Tuesday, March 20, 2007

TV REVIEW: Save Lullingstone Castle

BBC2, 19.3.07, 20.30.

Reality TV has caught a cold. Paul Stump finds no Benylin down in Kent as the Beeb return to Lullingstone

You've probably never met Tom Hart-Dyke. I know I haven't.

Or maybe you have, in one of his many avatars; I know I have. He's an archetype of our times, the lovable rogue, the smiling campus dealer, the straggle-haired emo stranger who turns up on the doorstep at your party claiming that 'Adam invited me' and who ends up nicking your girlfriend. Blagger, chancer, slumming Gatsby, the type Huysmans might have rejected from A Rebours. Read the bios of 20th century's great fibbers- Mosley, the Mitfords, Goebbels, Jeffrey Archer - God, don't we love those who act on their instincts (Tom Bower's demolition of Richard Branson is a particularly good pathology of this oddly British trait). It's all there, and then some.

Lullingstone Castle is a very pleasant if not exceptional Tudor palace in grounds whose opulent sylvan splendour belies its location in a triangle bordered by the M20, M25 and M26 motorways to the south-east of London. Make no mistake; it's abominably lovely. Lullingstone is the sort of scene that a chocolate box manufacturers would call chintzy.

For reasons never entirely made clear in the original 2005 series (opening the books would be so vulgar), the Hart-Dykes, the estate's heirs, are on their uppers. TV prog? Maybe, if there's real dirt to be dug. Enter Tom.

The Hart-Dykes' oft-rehearsed hardships didn't extend to denying their tiresome young scion a decade or so off to swan round the world and get himself and a mate nabbed by separatist guerillas in the Darien Gap in 2003. Tom's slightly jejune skunk-in-the-dorm chic of oversized trouser pockets and airy talk of goals and dreams in a kind of Nigel Kennedy accent (there's no doubt some bullshit about Gaia and Glastonbury that didn't make the final cut) doesn't quite chime with 'hardship' as it might be lived by a poverty-trapped single mother in Plaistow or Bridgend, but what the hell. Tom has A Plan; a 'World Garden'.

Tom, like, so wants to be like a horticulturalist, guys... and his solution to his family's financial woes is a botanical planetary pictogram, with suitable plantations for Australasia, the Andes, Lapland etc. Yes, BBC2 devoted a series to the enactment of this folly (40 minutes would have sufficed) complete with estuarial jobsworths, bonkers boondock bolshies etc.

The whole conceit played on stereotypes; old man Hart-Dyke was put across as a proud but progressively palsied patriarch, his wife a purse-mouthed coper whose salad days were Belgravian, those of Bailey and Shrimpton. If this was an honest portrayal it would have been, and would be, sad and uninteresting; if contrived it was criminally and libellously bad TV. There were barneys with gruff moneymen, coded plaints about the parvenus of the North Downs, the Big Verns with their Hummers and shooters and copters. The series ended, in glorious June sunshine, with the 2006 opening of the 'World Garden'. The punters came. End of story?

No. BBC2 have gone back for more, and, as yet, we are no nearer understanding the motivations behind these cartoon characters and how the whole situation is unfolding. Here is a fact; your correspondent spent time in the neighbouring village of Eynsford last month and saw not one sign for the World Garden (I am assured it's great - nothing I've seen persuades me that it isn't rather sweet, and that Hart-Dyke fils' dedication to it isn't total and for that reason alone entirely admirable). But this omission, like the absence of any substantial literature on the project from the Lullingstone Visitor Centre, on estate land less than a mile from the palace, and all this in spite of a BBC prime time series on the place, begs the question; isn't this actually all a bit crap?

Questions that are begged in the same way of young Tom and his like (but never broadcast); how do they do it? How do they escape, translate, burst clear? If I - or, one surmises, 99% of OTT readers - were to petition their bank manager to secure money and time to indulge whims or write off debts in the absence of any clear marketing strategy, we'd be swiftly and robustly rebuffed.

Save Lullingstone Castle is rich in themes of class, relevant to past and present, juicy morsels any young director or producer woud love to pick up and run with. It does its best to ignore them all, assuming that 'old' and 'heritage' will look good enough on the DG's end-of-term balance sheet to have the staffers recommissioned for something else equally as vacuous. If the World Garden doesn't work out, perhaps Tom should apply for a job making documentaries for BBC2 - the money's good, and who cares if the idea's rubbish? All you have to do is blag it. Just tell them Adam said it would be OK. They might even believe you.


Anonymous said...

It's a shame you've got Tom so wrong - he's incredibly passionate about his project and can back it up with an encyclopeadic knowledge of horticulture. He's so obsessed with gardening and plants he wouldn't have time to go to'the party', and I'm not sure he even knows much about Glastonbury, other than it being near one of his favourite nurseries in Somerset.
You describe yourself as a journalist/broadcaster and you're obviously trying to make a name for yourself with your 'witty' and 'wry' observations on TV, but there's a fine line between true 'wit' and pure envy. Could you make such a grand idea work? Could you attract 20,000 visitors in a six month period? how many people read your blog? 2?
By the way, the title of the programme is now 'Return to Lullingstone Castle', not 'Save Lullingstone' , which was shown in 2006, not 2005. Research is quite important sometimes.

earmuffs said...

the photograph you have used is copyright protected on Lullingstone Castle's website,and the BBC mini site- please could you take it down. many thanks
(owner of said photo)

Rebecca said...

i am home from uni at the moment after spending a couple of weeks wondering if i really should be reading Ecology at all, last night i sat down with my mother and, after some words the dear old girl ended up with the remote.what followed was a delightfull representation of what has become so typical nowadays. a family trying hard to keep a huge but beautiful house up and running!what is more the main man , Tom, had come up with an idea that would provide a much needed income for the house and grounds. the characters within the programme are interesting and tom delivers informative stuff about all the plants that are viewed. his enthusiasm is great and as a result i go back to university today with refreshed view of all things ecological. and may i also point out that it is very important that you adopt the Harvard method in all your referencing this includes pictures!!!
regards becks

Anonymous said...

What a rude and unjustified opinion of Tom you have. He's a passionate, hard working lad with a massive responsibility on his shoulders.
His idea for the world garden is completely unique and ingenious. Perhaps you believe the tourism board hands out awards for no good reason at all.
He could have done a formal garden or reinstated the herb garden which was there before but he didn't.
He's original and very clever, and knows his stuff when it comes to plants.
I suspect his passion for plants and supporting his family is all consuming and leaves little time for the partying sponger you have him pegged as.
Ok, so he's a tad messy, but people don't garden in suits. He's a lovely down to earth person who doesn't care what small minded people think of him.
I found your review boring.