The Curious Houseguest, BBC2

by | May 4, 2006 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

It’s not so much a programme that you can like or dislike, it’s more rather like a hot bath which you can luxuriate in.

What was good about it?

• While most shows try to hit as many viewer-baiting targets as possible like chucking an infinite supply of darts at a board, The Curious Houseguest thrives on the relaxed ambience. And while the schedules are clogged full of aimless lifestyle guides, aspirational property shows and soaps, the ambience in what is a fairly unambitious show becomes almost alien and eerie in its nature.

• In this edition, host Jeremy Musson visited Renishaw Hall on the outskirts of Sheffield. This country pile has been home to a clan of toffs, the Sitwells, for a few centuries now, and, as Jeremy pointed out, it still possesses many of the antique features you’d associate with such a home such as lamps overhanging the drawing room that were oil until the 1950s, paraffin until 1968 when they were converted to electricity; and the subservient servants frantically preparing meals below stairs who, despite being in the family’s employ for 30 years each, still wait nervously as the assembled clan sample their food.

• The languid pace of Jeremy’s tour of the hall meant it was possible to marvel at the baroque architecture that adorned both the interior and exterior, while also heeding his narration that mixed in the history of the place. At one point, we found ourselves caring deeply as the gardener, Sir Reresby Sitwell and Jeremy pondered the doom of a tree infected beyond salvation by fungus.

• The anecdote of how in the 1950s, the then Lady Renishaw would map out the route to the bedrooms in her head in order to navigate about the house in the dark by remembering how many paces separated each distinguishing feature.

• The verdant gardens, Yes, they are a rich man’s indulgence with their angular hedges, glistening flowers and teeming lakes but it is so novel to see an estate that isn’t being warped into something grotesque by Alan Titchmarsh.

• The BBC interview from the 1960s where the stern poet Edith Sitwell was called “remote and dangerous” by the questioner, she thornily shot back an answer castigating his “impertinent questions”.

What was bad about it?

• Jeremy despite “not usually being a cigar smoker” puffing away at the post-banquet drinks as “it all seems such good fun”.

• Jeremy being impressed that Mick Jagger had left a jacket behind when he visited – and that the jacket had been left out in his room as though symbolising the only acknowledgment the curiously backward-looking family would make to popular culture.

• The feast where all the Sitwell clan arrived for a night of opulent jollity and red-faced laughter, which exemplified the staggering wealth in which some folk live.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles

04/05/2006

Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!

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