Last Night's TV: The Manor Reborn, BBC One
Ed Cumming was disappointed by the first episode of The Manor Reborn
"There’s nothing the British like better than a day out at a stately home," intoned Penelope Keith at the start of The Manor Reborn (BBC One), in those long, droopy vowels of hers. The voices of grand old English women always have a kind of Lady Bracknell authority about them, and Keith’s is no exception. It brooks no argument, and makes "oh, ghastly" sound like the last word on anything.
This gravitas is why she was here, with the series’s name built around her, despite no ostensible relevant experience. Her mission was to update Avebury Manor, in Wiltshire, a fine National Trust pile in need of a lick of paint. She was joined by Paul Martin, the antiques man from Flog It!, and a couple of other experts including go-to architectural history buffer Dan Cruickshank.
The idea was that Avebury needed an injection of character, with a modern twist. Rather than pursue traditional techniques of historic home maintenance, the gang decided simply to evoke a certain frisson of various eras. A Georgian bedroom here, a Victorian parlour there. Visitors should be able to lie on the beds, sit in the chairs and eat food from the kitchen garden. The kitchen garden, in this episode, was a point of particular consternation. The National Trust wasn’t keen on it, so the gang had to lure “volunteer” labour from the local area to dig and fork and so on. Having found the slaves, they went out and spent £2,200 on antiques.
By the end of this first hour of four, I’d come to the conclusion that Keith was wrong. We do like visiting stately homes, but this is because what we like better than anything are old things. Old houses owned by an old family, filled with old people wandering around looking at old paintings, and carefully not sitting on old furniture.
Visitors are not wandering out of Chatsworth wishing there had been an Xbox, any more than they leave a video arcade bemoaning the absence of candelabra. Painting the walls of their “manor” lurid colours regardless of historical evidence, as the team campaigned to do, is a poor fix. When it wasn’t being outright silly, the programme felt forced. Avebury shouldn’t be like Legoland.