deep dives

A Deep Dive into 'Location Location Location', the Greatest Show on British TV

Presented as a series of questions.

by Joel Golby
26 October 2018, 11:14am

All images via Channel 4

#1: What is The Deal with Kirstie and Phil?

Kirstie and Phil are there to help, so you never have to address the chewy, gristle-like question over whether you like them or not. Phil is a 48-year-old man with the chuckle of a granddad mildly pretending he understands Instagram when you explain it to him, and the lean of someone who is now permanently cramped after stepping out of a sports car once. Kirstie Allsopp screams one in six words and screams in the middle of one in 15 words, and bristles with what I can only describe as "Big Bag For Life Energy. She is the poshest person currently on TV. I once watched her describe stepping outside into the cold as being "perishing", which is a steer on how posh we are dealing with. We think we know posh, here, in Britain: we know the Queen and the omnipotent Royal family, we know of hierarchies and earls, we knew so-posh-they-sounded-like-an-animal boys at university and we know those lads at work who very quietly own a flat at 22 and talk in nostalgic tones about being forced to cum on a biscuit at Eton. We know the Made in Chelsea lot and we know girls in west London with impossibly big hair, and we think we know everything about posh, and then Kirstie Allsopp totters along, the final level of it: Kirstie Allsopp, a human gin and tonic, teetering around in some building development mud in sturdy red heels, exuding the kind of energy that suggests she treats school bake sales with the solemn and humourless dedication of an Olympic diver.

I feel like, more than once, Kirstie Allsopp has seen what the Queen is wearing on TV and hissed the word: cheap. She is as posh as it is possible to get without poshness gnarling and contorting your skeleton, poshness pressing your rib cage down to your knees, poshness coming out in bone spurs and vestigial claws. Inbreed Kirstie Allsopp one more un-dilution of the bloodline and her skull would come out huge and ripe like a pumpkin. Kirstie Allsopp laughs with a hard r (“Har har har har har!”). She is impossibly posh. Do not address the chewy, gristle-like question over whether you like her. She is simply here to help.


#2: What is the Point of 'Location, Location, Location'?

Location, Location, Location is here to turn the unrelenting hell of finding a house to buy into a neatly-packaged and un-anxious 45 minutes that you can enjoy at teatime, at dinner, and five-in-a-row on a big hangover where no one can find the remote and it's stuck on All 4, the Wickes-sponsored pre-roll advert whistle haunting you until someone gets out from under the sofa duvet and actually unplugs the telly at the wall. It: broadly succeeds at this goal.

The format of LLL is this: two couples per week are looking for a house or flat. They are all simultaneously idiots who don't know what they want, and picky cunts who discount entire houses or flats for simply perceived flaws. Here is Helen, looking in Cheshire: "The third bedroom is too small. It's perfect in every other way but the third bedroom is too small. We do not yet have a second child to put in it. The third bedroom, though, is too small." Gareth in Oxford looks pained in an immaculate kitchen: "It doesn’t feel right." James, who insists he is happy to commute up to an hour-and-a-half, feels like this house is too far from the centre of Bath. His wife tilts both eyebrows at him. "We'll keep looking."

The complete and utter lack of sympathy I have for every fucker on this show is actually what energises me to watch it. I hate each and every one of them. I want to watch them, slapped arse-faced in an unfitted new build, sulking about off-road parking. I want to see them, a third of a pint in at a crackling fire pub, watching Phil Spencer gravely shake his head as their final phone offer is rejected. Location, Location, Location isn't about property porn, or the posh crackle of banter between its two battle-hardened hosts, and it's not an educational series for future home-buyers either. It is simply a show where I can watch the middle classes torture themselves.


#3. What is the Format of 'Location, Location, Location'?

You meet two couples who are mediocre, like staring into a bowl of porridge is. You do not care if they live or die. They are each introduced to us in the way you meet couples sat opposite you at a wedding: they go through their pre-rehearsed lines about who they are and what they do and where they live, and that is the full extent of their banter, their banter is over, you turn away from them and they turn away from you, and perhaps later – when you are slick with sweat from dancing and they are leaning on the bar drinking only their second glass of wine – they will nod at you in recognition, but that is that for your friendship; it has already come to a close.

