Daytime TV is enough to drive us home workers to distraction – David Behrens

A persistent knocking of the cold water pipes signalled the change of seasons in the Behrens household. We would be breaking out the windscreen de-icer about now, if we had anywhere to go.

David Dickinson, original host of the BBC's Bargain Hunt

We had been considering putting the house on the market this year, but making grand plans is futile on a calendar whose dates blur into one, and in a climate where visiting a relative, let alone an estate agent, is apparently too dangerous to contemplate.

Fortunately, it may not be necessary because the property market has changed in the 15 years since we last upped sticks, and deals today seem as likely to be done on camera as on the high street. Such transactions fall within the interminable hours of entertainment – I’m using the word loosely – that constitute daytime TV.

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Homes Under the Hammer, Escape to the Country and countless other near-identical programmes calculated to transport viewers from their drab, miserable lives and into a world of wonder where the sun shines and the pipes don’t knock, have been a staple of British viewing since they stopped showing schools programmes in the mornings. Sandwiched between them come urgent entreaties to adopt a gorilla, or enticements of a free Biro if you sign up for life insurance.

Bargain Hunt on BBC1

A sub-genre of programming is concerned with clearing out your home or filling it with knick-knacks from other people’s homes. If you discovered a contraption in the back of a cupboard that looked like a model of Stephenson’s Rocket, you could call in Cash in the Attic, who would pronounce that it was actually just a broken Goblin Teasmade. This would then turn up on Bargain Hunt, so that someone else could store it away and thus perpetuate the cycle of such programmes.

Common to all these formats was an unerring ability to stretch 10 minutes of material into an hour – and one you would not easily get back. Until recently, those of us fortunate enough to have had a workplace to go to had been largely shielded from them. Now, with work transplanted to the home, the TV set in the corner is a distraction we could do without. The traditional audience for daytime television is stay-at-home housewives and the unemployed, and the programmes are designed both as escapism and an opiate. I was told this back in 1992 by the BBC executive who hired me to produce one of them, a relentlessly upbeat quiz and chat show transmitted live every day from the old Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham. The agenda of sedating viewers rather than stimulating them was betrayed by the first question he asked me, which was not, for instance, “What would inspire people at nine o’clock in the morning?” but “What’s the brightest colour we can paint the set?”.

A year or two later I was dispatched to Whitby to film items for another BBC1 filler, this time about smoking kippers and other clichéd illustrations of what the schedulers imagined daily life in Yorkshire to be like.

The approach has hardly changed since, except that the shows are made more cheaply now. Instead of hiring an expensive studio every day, formulaic episodes are churned out literally by the dozen, often months in advance. That’s why the schedules have so far failed to recognise the new audience tuning in over a plate of tea and biscuits and before the next Zoom meeting with their colleagues doing likewise.

With no sign of the networks upping their game to accommodate these extra viewers, we must hope that the tide of torpidity does not engulf them before herd immunity to it kicks in.

Someone told me long ago that avoiding moving wallpaper such as this was the key to remaining sane at home. He had in mind staying indoors during illness or retirement, not remote working, but the advice has remained with me these last few months. That’s why my resolution for the New Year is to continue to place the TV out of bounds on working days until 6pm at least – no matter how great the temptation to do otherwise. If Sony made a set that did this automatically I’d happily pay the extra for it.

It may be a small step towards normality but at least it’s an area of life I can still control. As to moving house, Mrs B and I – and everyone else suffering stir craziness – will have to see if the warmer weather brings the first shoots of recovery. If so, we’ll be beating a path to the estate agent – and if not, you can look out for us on BBC1.

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