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House Doctor, The / House Doctor: Inside and Out (1998-)

Courtesy of FremantleThames

Main image of House Doctor, The / House Doctor: Inside and Out (1998-)
TalkBack/TalkBackThames for Channel 5/Five, 24/8/1998 - present
30/60 min edns, colour
Series ProducersEd Stobart
 Isabelle Gunner
 Michelle Horton
 Andrew Anderson
Series EditorDaisy Goodwin

Presenters: Ann Maurice, William Van Hage, Tris Payne, Alistair Appleton, Sven Wombwell

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The 'house doctor' dispenses advice and offers practical help to homeowners to help them shift their hard-to-sell properties.

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To the casual viewer, The House Doctor may appear just like so many other property and interior design shows that have sprung up since the late 1990s, but in truth it shares more of its DNA with makeovers, from fashion segments on This Morning (ITV, 1988-) to programmes like What Not to Wear (BBC, 2001-07), Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (Channel 4, 2004-) or The Hotel Inspector (Five, 2005-).

Like these, a big draw lies in the voyeuristic pleasures it offers in allowing us a peer into others' lives and judge their taste, leaving us with a feeling of superiority or, just occasionally, a sense of seeing our own homes reflected.

The concept is simple: a property that has failed to sell, against the prevailing market, gets a makeover by Californian real estate stylist Ann Maurice before being put back on the market. Brooking no nonsense, Maurice enters the houses that taste forgot, houses cluttered with knick-knacks or simply in need of a good tidying up, and attempts to make them attractive to as many potential buyers as possible. Although most of the work is achieved through her now famous mantra of de-cluttering (filling packing crates and skips with surplus items) and a neutral colour palette (covering up any garish colours and patterns), more substantial work is done where necessary: a new bathroom suite, new carpets, re-discovering floorboards, garden makeovers and even hiring furniture. The bottom line is to spend only what is absolutely necessary to achieve a sale; no waste is permitted, no excess encouraged. Her critics have often misunderstood her choice of neutral colours as bland and boring style statement, when her real objective is to leave a blank canvas for the prospective buyers.

In a TV climate in which greed is not only flaunted but encouraged, it is surprising how much it is played down here, with values and expenditure disclosed matter-of-factly - no big fanfare, no big reveal.

So successful has the format been that it has endured only minor tinkering. The biggest change came in 2004, when the series was renamed The House Doctor: Inside and Out and extended from a 30 to 60 minutes editions, with Maurice herself taking over the presenting. Previous presenters (William van Hage, Tris Payne and Alistair Appleton) had all been male, allowing for some light-hearted flirting. The male presence was retained in the form of gardener Sven Wombwell.

Gosta Johansson

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Video Clips
1. The house tour (4:05)
2. Redecoration carries on (1:51)
3. Owners' comment (0:40)
Complete episode (21:37)