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Ah, the British bed and breakfast. Can you imagine something more cozy? From the crowded chintz pillows on the bed to the pot pourri in the bathroom, everything in a B&B offers a little oasis away from everyday life, including a cooked breakfast and a selection of cereals in a basket.
However, if you've ever seen Channel 4’s Four in a Bed, you’ll know that behind the net curtains and free, rich teas hides a world of bitter rivalry, craft stress, and downright murderous intentions.
On the surface, the prerequisite is that afternoon television is the most sleepy. Four B&B owners visit each other, stay one night and pay them a fair price. During their visit, which includes a space inspection, entertainment (from husky racing to Morris dancing) and dinner, the verdict is uninterrupted.
They evaluate each other based on cleanliness, quality of sleep, hot breakfast and entertainment. At the end of each visit there is a decision time – do they pay the normal room price? Some generously give extra, but most underpay, with the final episode being a showdown reserved for fierce debate about comments and the winner's statement – the establishment, which has been recognized as the best value for money. There is much discussion about the origin of eggs and sausages, as well as many pelmets, bedspreads and Union Jack pillows.
Breakfast is checked
One might think that there was no more steam and the No Vacancies sign hung years ago, but now in series 13 with almost 600 episodes, Four in a Bed seems to be an unstoppable white juggernaut drama.
Why? Because it is a cavalry of small arguments, questionable taste, false courtesy and hideous snobbery – all things in which the British really excel. No detail goes unnoticed and uncut. The beds are turned upside down, the toilet bowls checked for stains with the enthusiasm of a forensic team, and everyone is terribly rude about the decor as they smile through gritted teeth and pretend that everything is nice. Until the day of payment, when the knives come out, a woman with big hair is of course crying because someone is underpaid, and a guy in an English rugby shirt puts a protective arm around his wife and says something like, "I don't stay insulted here. Let's go, Eileen. "
It's a perfect view, but there were many casualties along the way and scandal knocks on the serving hatch regularly. A Northumberland candidate, Lizzie Middlemiss from 1 Sallyport B&B in Berwick-upon-Tweed, had to call the police after receiving hate mail. Other participants have received abuse ranging from excrement to post to fake TripAdvisor reviews.
Entertainment from magic to hot tubs
It even angered Charlotte Church's mother Maria, who owns Dexby Townhouse in Cardiff and appeared on the series in 2011. "Some of the comments were irrelevant and very picky. I was outraged, ”she said when her competitors criticized everything from the photos of her famous daughter in the lounge to the crispy bacon. But that's entertainment at its finest. The tantrums and smoldering resentments can stay with you forever.
Who could forget Gary from Series 11, a former IT consultant and owner of a high-tech B&B in Newport? Though he'd spent the week wearing a top hat and great ordering every egg permutation at breakfast, his egg-making equipment failed him when it was his turn. We were spoiled by the sight of Gary shouting, "THIS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE!" While his poaching machine was about to explode.
Then there was Prankster Raj, who ran the Kirribilli in Newquay. He was accused of planting hair at breakfast, asked for his boiled egg to be unshelled, and painted the tiles in the showers in his hotel with emulsion to cover everyone. Perhaps he sensed that he had gone too far and his piece of resistance fell out of the competition to never be seen again.
But the real joy of Four in a Bed is its reliability. It is always different and yet always the same. Someone criticizes a room because it's too clinical and "not my cup of tea". The owner of a Blackpool guest house leaves the owner of a noble country house hotel behind. Pubic hair is exposed, dead insects are advised. It is so British. So vicious. And it makes you incredibly relieved that you are not running a B&B.
"Our host came out with a tray from Pimm – and not with a prick"
Lynnie Jolly, who owns the Higher Gitcombe B&B in Totnes, Devon, appeared with her husband Paul in 2015
Lynnie and Paul Jolly were on Four In A Bed in 2015
Paul and I converted abandoned barns into beautiful lots. Unfortunately, the recession hit, so we couldn't sell our latest property, and this – along with the news that Paul had aggressive prostate cancer – forced us to change course. When Paul was better, we figured out why we shouldn't turn the barn conversion into a boutique B&B.
We set up a website, started getting guests, and soon we were asked if we would have four in one bed.
At first I said "no way" because the people on it are so terrible and after what we went through we didn't want to. Then the director and a cameraman from the show came to visit us and filmed us. I said, "OK, I'll do it, but my name is Jolly and I'm not doing anything terrible." We had to trust them.
The Higher Gitcombe B&B in Totnes, Devon
The first place we visited was a listed mansion by John de Bruyne, who was formerly the Queen's whip and glove maker. He came down in a tuxedo jacket with his son, a drummer named Johnny Thundersticks. Among the other participants were a couple who ran a pub in a hotel and Tim who owned a nudist hotel and spa in Birmingham. When I found out, my jaw dropped to the floor. Tim showed up with a tray of pimms without a stitch and no one knew where to look. When it was our turn, they all thought we were Mr. and Mrs. Boring. Tim found a dead fly under a pillow and complained that there were too many hangers. But we won!
It's a lot of hard work to be on the show. You do not know how it will be processed or what the angle will be. But after that the phone went insane and we got a lot of bookings. We found the whole thing very exciting and felt so happy.
It was one of the funniest episodes, so it was about 15 times. We get nice people who stay, who have seen it and are really nice and give good reviews on TripAdvisor – then we get people who have found us organically. It was great – an absolutely positive experience.
"Being on the show was the most stressful experience ever"
Chef Ross Williams, who owns the Kilpeck Inn in Herefordshire, went to Four in a Bed in 2017 with Kath Capel, the manager in front of the house
Ross Williams, who owns the Kilpeck Inn in Herefordshire, went to Four in a Bed in 2017 with Kath Capel, the manager in front of the house
We thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce the business. That was our agenda – just to have a little bit of fun. But in the end, you are caught up in other people's agendas: the candidates who really want to win and the TV production company that is constantly developing conflicts and dramas. There are five episodes that have been filmed over two weeks with a lot of travel, and they film and interview you all the time – when you are in bed, the last one at night, the first one in the morning … so you get under pressure – Stove situation.
The first show was a B&B in Stratford-upon-Avon owned by Julie, one of the most difficult people I have ever met in my life. My bedroom was painted entirely in green, others in red and one in black.
The Kilpeck Inn in Herefordshire
Our breakfast – Eier Benedict – was barely cooked and practically inedible. They just weren't up to date. Our strategy was to be fair and nice, but we couldn't say anything. So we underpaid by about £ 10.
When it was our turn, the housekeepers abandoned us the night before and we cleaned until 3am so that some dust spots were found. One of the participants also disassembled an antique lamp to reveal some dead flies.
Then Julie ordered breakfast the next day … Eggs Benedict. It wasn't on the menu and we didn't have any of the ingredients, so I did my best – and it was still a million times better than hers. There was also an incident where she claimed that our on-site manager insulted her and said that oak juice had been spat on the windowsill. In the end she underpaid by £ 40 and gave us two points (out of ten) for everything. She really had it for us.
It took me a while to get over it, but at least I don't wake up in a cold sweat. It was hands down the most stressful experience I have ever had.
Moving, buying a pub, starting a business … none of that was as stressful as being at four in a bed.
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