Phil and Kirstie tell you how much the house prices in the area have risen in the last five years (it is always: a lot). The couple presents a budget you simply cannot understand them having at the age they are (how do two 25-year-olds have a £250,000 budget and a BMW to park there? How???). Kirstie and Phil show them three houses each. They umm and ahh and pick the second house shown to them. They go to a pub as the early evening grows dark, and either Kirstie or Phil puts a phone offer in. This is the only moment of drama on the show: Kirstie, Phil, rapt on the phone to a property agent ("Jonathan! Hi"), the couple staring at them like starving dogs, trying to watch for clues on their face or in what they say, Kirstie and Phil long since trained in having an entire phone conversation without giving anything away, and then they hang up, pause, and—

It goes one of two ways here. If they buy the house, I turn the TV off. The episode is over. They shake and punch the air in tight and constrained middle-class delight. They go "yeAH!" or "ye–heah!" I hate seeing this moment of joy. It leaves me cold.

But if they don’t get the house, fucking hell. I love it. They desperately scramble between them – "Perhaps we put another offer in? £245,000? £250,000?" – the phone buzzes and chirps again. It's a no. They can't go any further. Maybe five more grand? No. They can't go any further. Phil gravely shakes his head. One of them actually sobs. Six months later, the cameras revisit them and they're living in a markedly not-as-good home as the one they were too tight to overbid on, and they are saying: "I think Phil would like it." "I think he'd be proud of us, yeah." Nobody escapes the emotional tumble dryer that is buying a property in the UK unscathed. They all start the show haunted by it, and they end the show permanently disfigured and changed. It is, very simply, not a good advert for getting a mortgage. But watching these people wreck themselves on the shore of it? My god. My fucking god. Bliss.


#4. What Is the Symbolism Behind the Array of Padded Jackets and Light Scarves Worn On This Programme?

I am still trying to interpret the runes. The simple facts are this: you are not ready to buy a property in England until you own at least one, but ideally three, unbranded padded jackets with badging unlike anything you've ever seen before – not "The North Face", but, like, "Klambor®", or "OuterLite", "Artika", some made-up boot sale shit like that – which you will wear, matching jeans matching running trainers, with your partner. The couple will almost always have quite wonky smiles and a child who is too old to be wheeled around in a pushchair. Reactolite lenses and a five-year-old car. You know the people I am talking about. None of these people are your people. You: eyes red and blinking against the rapid rising of the Sunday morning sun, condemned once again to getting in at 9 and sleeping through til 2, rolling over in one sweaty motion and ordering immediately off the Domino's app. Them: up-and-at-em at a continental market, getting into extremely long conversations with apron-wearing salami salesmen, but, ultimately, buying nothing, then driving up to Waitrose for a Member's Club tea and a "mig shop", their fun name for a miniature big shop. Clean socks pressed up on the coffee table nobody is allowed to put any coffee cups on. Three episodes of boxset, bed by 10PM. Absolute top tax bracket without even trying. You couldn't be these people if you had a hundred lifetimes to try. You couldn't be these people in a thousand.

Phil Spencer always dresses the same: blue suit, open shirt, no tie, fading southern hemisphere tan. Kirstie's look is pinched jackets and fun patterns, unafraid of a cherry-red or a lime-green. And then there are the scarves, which I am sure she uses to communicate in some way: thick and pluming when she's confident a couple are going to like the house for sale, thinner and meeker for a more compromise-heavy flat. The scarves bloom with patterns and shrink with muted greys. How many scarves does Kirstie Allsopp own: a thousand, a hundred-thousand? A million scarves? How many facets of human emotion are there? She has that many scarves.


#5. Is Every House in Britain Just the Same?

Broadly, yes. There are three types of property in Britain (houses or flats; it doesn't really matter which): old buildings that look old inside, old buildings that look new inside and new buildings that look new inside. Every couple shown an old building that looks old inside will wrinkle their fetid noses and say "it needs modernising". Every couple shown an old building that looks new inside will moan that they can't see anywhere they can "add value". Every couple shown a new building that looks new inside will either grab each other gingerly by the padded jacket lapels and say "I love it" in a hushed whisper, or they'll say "it doesn’t have character" and buy it anyway. And here’s you, on the sofa, halfway through a bowl of Coco Pops you made in a salad bowl because the normal bowls in the kitchen weren’t big enough to hold the sheer number of Coco Pops this hangover demanded: "Oh!" (there are Coco Pops on you, too, and between you and the blanket you are under) "Oh! These tasteless fucks!"

