Lockdown Binge #8: Grand Designs
Our writers tell us what TV series are getting them through being stuck in their houses - and Grand Designs makes for the perfect lockdown viewing.
As summer starts to hit its stride, we remain (for the most part) at home, dutifully doing our part and soaking up what sunshine we can on daily walks, the odd cycle ride and, if you're lucky, during time in the garden.
But as our own four walls look increasingly familiar to the point of frustration, there's no better way to escape guilt-free and safely into the world of the ambitious, the creative — and the well-off — than with Kevin McCloud as your guide.
What's Grand Designs about?
Set in a world where people already have glamorous houses they can sell or mortgage to pay for yet more glamorous houses, Grand Designs sees presenter Kevin McCloud follow individuals, couples and families embarking on the project of a lifetime: building their dream home.
As the name would suggest, there's always something intriguing, impressive or damn near impossible about the projects. Saving a crumbling castle from ruin without the help of an architect? On it. Building in the banks of the Thames whilst racing against time to bail the incoming water out in order to lay foundations? Absolutely. Making the world's biggest cob house in one of the rainiest parts of the country? You bet.
Each episode, McCloud meets a fresh batch of characters, actual real people who genuinely think this is going to go without a hiccup and be finished in 10 months, under budget. His wealth of experience in the area smugly guides you along the rocky road of another bonkers build at a reasonable distance, close enough to salivate at the splendid glazing but far enough removed to find the monumental amounts of debt racked up a mere gawp-worthy amusement on the way.
How long is it?
The good news is there's a mountain of Grand Designs episodes waiting for you to tuck into during lockdown.
The Channel 4 series first started in 1999 and hasn't stopped since, spawning 19 series and over 200 episodes, not to mention the spin-offs.
Where can I watch it?
A massive 180 episodes of are available to watch totally free on All4, Channel 4's online, on-demand platform.
With a back catalogue dating back 21 years, that should keep you busy for a while, even if a few episodes are missing.
Why should I watch Grand Designs?
Since Boris Johnson announced we were headed into lockdown, Grand Designs is almost the only thing I can persuade myself to watch. Bored? Grand Designs. Sad? Grand Designs. Cheerful? Grand Designs. Nothing says lockdown like making snarky remarks about Kevin McCloud's snarky remarks.
And nothing soothes a locked-down mind like million-pound-plus houses, installation art baths, entire walls of bespoke glass, eye-wateringly expensive foundations (necessary to secure a build teetering on the edge of a clifftop), or painstaking conservation methods, salvaging a wreck of a (listed) building and turning back into a resplendent grand design — none of which you have to pay for.
If you want escapism, Grand Designs has got it by the bucketload. Whisked away to a land where money doesn't so much trickle as flat out gush away into the abyss, the worries of the world around you are miles away.
Watch on in fascination as marriages are tested, disagreements magnified by down-to-the-wire finances, a partner who sells their business to extend the ever-increasing budget — "Idiot," you'll mutter incredulously at the TV.
Roll your eyes as McCloud turns his nose up at an idea which is matter of taste, just one episode after he gave his last to-camera lecture about how you really should realise some things are just a matter of taste.
Grit your teeth in frustration at some intrepid characters who blithely dismiss warnings from a string of professionals that their vision simply isn't possible within their budget and gesticulate with a mix of self-righteousness and despair as McCloud laughs in their faces as they bulldoze (sometimes quite literally) on.
Then, of course, comes the Fourth Quarter, as it's come to be called in my house, the final segment of the show in which McCloud returns a while after we last saw the now-haggard, broke and often miserable protagonists at the centre of the episode in order to see the finished product — if they ever managed to finish it, that is...
Sometimes our leads seem newly refreshed, revitalised by a handful of weeks spent living in the triumph of a property they pulled off by the skin of their teeth. Other times, we're treated to forced smiles, platitudes about how much over budget they wound up, the air thick with post-build trauma; all of which only makes the show more entertaining.
But set aside from the rollercoaster that is the long-running Channel 4 programme is the one perfect episode, the exception to all the rules, the Grand Designs unicorn.
It's the mid-2000s, Midlothian, and Pru and Richard Irvine are building their dream home on their stunning property, metres from their current abode, aiming for the mammoth building to blend into it's surrounds, which include an 18th century lime kiln.
Every Grand Designs trope goes out of the window: try as he might, McCloud can't muster an ounce of his signature cynicism. There's barely a single cutting comment to be found. Instead he, like all of us, falls head over heels in love with Pru and Richard and, in turn, their eco-house.
Everything goes according to plan (bar one beam which has to be cleverly resized): Pru project manages — usually a recipe for disaster on Grand Designs — and does a stellar job. The builders adore her almost as much as we do and the atmosphere is one of calm and cheer as she merrily brandishes a huge platter of bacon baps come mid-morning on site.
The pricey build slots into place piece-by-piece, McCloud bravely attempting his usual tone of surprise but failing to mask his obvious confidence in Pru's ability to ensure the whole thing goes over without a hitch.
The episode is one hour of pure joy. Comforting, as Grand Designs always is, but warmer, more wholesome.
The exception that proves the rule, the Midlothian, 2007 instalment defines Grand Designs by what it isn't: devoid of the sarcastic, the frantic, the edge-of-the-seat money panic, it's utterly delightful. But such nourishment only makes the rest of the Grand Designs ride all the more fun. Snarky comments and all.
All4 has 180 episodes of Grand Designs available online now. If you're looking for more to watch, check out our TV guide.