Let’s clear out shows about hoarders and hospitals

It's time for documentaries to branch out, says Alison Graham

Because I’m a professional television critic I have to keep a clear head, however much I’d love my viewing to be accompanied by bottles of chilled champagne, like Gogglebox’s Steph and Dom. So I am primly abstemious during my working days. Of course, there are times when I’ve fantasised about having a drinks trolley in my office, just like Don Draper’s in Mad Men, though RT is strangely reluctant to indulge me. Honestly, I never get anything I want.


But if there’s one thing – quite apart from yet another series of Silent Witness – that makes me yearn to blot out everything in an alcoholic haze, it’s documentaries about hoarders. And impertinent series about fat people. And compulsive eaters. And anything with Gregg Wallace gurning his way around a supermarket. And docs about Tourette’s. And cheap, unedifying shows about pound shops. All right, so that’s six things. But there’s something about being asked to gawp at people who hoard that makes me want to scream into a cushion. As I did when I heard that a new series of The Hoarder Next Door starts on Wednesday on Channel 4 this week.

Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder… Britain’s Biggest Hoarders… Enough! Or just make a series called the Great British Hoarder where hoarders compete to see who hoards the most and then just end this obsession forever. It’s not healthy, just like hoarding. But maybe television’s seemingly endless revisiting of hoarding and hoarders signals a deeper documentary malaise. Like its insistence on poking and prodding, repeatedly, every televisual aspect of the NHS or the exciting bits of the police force (helicopters, patrol cars).

This is absolutely no reflection on the people who work in the emergency services and in our hospitals, who are brave, clever and resourceful and to whom we owe more than any of us can ever articulate. But a guilty little sigh escaped from me this week as I sat down to watch An Hour to Save Your Life (Tuesday BBC2). Again, nothing to do with those directly involved, the paramedics and doctors who do astonishing things to bring critically injured people back from the brink. But maybe they need a break from TV cameras.

Keeping Britain Alive: The NHS in One Day, 24 Hours in A&E, Life Savers, Helicopter Heroes, One Born Every Minute, Children’s Emergency Rescue, Traffic Cops, Motorway Cops, Countryside 999. Again there is nothing wrong with any of these series (Life Savers was jaw-dropping), and we all have a stake in the NHS and the police and are thankful for their existence, but it’s their sheer volume that I find wearisome. I want documentaries to branch out.

We’ve seen The Route Masters and The Tube on BBC2, which you didn’t have to live in London to appreciate, and The Secret History of Our Streets (which is coming back). All clever and refreshing that looked at facets of our everyday lives in new ways. Inside John Lewis and Inside Claridge’s were big successes with audiences who enjoyed peeking behind the curtains of well-loved institutions, even if we’d never set foot in them.

What about some “popular” business documentaries on thriving branches of the British manufacturing industries? I’d love to know how pottery queen Emma Bridgewater and flowery Cath Kidston built up their brands. Or people across the country who run small businesses in these austere times. How do they do it? Because, if I see another fellow human being groaning in agony on a stretcher, or refusing to throw out their rubbish, I really might have to take to drink.