Written to a friend / industry contact about Four in a Bed, when we knew our transmission dates
We've had a fantastic experience "thus far". I answered an email / advert in high summer, and was a little surprised how quickly the casting lady got in touch and came down to see us, and "screen test us" for Four in a Bed. It took no more than mid June to early August from application to acceptance to be put forward to Channel 4 to being allocated to the first week of the new series. And recording was in the first two weeks of September.
August was a whirlwind ... when you're putting your B&B / Hotel up for peer review, in competition against other owners on national television, where the filming is likely to be selectively used to make for an interesting and larger than life reality series, you need to have (a) everything as planned and right as it can be, (b) a superb team backing you up and (c) a willingness to take things as they come, and not fret when things go wrong. And you need to be aware that the other three contestant owners in your week group will have been chosen to be as different in who they are and what they provide ... and also chosen because the casting folks think they won't be the sort of people who would normally stay at your hotel. Most guests read the web site and decide where to book, but this lot's placed with you where if they were booking themselves they would quickly move on to another website which offers their style ...
We HAVE got that superb team - all of whom love having customers come and stay, and were more than supportive (actively encouraging) of us taking part in the program. And it would have been worthwhile for us to have gone through that preparation exercise anyway - taking a long and critical look at what we do and how we do it, and dealing with the tiny number of issues that it highlighted.
The filming was ... a whirlwind fortnight. On the first Monday, Lisa and I travelled to Scotland and stayed at a hotel that was close to our final destination. And on the Tuesday morning, we went to the film crew's hotel, met up with them, and we were filming from around 09:30. First "drivethroughs" to give the viewers an idea of the town we were in (and delivery vans ALWAYS block the best views), then the the approach to the first competitor's hotel, then the arrival, and the greeting on the doorstep. Everything's filmed two or three times - from in front, from behind, without the sound of passing traffic .... and care's taken to make sure that people are in the same order each time. There's a constant rigging, rerigging and checking of microphones, and that microphone leads aren't visible. So it's a drawn out process.
Inside, check in, and shown to your room. Filmed entering from outside, then filmed entering from inside. And as you look around and comment on the room, you're being filmed. "Can you do that again" is a common request, and there's encouragement to look for dust / highlight elements that don't take your fancy or that don't work for you. And then ... you'll get some time to yourselves while the other hoteliers / guests are arriving and going through the same process. A sandwich lunch with the crew is provided, and then you get involved in interviews.
You are interviewed each day from when you wake up in the morning to when you go to sleep for the night. The film crew don't quite sleep in your bedroom, but they're certainly there to record you in bed before you get up and get ready for breakfast, and they keep coming back until you're settling down after your evening meal. There are other interviews too - in the main reception areas of the hotel, an (before, during and after) the special local activity that has been laid on, before and after the evening meal (which is also filmed) and before and after breakfast the following morning too. And as you check out and complete your hotel survey, and decide what the room was worth, you're being interviewed and filmed again.
It's often suggested that Lisa and I are geeks who prefer the back room, and you might think that this sort of attention really isn't our style. But the professional crew very quickly put everyone at their ease, and their central organisation is equally professional. I tend to be a mixture of geek-in-a-shell and presenter anyway - Lisa is normally very much back room, but delighted during the recording by jumping in and being very much an equal member of the Well House team as we reviewed, were interviewed, and took part in all the activities.
Tuesday morning .. arrival and look at the rooms. Afternoon - a local activity. Evening - a meal organised by the hosts. Wednesday morning - breakfast. Lunchtime - review of the stay and hotel, and at around 2 O'clock we were on our way to the town where the second competitor's accommodation was located, arriving in that town on the Wednesday evening, staying at a staging hotel, and ready to start the whole process again on Thursday morning. We got home, that first week, late on Friday evening after an exhausting week of pre-dawn to post-dusk activity, sleeping in a different bed every night.
Well House Manor was the third competitor, with the other three owners arriving in Melksham on the Sunday evening. Our own team - and ourselves - were doing those final preparations of the hotel and the rooms; we had made a strategic decision to provide "regular product" - nothing special above the norm, to showcase what we're really about, but never the less it isn't normal to have a film crew around, to greet everyone three times over, or to receive guests who hanker after a full bar with an extensive and expensive wine list, so there is some abnormality in how things are handled.
The filming at "your own place" is in many ways even more intensive than the filming when you're visiting. Every set of guests needs to be received, checked upon, looked after, glad-handed through the activity and looked after at the evening meal. And questions at the evening meal centre on you as hosts, and your place - with some competitors getting very much into the spirit of the game by asking challenging, prying and pointed questions. There are some competitors who look exclusively by promoting their own product, but there are others who look to boost their chances by "dissing" others, and this makes for an interesting evening and excellent (we hope!) TV.
It's interesting preparing breakfast with the firm crew in the inner sanctum of your kitchen ... with a camera filming the croissants browning because the oven is glass fronted. And that makes for a challenge in getting the food out hot, and providing service to the guests - both the "Four in a bed" ones and others who are staying with you too. And after breakfast, and a long series of checkouts and goodbyes, you have an opportunity to review the reviews that your guests have filled in - anonymously, but you can often guess. Who's paid what, though, will come later. And there's no big chance to relax either, for as soon as your fellow competitors are cleared, you're both getting ready for the next night's guests, and preparing to travel yourself to the next staging hotel ...
The fourth venue is visited Wednesday night / Thursday morning - again the same format, but you don't travel home when you check out - you stay in another staging hotel, and then all the competitors meet up early on the Friday morning at the venue that's been chosen for the reveal - where everyone sits down, goes through, shares and discusses reviews, and find out who's paid what to whom ... concluding in the calculation of percentages, and the announcement and congratulations of the winner. And even after that, there are interviews .... before goodbyes are said, some friendly and perhaps some frosty (or perhaps some people don't even say goodbye ...) and it's late home - to a team who's curious to know how we got on .... but we can only share our reviews and not compare them to others.
It's then ... back to "business as normal". The four in a bed team left Well House Manor with around 15 40-minute DVDs or material that has to be reduced to 23 minutes of program (there's 7 minutes of adverts to go in), and it will be interesting to see which bits they've used - we still don't know. Occasional calls come in to check about a picture or art object that appears (copyright must be checked) but beyond that it goes quiet. Best guess had been that the program would air in the new year, and indeed that was confirmed just over a week before Christmas, with the episode summaries starting to appear on the Channel 4 web site. Still to come is the experience of watching the show, and picking up on the effects thereof; we're alerted that we may get media and public attention, and to check that our web site is robust, and we're alerted to other potential feedbacks that can come with 15 minutes of fame. We're also reminded to refer any requests for press interviews back to the TV companies, and to be careful in how we answer / comment on online forums, Facebook, etc.
At this point, I can't expand on what happens as the show goes out (I don't yet know) nor can I make any comment about the content .. that would be giving the games away. But I can encourage people to watch. And I can say that - thus far - it's been a fantastic experience; wouldn't have missed it for the world.
- Graham, 22nd December 2012 (written 2013-01-11, updated 2013-01-12)
Associated topics are indexed as below, or enter http://melksh.am/nnnn for individual articlesM444 - Well House Manor - Four in a Bed 
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Well House Manor on Four in a Bed - the ongoing story - (2013-01-12) 
Four in a Bed - comment on results - (2013-01-11) 
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