#6. Have Phil and Kirstie Ever Boned?

No. There is not a shred of horniness in any of their interactions. They are inverted horny. They are, in a way, the model for how male–female friendships should go: sexless, with that arid desert of banter between them; they text but they don’t flirt. Do I think they have possibly got too carried away at Crimbo Drinkies in the 90s once and ended up in one another's hotel rooms? Yes. Do I think they have made out in that strange sexless way where it feels like, instead of a pressing urgent mouth, that instead you are kissing, like, a hand, or the back of a knee? Yes. The answer to the question is: Phil and Kirstie have absolutely never boned. But they have done every configuration of trying. Then they realised it wasn't for them and just got on with finding Liz and Louise the perfect forever home in Berkshire.


#7. Is LLL A Show Designed to Make You Hate Heterosexual Couples And/Or the Concept of Functional and Unromantic Love?

Oh yes, totally and completely. Arguably, that is the entire point of the show. LLL is a show split into two parts: the property porn bit, where people kick around show homes and point at the kitchens and say "too small" (*1); and the bit where you meet the couple, and get to know the couple, and all the interstitial parts back in a curiously empty brasserie-style pub where the couple (who you have met, and now know) moan about all the houses they have seen and why they hate them. This is where the show sort of flounders, because most of the properties (inanimate configurations of brick and concrete) have more personality that the humans proposing to live inside them (two insurance adjusters who haven't had sex in six years), but you still have to go through the tea ceremony of getting to know their lives: you watch them push a pram through a frigid park in early spring, you watch them point at things through the window of a shop, you watch them, always, lean on the side of a picturesque bridge and look off it. "We met at uni," they say, sexlessly chuckling, the female half of the couple (it is almost always straight couples; LLL nods towards inclusion whenever it can – I watched some very cool lesbians buy a maisonette in Walthamstow – but broadly it is straight couples, this is just the nature of the show) does a little eye roll and says, "I didn’t even like him at first," or, "We met at work,", and the female half of the couple (see previous brackets) says, "We didn't really get on, did we?" and now here they are, four years down the line, chuckling in fleeces at the tight joy of their quiet, boring life, where initially hating each other has turned somehow into hating each other in a longer and more agonising way, a small toddler gurgling in a pram behind them, knowing one day he will have to grow up and watch them slowly divorce like an iceberg creaking into the sea.

This is all because of a more central theory I have, which goes:


Nobody who buys a house fucks. Nobody who fucks buys a house. Nobody on the show Location, Location, Location – a show where couples buy houses – fuck. They do not fuck. Occasionally they will have functional intercourse, maybe once every 18 to 21 months, to spawn a kid. But they do not fuck. Think of all the friends you know who have bought a house (you know one, you all know one: they are very coy about how they scraped a deposit up, despite being on the same salary as you; they call their dad every day; you all know one; you all know how they bought the house) – they don't fuck, do they? They have a mortgage advisor and they don’t fuck. Maybe they fucked once, before, but they traded that fuck energy in to instead buy a house. I feel the greatest illustration of this is "every photo of every couple in this hateful BBC article about young people buying houses": none of them fuck, do they? "We gave up holidays, make-up, rounds at the pub," they say, fucklessly. "I haven’t bought a round for four years! My friends all hate me! Ha ha. Oh, and also: we don’t fuck."

The only way to stay true and honest to your dirty, sexy little life is to rent indefinitely. Nobody sexually interesting has ever bought a house. Not a single person who knows what "stamp duty" is can fuck.


#8. Can Anyone On TV Do a Better 'Thumb Motion with Simultaneous Eyebrow Motion' Gesture As LLL's Phil Spencer?


#9. Why Do We Watch Property Programmes?

