A Very British Country House, Channel 4, review: a fun peep behind the five-star curtain
Channel 4's latest fly-on-the-wall doc shows that life behind the scenes at a posh hotel is as frantic as a kebab shop on Friday night
Sunday November 25th 2018
A Very British Country House
Sunday, Channel 4, 9pm
If you’ve ever stayed at a posh hotel and felt that the staff didn’t think you were quite good enough to be sullying the opulent surroundings, The Great British Country House, Channel 4’s latest fly-on-the-wall documentary series should reassure you that they’re only human too – and that behind the scenes it’s as frantic as a kebab shop at Friday night closing time.
The Buckinghamshire hotel Cliveden House hit the headlines when Meghan Markle chose to stay there the night before her wedding. And for royal-watchers the first episode had the build-up to her arrival in the opening scenes. But you’ll be unsurprised to hear there was only a fleeting glimpse as she strode up the red carpet, and no revelations about blocked toilet emergencies or minibar vodkas topped up with tap water.
Instead the main focus was one the day-to-day running of the place – if there can be anything day-to-day about maintaining a three-hundred-year old ex-stately home and maintaining the standards of an establishment which has seen the likes of Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin arrive for a night’s kip and a full English and now caters to everyone from the aristocracy to Russian oligarchs.
The royal accolade turned out to be something of a double-edged sword as the publicity resulted in a rush of bookings, but an even more critical eye cast on the service from guests who noticed everything from a touch of limescale in a kettle to a lack of crisps (only olives, I’m afraid) with the terrace Champagne.
General manager Kevin told the quarterly staff meeting that the TripAdvisor average, that great democratic leveller, was down from 4.5 to 4. So it was even more important to keep pulling out all the stops. This meant giving blogger couple Katie and Ben the full VIP treatment, including a £27 menu for Pepe their Pomeranian.
Dogs generally were one of the few things that head butler Michael didn’t take completely in his stride (“anything below knee level’s fine… but I had a bad experience with an Airedale once”). Otherwise he was as unflappable as you’d expect a 25-year veteran to be, the benevolent sergeant-major of the staff.
There were several other TV naturals among them, principally wedding organiser Lydia, who’d wanted to work at Cliveden since seeing it as a seven-year-old bridesmaid and now had her dream job,despite some demanding requests (“someone asked for a road to be built through the garden for her horse and carriage”) and conference/banqueting head Lyndsey (“I could trip over air growing up; when I told mum I was going to be a silver service waitress…”) .
Utterly down to earth and scarily efficient, they ensured that the nuptials of TV executive Andy and his boyfriend Garfield (“when I was growing up this was against the law… I wanted to make the day special for everyone”) were as much a feelgood treat for viewers as the royal do down the road. Altogether, a very good example of the genre. Though after watching it you may never again be satisfied with an off-peak deal at a local Travelodge…