OPINION: Why Homes Under the Hammer is a cultural institution

Homes Under the Hammer presenters Dion Dublin, Martel Maxwell and Martin Roberts 

Homes Under the Hammer presenters Dion Dublin, Martel Maxwell and Martin Roberts - Credit: BBC/Lion TV

It’s been on our screens for almost 20 years – and there are few TV shows that have that longevity.  

Its celebrity fans include legends of the music world and the silver screen – and which TV commissioner wouldn’t dream of Sir Paul McCartney and Meryl Streep publicly declaring their love for their show?  

And each episode takes the viewers (which number more than 1.5 million, five mornings a week) on a dramatic and emotional journey as ordinary folks seize the day and follow their dreams. 

Homes Under the Hammer is destined to languish forever in the TV pigeonhole marked ‘guilty pleasure’. But really shouldn’t it be designated as a cultural institution? 

It may be a daytime TV show, beloved of students for its literal song choices, catchphrases and its co-host’s garish shirts. 

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But when it comes to the BBC’s remit to inform, educate and entertain, Hammer – as its fans fondly call it - ticks all the boxes.

Tapping into the British obsession with bricks and mortar, in each episode presenters Martin Roberts, former Norwich City footballer Dion Dublin and journalist Martel Maxwell take a snoop around a dilapidated property – more often than not in Stoke on Trent or the Welsh valleys - and assess its potential and possible pitfalls.  

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After the auction they meet the buyer and find out what they’ve got planned.  

Then later in the show they catch up with them for the reveal to find out how the project has gone.  

Last, but by no means least, they call in a couple of local estate agents to walk on at a jaunty angle and get their expert view on how much profit there is to be had. 

And there’s no doubt that the majority of the properties are bought to make a profit.  

Most of them are converted to rental properties, or flipped for a quick re-sale.  

It's very rare that a Hammer property is bought to become a forever home and you find yourself really rooting for the ones that do to stay on budget.  

But on the other hand, whatever the intention, giving properties which were empty and in disrepair a new lease of life is surely a positive thing. 

To say that Homes Under the Hammer has been on the air for almost two decades, very little has changed in that time – apart from the property prices, which have, of course, rocketed.  

Certainly the opening titles look like they’re an original feature and could possibly do with a little cosmetic updating. 

The format is comfortingly repetitive – essential if you’re watching it from under a duvet on the sofa on a sick day.  

And no pun is ever overlooked. Being the music supervisor on Hammer must be one of the most satisfying jobs in TV.  

Problems with the roof? Here’s a blast of Up on the Roof to accompany some footage of missing tiles.  

Dublin and Maxwell are more recent additions to the presenting team – original presenter Lucy Alexander left in 2016.  

And they all bring something different to Hammer time. 

Dublin is on a one-man mission to eradicate the world of polystyrene ceiling tiles and isn’t a fan of walls. And an episode isn’t complete without his catchphrase: “You’ve got your stairs up to the bedrooms”, which he delivers with a knowing glint in his eye.  

No matter how terrible the condition of the property, Maxwell somehow manages to remain upbeat in the face of dodgy dated décor, alarming patches of mould and ominous cracks in walls. 

And then there’s Roberts.  

With Hammer from day one, and owner of a seemingly never-ending collection of gaudy patterned shirts, he's a man with a dream.  

A dream that one day all the buyers he meets will have at least looked around the property and read the legal pack before handing over their cash.  

Time and again Roberts warns viewers how important it is to make sure that there are no unpleasant surprises that could see their profits subsiding quicker than those dodgy foundations. 

And time and again his advice is ignored. 

His despair was palpable in a recent episode when he met the buyer of an overgrown plot of land in a Derbyshire beauty spot.  

As the post-sale chat had unfolded, it emerged that indeed the buyer had not looked at the plot and they hadn’t looked at the legal pack, so was blissfully unaware that they had the joys of some negotiations with their new neighbours over access to look forward to. And also that planning permission for the plot had been turned down.  

But the buyer was still buoyant.  

Roberts was aghast as she explained that hadn’t actually intended to buy the land at the auction.

She'd had her eye on another property – but when she didn’t get that, she decided to bid for the land on a whim – a £40,000 whim - as a birthday present for her husband as it was near to his favourite fish and chip shop. 

When Hammer returned to the site for the big reveal, the weeds were gone and there was a new shed, but not much else had changed.

But the buyer declared that she’d had an enjoyable time clearing the site and as for future plans – just wait and see.

It's those microdramas which keep viewers tuning in day after day.

But more than that, for some people it's the catalyst they need to make a change of direction.

Many of the people the presenters meet say that they have been inspired to get into property development themselves by watching the show, taking on board – or disregarding – the presenters’ advice.  

I’m sure that just out of shot they’ve got a confetti canon and marching band on standby for the day when someone has actually got a mining report before they buy a property.  

If that ever happens, then Martin Roberts’s life’s work is surely done. 

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