I've been struggling with this for ages, and I was going to suggest "it is baked into our Englishness" – there is something within us, a certain inherent nosiness, a historical urge to barge into places where we are not invited, plus a raving obsession with what our neighbours are up to, an itch that property programming scratches – but then America has property programmes, too. It has those unnerving brothers who renovate homes; it has that intense megaphone guy who destroys properties then quickly rebuilds them. Maybe this is the human condition: a simple obsession with shelter (maybe because it's one of the basic human needs, I suppose. But then we need water too, and I don’t think there's much mileage in, say, Jamie Oliver touring Italy, sinking pints of the clear stuff and saying "cor!") that comes out in these property shows where people with a certain irreplaceable shade of youth greyed out of them forever knit their fingers together and think about attic conversions. Is it jealousy? Do we watch these shows to see how people with more settled lives than us can live? Is it instructional? Do we watch these shows only to learn the shape their footsteps take, so we can step in them ourselves one day? Is it fantasy – the sheer idea of property ownership being so absurd that watching a dull couple in Coventry buy a semi-detached is on the same level as watching Kim Kardashian drop gold earrings into the ocean, or watching a sci-fi show where ships the size of cities crash into the sun? Why do we watch this? Why do we do this to ourselves?


#10. What Is with the Screaming Anxiety of Watching This Show?

Maybe that is why we watch the show: as a marker against which we can assess how well we are doing, or how much we are failing to thrive. There are three types of couple on this show, broadly (young first-time buyers; youngish second-time buyers; old couple in varifocals who sold the family home because it got too big but want somewhere close to where the grandkids live) and it’s hard to identify, really, with any of them. Boggling amount of money and two-hour drives. Firm parameters and body-warmer gilets. Is this what it takes to drive a nail into a wall? A quarter of a million pounds, a wife who quite openly detests you and a practical, used, bullet-grey 4x4 in case you have a baby? Do you feel it, the growing dread in your belly?

Kirstie takes a couple one year younger than you to a three-bedroomed flat and tells them it’s "well within their range". A couple who went to the same university as you met there two years after you graduated and are clearly on better starter jobs than you because they’re looking in the surrounding area and one of them has a Merc. What are you doing, in your rented room here, watching the Tinder radar pulse out as it fails to find anyone you've yet to swipe on in your area? How many carpet-grey zip-thru fleeces do you own? Do you even own one? This guy two years older than you wants a "showstopper kitchen" because he has his friends over to cook for them so often. When was the last time you, you know, cooked? Not heated something up from out of the oven: cooked. In fact, when did your friends last come to your flat? Think back. You moved in March, and then you— since March?

These people might have the personality of a dry sponge and have less sex than captive pandas do, but at least they have direction, right? At least they know who they are? What would you even ask for, if you wanted to buy a house right now? "Uh: could we have a spare room for the guitar I bought off eBay last year? Thought it’d be more of a hobby than it turned out to be, but after I responded to two Gumtree adverts asking for someone to be in their band and got no response I sort of gave up." Or: "The house really has to have a lot of wardrobe space, because I've moved this rack of old T-shirts I don’t wear to three houses now after spending that whole Sunday sorting them out and deciding which ones to Depop and then, ultimately, not actually putting them on Depop." What would you like in a front room? "Space for the 40 books I haven’t read and the seven copies of Harry Potter I’ve read ten times each." What about your commute? "It literally doesn’t matter because I won’t have my job in a year anyway."

You’re right, this show is depressing. I don’t know why I watch it. I don’t know why they make it. I don’t know why I thought this much about it.


(*1) Everyone buying a house on this show considers the house to be "too small" because: i. they are a young couple † yet to have a kid and they plan to have a kid and they make moon eyes at each other and go, "I dunno. Do we have enough space to grow into?" or ii. they are an early thirties couple with one kid, absolutely racing to have another kid, even though the kid they have won’t stop screaming; or iii. they are an early thirties couple with two children and have an infinite cap on the number of children they want to have, so when shown a five bedroom house they sort of heave and huff and go, "I don't know. Is it big enough? It just doesn’t feel very… big" And yes there is a whole side-theory on the fetishisation of adults with children and how only they and they alone are seen through the prism of property-buying society of being worthy of having space and security and the rest of us cunts can rent or rot, yes, but honestly nothing makes me feel more like a member of a wholly different species than watching two couples who haven’t had a proper haircut ever in their lives stand sturdy-legged in a living room the size of my entire flat going: "I don’t know. What if we have three more kids? Is there enough space?"

† Couples, always couples. If this show teaches us literally one thing, it is: you will never afford to be alone. The literal only way you will ever have the stability of long-term shelter is if you find someone you don't hate enough to spend every remaining day of your life sharing a bathroom with. That, in itself, is quite an exhausting idea.