From homebuyer advisor to angel of the hearth: the development of Kirstie Allsopp as the female face of Channel 4 'squeezed middle' austerity programming

Charlesworth, Diane (2016) From homebuyer advisor to angel of the hearth: the development of Kirstie Allsopp as the female face of Channel 4 'squeezed middle' austerity programming. In: Gender and austerity in popular culture: femininity, masculinity and recession in film and television. I.B.Tauris, London. ISBN 9781784536640

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The chapter looks at the space which has recently opened up for female authority in British television: provided by the discourses of austerity Britain. Very little has been written on the female television personality in British broadcasting (with notable exceptions: Bennett: 2010 & 2008; Woods: 2013). In his 2010 work, Bennett wrote that television had the potential to provide space for female performers, given the domesticity of the medium. Writing of 1950s television, he discusses the example of in-vision continuity announcing as a space for female presence and examines how their visuality and gender is negotiated through a discourse of ‘respectable glamour’. However, in factual as opposed to fictional forms of programming, the longevity required front-of-camera for audience resonance and professional authority has been a contentious issue for women working in the industry in comparison to their male counterparts across the years and one debated hotly in the last few years (cf. Jermyn: 2013). Austerity programming, apparent particularly in the schedules of the public service broadcasters, the BBC and C4, is by no means homogenous in its tenor, the focus of its interventionist attention (in its reality formats) or its audience address. From the down-to-earth, back-to-basics business sense of Mary Portas and her attempts to revive the fortunes of small businesses and the local high street in Mary, Queen of the High Street (C4: 2013) to domestic financial advice and household management in the form of the Women’s Institute matronly persona of Mrs Moneypenny for Channel Four’s Superscrimpers (C4: 2011-present), female voices and performance have been marshalled to organise local and domestic space on the television screen. The broadcaster Channel Four, in particular, has played a key role in this process, driven, it will be argued, by its need to develop its presence as a commercial public service broadcaster in a shifting television ecology in the digital age. Its austerity programming fits into a longer tradition of re-negotiating the concept of ‘public service’. This saw the development of a strand of ‘state-of-the-nation’ programming starting back in the early 2000s schedules, developing a stable of cultural intermediaries (Philips: 2005) (for example, Jamie Oliver with his campaign documentaries from Jamie’s Kitchen (2002) through to Jamie’s Dream School (2011)), offering advice on developing better selves for a better society: the neo-liberal citizen (cf. Ouellette & Hay: 2008).

Against this background, the chapter concentrates on one particular element of this move into austerity discourse: that which embraces the do-it-yourself, 1940s & 1950s nostalgic and retro modes of consumerism and self-improvement. In particular the focus will be on its performance in the factual television programming on Channel 4, presented by Kirstie Allsopp. The programmes under analysis are Kirstie's Handmade Britain (C4: 2011) as well as the earlier Kirstie's Homemade Home (C4: 2009 series 1). The chapter will look at how her mode of address and presenter persona in these two programmes builds on, but also reshapes her earlier performances of female/feminine identity, ‘respectable glamour’ and middle class cultural capital in the property-buying programming Location, Location, Location (C4: 2000-present) and Relocation, Relocation, Relocation (C4: 2004-present) offset by the performance of her co-presenter Phil Spencer. It draws on Richard Dyer's (2002) notion of escapism and utopian sensibility and affectivity in popular texts. In doing so, it aims to challenge the contention and assumptions as to what is at stake of Lucy Mangan of the Guardian newspaper’s review, that Allsopp “belongs in a time of plenty” and that “Under current conditions (i.e. those of austerity), she sits in the national landscape like a Second Empire sofa in a student flat.” (Mangan: 2011: online).

Keywords:Kirstie Allsopp, Channel Four (UK), public service broadcasting, austerity, reality television
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P301 Television studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
ID Code:23896
Deposited On:30 Aug 2016 16:07

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