Every B&B owner has an opinion about Channel 4’s “Three in a Bed” and “Four in a Bed”, whether they’ve participated in them or not. Do these shows help bed and breakfasts by offering the wider public a unique insight into the richness and diversity of the UK’s accommodation sector? Or do they sabotage property owners by misrepresenting them and confirming people’s (often inaccurate) prejudices about B&Bs? Certainly a phrase that often crops up in reviews is “car crash TV” – that special fascination you feel when someone utterly self-deluded reveals their folly in all its gruesome detail. Toe-curling stuff, but you can’t stop watching.
If you’re a regular reader of theBandBer.com, you probably know the format already, but just to recap: three (or sometimes four) sets of B&B owners stay the night with one another. They’re then asked to rate each other’s establishment based on what they think a stay in it is worth. Sometimes they offer the going rate, sometimes under, very occasionally over. Whoever makes the most money is the winner.
Well known travel journalist Sally Shalam reviews bed and breakfasts every week for The Guardian. When “Three in a Bed” first started in May 2010, she had some pretty trenchant things to say about it: “Is the programme a fair portrayal of the current state of bed and breakfasts in this country? Of course it isn’t. By exercising judicious website scrutiny and reading between the lines, I reckon on an average of two duff experiences out of 50 stays per year – that’s it, just two. I am not remotely tempted to stay anywhere shown by C4 so far, but when it comes to marks for entertainment, this is five-star stuff.”
A year later, her view had mellowed slightly: “I’m glad to see British B&B getting an airing on national TV. More and more people are choosing to turn their hand to running B&B as a lifestyle option and, if nothing else, “Four in a Bed” serves as a useful training video for wannabe entrants into the hospitality business, just as the Hotel Inspector, Mary Queen of Shops and Country House Rescue do as well.”
Of course viewers are much wiser to reality TV producers’ tricks these days. They know perfectly well that the researchers are told to find the most… ahem “colourful” participants and that editing is often used to completely distort situations where tension occurs (by including some events and omitting others, for instance.) None the less, both shows can make for compulsive viewing, so we thought it might be interesting to ask a B&B owner who has taken part what the experience was like and whether or not it boosted her businesses.
Liese Cairnes, owner of the Leyland Country House in Lymington, appeared in series 2, episode 7 of “Three in a Bed” (first broadcast 12th May 2011). The other participants were Sue and Tony from Swallowfield B&B in Coventry and Ollie and Millie from Wriggles Brook, a gypsy caravan B&B. Sue and Tony won, but I think it’s fair to say that Liese emerged as the star of the show:
1. How were you approached to be on “Three in a Bed” initially?
The initial contact was by email. I got the impression that the producers tend to divide the country up by region and look for B&B owners they think might be likely candidates – either because their properties are unusual, because they have interesting back stories or just because they’re real characters. But it isn’t just a case of being asked to take part and saying yes. I was first approached by the casting director in July 2010. Between then and September 2010 they interviewed me seven times to make sure I was the right kind of person for the show.
2. Was going on the show a difficult decision to make at all?
I asked all my friends what they thought. Most of them said, “Don’t do it!” One friend, who runs her own very successful B&B warned me that it could be business suicide. My boyfriend was supportive but didn’t want to appear in the programme – which wasn’t a problem, as he doesn’t live with us.
You have to remember what my circumstances were at the time. My husband had left me and my four children with a £1.1 million mortgage. The only way for us to keep the family home was to turn it into a B&B, with the children helping in all kinds of ways. It was already doing well, but to some extent I felt like I didn’t have much to lose by going on the programme. Also – and I think this is really important – I had absolutely nothing to hide. I didn’t approach the experience with any kind of agenda or strategy. I wasn’t in it to put down anyone else’s property or manipulate them into making fools of themselves. I just decided to be myself and it worked out really well.
3. I think everyone came out of the show really well in the end, but what assurances, if any, were you given in advance about how you would be portrayed?
None. The producers had total control of the final cut. If you signed the contract, it was written in that you had to accept that. They were very clear about what the deal was. But they did also provide expenses. They even replaced my decrepit old Rover with something a bit more posh for the duration of the shoot!
4. To what extent were the visits from other B&B owners pre-planned? For example did the production team suggest a spa visit in Lymington because they knew your competitor, Sue, didn’t like water?
I only spent about half an hour with the other B&B owners before we started filming the first visit. The programme is shot on an incredibly tight and efficient schedule: two and a half days per property, with half a day extra for ‘pick ups’ in case anything doesn’t go quite right. That means a whole episode is completed in nine days – though, of course, it takes a lot longer to edit. The production staff works incredibly hard.
As for the spa visit, that was totally my idea. All the other activities I suggested, like quad biking, had been taken for episodes already filmed. And, as it turned out, Sue eventually decided she loved spas and was going to start visiting them more often – but that didn’t make the final cut.
5. Is business even better since the show was broadcast? How great an improvement do you think there has been?
Appearing on the show has had a hugely positive effect on business. When my episode was first broadcast I received about 500 emails about it, most of them incredibly warm and positive.
6. Did you feel the final edit was fair?
I was perfectly happy with the final version of the episode. Like I said, I didn’t go in with any kind of agenda – I just decided to be myself and try to have some fun. In the episode, you do see me ‘tear up’ at one point, but you don’t see the fifteen minutes of pretty blunt comments I received immediately before. Having said that, I did genuinely appreciate the feedback that I got from the other B&B owners.
7. Are you glad you went on “Three in a Bed”?
Absolutely. For one thing, it encouraged me to improve various aspects of my product, from re-jigging the breakfast menu to replacing the towels. After the show had been broadcast, I got offers from various national newspapers to do interviews and profiles, but I turned them all down. I’d enjoyed going ‘public’ on the programme, but I didn’t want to take it any further and I think that was the right decision. After all, my episode is still being repeated, so it keeps on bringing me new guests!