There’s a limited amount of nuance that TV producers can squeeze into a 24 minute investigatory segment on prime time TV. And Thursday evening’s “Tonight – Britain’s Property Crisis” on ITV, didn’t even attempt it.
As the opening aerial shots and credits rolled, viewers were treated to a stream of emotive deadpan language from the delightful Julie Etchingham.
“Heartbroken. Homeless. Evicted,” Ms Etchingham intoned. “Facing a choice of overcrowding…or the street”
Steady on Julie. Don’t pull any punches now.
The show, which has so far this series covered such hard-hitting topics as “Fighting Fat: Back to Basics,” and “What Car Should I Buy?” launched straight into sob stories compered by the walking soporific known as Jonathan Maitland.
We were treated to tales of comic ineptitude from local authorities – resulting in tragedy for the residents of St Michael’s gate. A leasehold transfer of Peterborough housing to a new management company resulted in the entire community being kicked out to make room for homeless people. Oh the irony!
“They received a letter out of the blue,” explained Mr Maitland, earnestly. “What’s known as a Section 21 order telling them they were to be evicted. Even though they had done nothing wrong, they were told they had two months notice to find somewhere else!”
A sad story, no doubt, but does it really count as news? Section 21 notices are not a state secret, and most people know at least one person who has been hit by one.
Earnest residents boasting new hairdos and designer spectacles delivered their pieces-to-camera, claiming their bafflement and lack of understanding at the concept of landlords being able to evict tenants. Jonathan Maitland nods sympathetically throughout.
Even Polly Neate of the homeless charity, Shelter, seemed surprised as she delivered facts and figures on innocent and virtuous tenants who were subjected to Section 21 orders by the wicked landlord class.
Predictably, Peterborough council was given 25 seconds in which to respond.
To a jaunty upbeat pop tune (the name of which escapes us right now), the programme highlighted the government’s unlikely-to-be-implemented plans to make three year minimum term leases a legal right before moving on to the lack of housing stock in general.
Here Mr Maitland has some good points, but again, it’s not really news. Land is expensive. The process of building homes is expensive. Investors want a return on their investments.
The average house now costs eight times more than the average wage. Yawn.
The programme then used archive footage of sporting heroes Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, and Gary Neville, who invested in build-to-rent properties – huge towers which will contain hundreds of luxury apartments. Mr Maitland says it’s a problem that “none of them are affordable.”
We guess that Misters Flintoff and Neville will be sitting on a vast, empty white elephant for the indefinite future, sobbing into their Macallan “M” whisky.
No. What Tonight’s scriptwriters mean is that poor people can’t afford to live in the luxury high rises. Quelle surprise. Quelle horreur.
In the closing credits, Tonight gives special thanks and appreciation to “20 Stories” an insanely fashionable Manchester restaurant where a pint of lager costs £6, and a bottle of non vintage champagne can set you back nearly £400.
In next week’s installment of ‘Tonight,’ Laura Tobin will be continuing the theme of addressing topics already familiar to all, by dedicating an entire episode to The Weather. Is it good or bad? Who knows?
Probably not Jonathan Maitland.
(If you think we’re joking about Tonight’s Weather special, we’re not).
Image credit: Shaun Murphy