Tuesday, 22 September 2009

'Young, posh and loaded' - the original Grand Tourists

Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour is a new four part TV series on Channel 4, and part 1 aired last Sunday evening. In the programme, Kevin retraces the steps of the early 17th & 18th century aristocratic adventurers, who were shipped off to Europe in the historical equivalent of the gap year to learn about life, love, sex and culture. Some of them, like Inigo Jones and Robert Adam, brought back ideas about architecture that had a lasting impact on cultural life in Britain. The classical design influences they soaked up on the Grand Tour are reflected in many of our most beautiful buildings, such as Banqueting House Whitehall, the Bank of England and Covent Garden Piazza, as well as numerous great houses and other buildings in towns and cities across the country.

The Grand Tour is often mentioned in historical romances, but rarely in detail, so this series is going to be fun to follow. The cost of the original Grand Tour was rather staggering, and therefore reserved for what Kevin McCloud describes as 'young, posh and loaded' gentlemen. The average cost of £300 (plus another £50 if accompanied by a servant) equates to £40,000 in today's money. Then there are the funds for those little extras: wine, gambling and sex ;0) Apparently the English gained a reputation early on for partying hard!

In part 1, after a quick stop in Paris to spend a fortune on the latest fashions - there's a very funny sequence where Kevin goes to a couturier and emerges dressed in the most outrageous outfit, just as the original Grand Tourists would have done - it was on to northern Italy, to Genoa, Vincenza and Venice. The programme was visually stunning and Kevin McCloud is a knowledgeable and engaging guide who never allows his presence to overwhelm the subject matter. I'll certainly be tuning in to the rest of the series and buying the accompanying book :)

*photo of Kevin McCloud at Villa Lucia in Naples by Hugo Macgregor, published in RadioTimes 19-25th September 2009

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