I have spent so many hours, which surely have accumulated into days, weeks and maybe months, lost in the joy that is Escape to the Country.
It’s on pretty much all the time, somewhere, though its parent is BBC daytime. I think I fell into watching when I was off sick with flu and prone on the sofa.
But the sheer ubiquity of ETTC means you can waste entire Saturday afternoons watching repeats on Home and Really, and of course there are loads of episodes on iPlayer but I must limit myself, otherwise I’d be lost in a vortex of farmhouse kitchens and annexes with the potential for holiday lets. I’d become deranged, yelling, “I want to enjoy family time in a lovely village with accessible amenities,” in my sleep.
Like all the best shows, it’s dead simple. A couple wants to relocate to the country from somewhere suburban, the programme lines up three houses for them to view, including a Mystery House (it has some kind of quirk) at the end, and they potter round with a presenter – my favourite is the charming Alistair Appleton.
People rarely buy anything – it’s not Location, Location, Location – but it’s become part of ETTC’s template that they usually say the presenter has given them “plenty of food for thought” or “plenty to think about”, and invariably they say they will go off to one of the properties for a second viewing.
And we never hear from them again. See, nothing to it.
But what I love about ETTC is that it’s thoroughly socially and economically subversive, because it’s the only place, possibly the last place, on mainstream television that is simply full-on middle class.
Honestly, no one at the BBC would countenance any drama featuring the kind of people who turn up in ETTC. They wear anoraks and hold hands, they have money, of course, as moving to the country isn’t cheap, they are often retired, their children have generally “flown the nest”, they have hobbies, usually collecting things, they like walking and they want nice views and big kitchens.
I’ve never understood the British obsession with big kitchens. Get in, cook, and get out again, surely.
It’s a curious, singular show, too, because it wants people to be happy. ETTC is entirely predicated on offering people good lives. Where else on television does that happen? Television generally is so miserable and bleak (hello, Marcella! How are you, Collateral? What are you up to, BBC News at Ten?), it’s nice to pause on a hillside every now and again.
There’s a dollop of education, too, like the teachy bits in Bake Off, where the couple are packed off to visit a local museum or to try a traditional local craft in the area they want to move to. But these are boil-the-kettle breaks for me; let’s get back to those double-aspect bedrooms with views of the Black Mountains.
Knowing how the BBC generally despises the British middle class, I wonder if it even knows it’s producing a show where people in sensible outerwear have £750,000 to spend on a detached converted barn with wood-burners and a paddock in the Forest of Dean. And the BBC is facilitating the search! What fun!
Escape to the Country is on 3pm weekdays, BBC1