The Restoration Home debate

The BBC2 series Restoration Home has provoked much debate, some of which accompanies my previous blogs Restoration Home and What is restoration?. Among those to have joined this debate is Alan Tierney of Picketts Historic Building Conservation. He wrote to the BBC after the second episode to complain and has suggested that I share both his original letter and the response received from the BBC. The next programme, featuring Stanwick Hall in Northamptonshire, is due to be aired tonight at 8pm.

Complaint to the BBC from Alan Tierney:

Both episodes of Restoration Home broadcast so far have given a very misleading impression of the practice of historic building conservation and restoration. Almost no mention has been made of the legislative framework which governs this kind of work; there has been no discussion of the principles which guide good conserv ation and restoration; “significance” – the key criterion laid down in PPS5 – has not even been mentioned.

A clear impression has been given that it is usual, acceptable, even (given Ms Quentin’s enthusiastic response to the completed projects) admirable to make radical, irreversible and destructive interventions to historic buildings.

As a consultant, working in historic building conservation, I am one of a group of professionals who have worked very hard over a number of years to develop a framework for the sympathetic restoration and conservation of our built heritage. We have worked hard to educate the wider community that respect for the buildings significance, history and architectural integrity are fundamental. This work has been drastically undermined by the thoughtless presentation and production of this programme.

We find the programme’s approach grossly irresponsible. It broadcasts misinformation which has the potential to encourage widespread damage to historic buildings and to lead credulous owners into ill-advised and potentially criminal “restoration” work.

The rather trivial historic and architectural research would be a positive aspect of the programme if it was carried out in advance and used to inform the work. This is, in fact, a requirement of both good practice and PPS5. Instead it only serves to show where the owners are going wrong.

Finally, episode 2 had at its heart a gross misrepresentation, in that the project was not a restoration at all. The owner, Nick Sweet is on record as saying that he never considered his project to be restoration, made this clear to the producers and that comments to that effect were cut from the programme.

The response from the BBC:

Thanks for contacting us about ‘Restoration Home’ on 12 July.

I understand you feel the series is misleading, irresponsible and could potentially lead to damage being caused to historic buildings.  You also suggest that the project in this particular episode wasn’t an actual restoration.

We’ve spoken to the independent producers of the series, Endemol UK, and their response is as follows:

“We do not agree with the viewer’s comments that the programme has given ‘a very misleading impression’ of the practice of historic building conservation and restoration.

In fact the programme follows the reality, rather than the theory, of the renovation and restoration work being carried out on six buildings.  In every case their owners have followed the advice and permission of the relevant planning, building regulations and conservation authorities.

We faithfully record, as much as possible, the actuality of these building projects.  We are, therefore, documenting the true picture of the many challenges and opportunities that are involved in such undertakings.

It was never the intention of the series to go into the detail of the legislative framework surrounding such projects other than to inform the viewer that in each case the owners of the properties were complying with relevant rules and regulations governing their plans.

It may be that there is a documentary to be made some time in the future about the laws surrounding the conservation of historic buildings but this series never set out to fulfil that remit.  Far from a ‘misleading’ impression, the series actually shows what is happening to six building projects in Britain today.

Every one of the owners featured in this series has the necessary permissions so we cannot agree with the viewer’s statement that we are showing ‘radical, irreversible destructive interventions to historic buildings’.  It seems clear that the viewer does not agree with the work that has been done but in the case of the featured listed buildings, his argument is not with us the programme makers but the authorities that gave permission for this work to be undertaken.

In the case of some buildings, for instance Nutbourne Pumping Station, the building is not listed and therefore, having satisfied the relevant building and planning regulations, the owner is totally at liberty to make any alterations he likes to the structure in spite of what anyone else may think.

As far as this particular property is concerned, it is fair to say that the programme’s  architectural expert did not entirely agree with the way the building had been altered.  The programme therefore made a point of reflecting that opinion.  However, neither the expert nor the programme makers had any right to influence any of the works in progress and did not seek in any case so to do.

Whilst we are full of admiration for the viewer’s work in ‘educating’ the wider community, we are disappointed that he fails to see that we too are raising issues among a wide audience hopefully to increase awareness of the potential loss of many of Britain’s historic buildings.

We would be happy to answer specific points that the viewer wants to raise where he feels that the programme has broadcast ‘misinformation’. We would once again stress that the series follows only houses that have the necessary legal permission from all the relevant authorities for the work undertaken.  So it is hard to understand his comment that we could be leading owners into potentially ‘criminal’ activities.

We note that the viewer thinks the ‘owners are going wrong’.  Once again, the owners have done everything with the appropriate permission.  The complainant appears to be raising issues that relate to his personal taste, rather than to any substantive legal or editorial consideration.

The basis on which all of the projects we followed is made clear to the viewers throughout the shows.  The title ‘Restoration Home’ is used to inform viewers that this was part of a continuing ‘restoration’ brand that the BBC has been pursuing for some years.  The word is used in a general sense rather than the more technical confines of the viewer’s profession.  The degree to which the buildings are being ‘restored’ or simply renovated for the owners own use varies from programme to programme within the series but the audience is always totally informed of the detail.

Nobody watching the drastic alterations made to Mr. Sweet’s home could fail to understand that he was determined to make significant changes.  But as the building is not listed and he had all the relevant permissions, he was entitled to do as he wished.

His interviews, like all interviews in the series, are of necessity edited for length but we believe that the audience would be left in no doubt about his views on the project.”

I hope this goes some way to addressing your concerns.

Nevertheless, I appreciate your feelings about the series and I’d like to assure you that I’ve registered your complaint on our audience log.  This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

Image credit: BBC/Endemol


  1. Richard Salmon on July 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    The Endemol response says it all. How quickly they forgot what the original “Restoration” series was all about.

  2. Phil Clark on July 29, 2011 at 11:48 am

    Could I also add a few complaints, unrelated to the very fair points by the missive writer?
    Production standards piss poor. Jerky jump-cuts, swooshing camera work, stupid music choices. Hence a feeling that you were watching a spoof documentary. I maintained viewing based only on the ‘so bad it’s good’ principle.
    A tone that would patronise a schoolchild.
    A presenter that quite frankly displayed no knowledge or appreciation for the topic area she was covering.
    It’s a real shame as almost entirely hidden by these fatal weaknesses were interesting building stories.
    And if the production company had bothered to take in some of the practical considerations alluded to in the letter they had something.
    A case of (abysmal) style over substance.

  3. AndieHSI on August 7, 2011 at 12:06 am

    I received exactly the same response. Shame they didn’t take the time to respond appropriately to each individual complaint they received.

    This was made even more obvious by the fact I am female yet the refer all the way through to ‘he’ and ‘his’.

    The BBC obviously do not ‘appreciate your feelings’ and this standard copy and pasted response just goes further to make me despair at the BBC and it’s lack of integrity in programming and also in it’s response to complaints.

    The fact that those complaining work in the sector and have all highlighted very pertinent issues and concerns appears not to have been taken seriously in favour of a ‘brand’.

    Shame on you Aunty Beeb!