I’d just called in at a motorway service station. “My two-year old daughter loves your show more than Peppa Pig,” said the shop assistant, out of the blue. Minutes later, truck drivers and travellers were asking for selfes.
Last week I recorded a video greeting for a lady celebrating her 102nd birthday, who is also an avid fan of Homes under the Hammer. The staff at her care home said it “made her day”.
That’s a 100-year-spread target audience satisfed!
Just a few very recent examples of my personal experience of the love for, and broad appeal of, the show I’ve been presenting now for almost 14 years.
From home and shift workers, retirees and mums on maternity leave, to Daniel Craig (he watched it in the make-up van while making Skyfall) and Meryl Streep (she admitted she “loves that show” on The Graham Norton Show), we seem to have nailed it when it comes to creating a TV programme that’s educational, informative, entertaining, aspirational and with broad appeal across all ages and backgrounds.
It’s no coincidence that every weekday on BBC1 we are the most watched programme on TV in the UK at that time, that we are on peak time in Australia and popular around the world, and that the show is now in its 21st series – with 1,400 episodes filmed and around 4,200 properties visited.
I was therefore angered and bemused that we were singled out in the recent Government White Paper as an example of what the BBC is getting wrong! And not just us. Bargain Hunt (in its 43rd series) and Escape to the Country (in its 16th series) have also been directed to the gallows by Culture Secretary John Whittingdale as he puts pressure – totally unreasonable pressure, I’d say – on the BBC to sharpen its axe. These are tired formats, he suggested, that are past their sell-by date and clogging up the schedules.
Somehow our success, popularity and longevity have been turned into a negative. Whaaaa?
Has Mr Whittingdale ever watched the programme? Even if he has and doesn’t like it, is it really his job to dictate to the BBC what it should and shouldn’t be broadcasting? I would disrespectfully suggest that he is totally out of touch with what the British viewing public actually want to watch.
Daytime television performs a unique role in the schedule. It’s often viewed by people at quite vulnerable or traumatic times in their lives. When they’re ill at home or recently redundant. When they are recuperating in hospital or even ending their days in hospice.
At a house in Stockport the purchaser told us a story that reduced me and the production team to tears. She used to watch the show with her terminally ill mother. “When I’m gone, use the money I’m leaving you to do what this nice fellow suggests,” she told her daughter.
A year later, we were there in the house her daughter had bought to fulfil her mum’s dying wish. Talk about being an intimate part of people’s lives!
And all this on a budget that is a tiny fraction of prime-time television’s.
I’ll no doubt be accused of writing out of self-interest. Not guilty. “It’s my favourite show” is something I hear time and again. And it makes me very proud.
I think that John Whittingdale and his colleagues would be shocked at the outpouring of support that we would receive if his ill-conceived and truly unpopulist suggestions ever came to fruition.
Martin Roberts is a presenter of Homes under the Hammer, which airs weekdays at 10am on BBC1.