Friday, September 09, 2005

Getting Shirty

I was planning to write a piece here about 'Hotel On Sea', BBC1's new docu-soap about the day-to-day running of the President hotel in Blackpool. Unfortunately, on top of being surprisingly dull, it would appear to have less to do with reality than... well, your average reality show.

Last night's opening episode told the story of a day in the life of the hotel staff, and went roughly along these lines:

1. Duty Manager Steph, a man who prefers to wear a wig and call himself Stephanie Sparkles, is seen preparing for a visit from Mrs Walsh, the hotel owner, who makes Margaret Thatcher look sane and soft-hearted, and who shares her life with a rat-like dog called Biggles, who should have been shot at birth.

2. Mrs Walsh arrives and Steph shows her around, avoiding room 199 (in the 65-room hotel), the ceiling of which has collapsed in the night.

3. A staff meeting is called, where Mrs Walsh patronises her employees and generally treats them like five year olds with learning difficulties.

4. They all get back to work.

5. Mrs Walsh prepares to leave. The narration (by Martin Jarvis, king of the disembodied voice) tells us that "before she leaves, Mrs Walsh has one last criticism to make..."

6. She calls in Steph, and forces him to remove his dreadful blue checked shirt in exchange for a pristine white one. After which she goes home, safe in the knowledge that she's successfully alienated everyone she's encountered for another day.

Marvellous. There's only one problem: in scenes 2 and 4, Steph was indeed wearing the hideous checked shirt which Mrs Walsh considered such an affront to humanity. Unfortunately in scenes 1 and 3 he was wearing the white one.

I particularly enjoyed the opening scene where Steph told the camera about his boss's impending visit with the words "Mrs Walsh is coming in to have a meeting with us. I haven't a clue what it's about", whilst simultaneously wearing the white shirt he would be told to change into three hours later. Something tells me he wasn't being a hundred per cent honest there.

I don't expect my reality shows to be real, but do they really have to make it this obvious?

UPDATE: 14-9-05

I e-mailed the BBC, pointing out the wardrobe problems in 'Hotel On Sea', and I've just received this response:

Dear Phil

Thank you for your e-mail regarding 'Hotel on Sea'.

I am pleased to read of your interest in this programme. I understand you want to find out if the programme is a real documentary. It is a new genre called 'comi-doc' which is documentary with elements of comedy in it. The series contains real people and a real hotel: it is a documentary which was filmed over one year. Sometimes the directors accentuate the comedy element of the characters.

I hope this clarifies the matter for you and thank you again for contacting the BBC.


Clare Mahon
BBC Information

So there you go. Forget reality TV, fly-on-the-wall shows, docu-soaps, social experiments, and of course three-part observational documentary series, we have a totally new genre here: the comi-doc. I'm glad they told me it's supposed to be funny. You'd never guess from watching the actual programme.