Shiny Shelf

Regency House Party

By Eddie Robson on 29 February 2004

Channel 4’s ‘back in time’ entries into the reality TV genre are certainly some of the best thought out, and they also produce some quite interesting results.

‘The Frontier House’ (in which three families had to live like American pioneers) and ‘That’ll Teach ‘Em’ (in which secondary school kids were given a 1950s boarding-school education), whilst they hardly qualified as sociological experiments, showed up the softness of your average citizen of a modern western country. In the former we saw how some Americans can’t grasp the concept of ‘going without’ and the latter demonstrated that whilst today’s British kids are fortunate not to have to learn under the conditions of a police state, a lot of them really don’t know anything. At all.

What lessons are likely to be gleaned from ‘Regency House Party’? Possibly, none. The other two shows I’ve mentioned had clearly defined goals – the kids had to pass their exams and the pioneers had to stockpile enough supplies to (theoretically) survive a frontier winter. Those attending the Regency House Party are trying to score an advantageous ‘marriage’, and therein lies the problem: the participants don’t necessarily have to adapt to the period in order to succeed, as they can equally attract a mate with 21st-century techniques like Being Fit and Turning On The Charm.

So ultimately, the show is a bit aimless. Nevertheless it’s quite entertaining, as there remains the enjoyment of seeing who succumbs most easily to an entirely different set of social norms and values. Thus far the gentleman who has thrown himself into the part with the greatest gusto is Mr Gorrell-Barnes – unsurprising, as he has been conferred the status of Master of the House and gets to quite literally swan about as if he owns the place.

What the show really needs is the participants to loosen up a bit – as the cameras are not hidden, but follow them around at all times, the production lacks naturalism. As time goes on they will probably get more used to it and the series will likely improve. It goes to show, however, that reality TV is not necessarily the easy option some would claim. ‘Regency House Party’ is very well worked out – the participants have all been given great back-stories, straight out of the literature of the period – but if your people don’t do something interesting, you’re sunk.

Nevertheless, I have an idea to spice it up. It’s irrelevant since the series has all been shot already, but whatever. Last week they staged a prize-fight and got Channel 4 racing correspondent John McCririck to play the book-keeper. Taking this idea forwards, next week they should arrange for some of the participants to go out on the road in a coach, whereupon they are accosted by Adam Ant in full dandy highwayman apparel! Wouldn’t that be great? Bet the producers are kicking themselves.

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By Eddie Robson

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