complete without the Bullseye moment (“look what you could have won”), and this show delivers it like a silver service waiter on, erm, ice.

When the deal’s been done, all four traders and the contestant regroup in the lobby and the final sale price is revealed.  “You paid how bloody much?”  Yes, humiliation is almost certainly guaranteed for someone as, one by one, the dealers reveal the maximum price they “would have paid” (sure) and either the overpaying bidder or the ripped-off contestant go home with a red face. 

Just as you have time to catch your breath, the whole thing starts again.  It’s simple, it’s formulaic and it’s easy to understand… it’s the perfect way to while away a Tuesday evening as time’s winged chariot hurries near.

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What with this “super-format” arriving, the dumping of Big Brother and the commissioning of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, Channel 4 is rapidly becoming one of my favourite places to turn on, tune in and veg out.