Escape To The Chateau. Déjà vu as dynamic Dick embarks on another property mission impossible

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Escape To The Chateau. Déjà vu as dynamic Dick embarks on another property mission impossible

November 29, 2016 - 18:46
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A decade or so ago Channel 4 churned out a watchable series in which a British family attempted to start a new life abroad by renovating a dilapidated French mansion.

Dick and Angel in Escape to the Chateau

A decade or so ago Channel 4 churned out a watchable series in which a British family attempted to start a new life abroad by renovating a dilapidated French mansion.

Reflecting the shambolic nature of the ramshackle project, the programme was called Chaos At The Castle. It was never going to win a Bafta but it was pretty funny.

Now those nice people at C4 (the ones who nicked the Bake Off) have paid it the ultimate tribute. By making it again. Exactly the same. Only this time with an imaginative new name… Escape To The Chateau.

The latest property mission impossible stars former soldier turned TV presenter Dick Strawbridge  (he of the outlandishly huge moustache) and his wife Angel (no moustache but extremely red hair) as they pursue their dream to restore an abandoned 19th century stately home to its former glory.

In telly terms there are strict rules to this kind of production. And the Dick and Angel show sticks to them rigidly. Tick the boxes. Dauntingly huge task ahead – check. Vast cost, sod-all money – check. Language difficulties with the friendly locals who don’t speak English – check. Just enough sunshine shots of the idyllic countryside to make the viewers jealous - check. Race against time to get the place ready for that all-important first booking – check.

Welcome to the Loire where Mr and Mrs Strawbridge’s stunning 45 room palace looks like something out of Hollywood central casting. A classic slice of old-school France complete with pointy grey slate spires and its very own moat. Pity there's no drawbridge - the Strawbridge drawbridge has a ring to it - but you can't have everything.

Sadly, closer examination reveals that after years of neglect the joint is falling apart at the seams. It’s a ruin. That’s why it was only £280,000.

Back in the summer the first set of episodes saw the ambitious couple installing heating and – drum roll – flushing toilets. All the mod cons. Now, as we embark on series two, they’ve got nine rooms into an inhabitable state. Only 36 to go.

But, oh no, there’s an 80-strong wedding party coming for three days of non-stop celebrations and – big surprise – Chateau Shabby is nowhere near ready. If it was, how would they fill an hour of television? Roll the cameras… let’s get those panic stations in the can. Very filmic.

It’s never explained how 80 people fit into nine rooms. Or how the theatrically cash-strapped Dick and Angel are funding the on-going expensive repairs. Presumably, the TV company is footing a lot of the bill. Which makes it all a bit contrived.

Anyway, OMG… the downstairs loo hasn’t even been built. Cut to a massive crumbling cavern as narrator Sally Ann Oberman deadpans: “Angel wants to create a mini-Versailles with an array of stuffed birds perched on the top of the cubicles.” As you do. Angel: “I’m looking forward to having a pee in here.” Thanks for keeping us in the loop.

Meanwhile, Dick is in the vegetable garden taking the first stumbling steps along the road to self- sufficiency. “It’s always bad when the weeds are taller than you,” he sighs. There’s quite a way to go.

But it’s not just grow your own. It’s rear your own and they’ve bought themselves three adorable pigs called Chunky, Tuffy and Stumpybum. Who swiftly become too fat to fit into Dick’s home-made wood-burning oven that takes him days to construct. So they’re forced to get a smaller porker. Which, thankfully, is already slaughtered. Killing cute animals would kinda spoil the feel-good factor.

There’s also heaps of high drama over Dick’s solar panel to provide the orangery with the electricity it will need to host the reception. After he finally sparks up the power supply there’s no fridge so they’ll require glacier’s worth of ice to keep the drinks cold. Of course, they soon run out so dynamic Dick cycles into town to purchase more. Not cool.

Naturally, despite the predictable hiccups, it all works out brilliantly in the end. Even though it transpires the newlyweds got married in England and this is nothing more than a bit of French dressing. Following the frantic first 24 hours there’s no mention of the next two days. Sacre bleu.

No one’s suggesting that the entire narrative is a fiction. The intrepid Strawbridges and their two children are doing this for real. But it’s also a trumped-up TV saga… and there’s clearly a fair amount of stage managing to make sure it’s entertaining.

But, as long as you accept the inevitable choreography and the fact you’re only getting the edited highlights, Escape To The Chateau definitely delivers the goods. Mainly because Dick and Angel are eminently likeable and you want them to succeed. After all, every fairy story needs a happy ending.