Dirty Britain

Tuesday, 22 May 2012, 9:00PM – 10:00PM


“Across Britain millions of us are all making things dirty. Every journey we make, every meal we eat, everywhere we go, we leave a mess. Keeping the country clean is an epic task.” 

Zoe Wanamaker, narrator. 

In this two-part series, the dirty secrets about the way modern Brits live, are revealed by the filthy work of the men and women who clean up after us. This week, Dirty Britain explores the remarkable things they find behind the nation’s front doors. The programme goes inside the nation’s homes to discover the high standards we expect and the reality of how mucky we actually are. 

With more money and less time, having a cleaner is back in fashion once more and one in 10 British households now employs a domestic cleaner. In South West London, a team of domestic maids get to see how fussy some homeowners can be about dirt and grime. 

Sandra, the Managing Director of Molly Maids says: “This client has been with us for quite a few years and he’s really on it. He’ll know if it’s been vacuumed diagonally or vertically or horizontally, he’ll know that. Which I think is lovely I really do. It’s just amusing that someone is so connected with their home. A much loved home.” 

But in another household across the city, Jim the pest controller is dealing with a remarkable home that has been overrun by pigeons. Jim and his colleague Harry are staggered at the state of the house. 

Jim says: “It’s by far the worst house that we’ve seen where someone is actually living inside. I mean you’ve got to keep reminding yourself that it ain’t a squat, it ain’t a derelict property. The guy lives here. To be honest you wouldn’t keep a dog here. If you were keeping an animal in these conditions you would be nicked for animal cruelty.” 

In Manchester, the sewers are clogged up with many things, which shouldn’t be put down them. Sewermen, Mick and Shaun spend their working lives cleaning up our mess. 

Mick says: “People flush a lot of things down the sewers that they’re not supposed to; wipes, sanitary towels, fat & grease. We’ve found sex toys down manholes. Cats, hamsters, gerbils, and family pets. You find all sorts down there.” 

But going down into the sewers is risky as our sewage can produce lethal gas. Mick says: “You get explosive gases that can asphyxiate. Basically it’s deadly down there.” 

There are 25 million households in Britain. And more than one in four are made up of single people living alone. Extreme cleaners Matt and John are faced with the unpleasant task of cleaning up after the undiscovered deaths of people who lived alone. Decomposing bodies are being found in increasing numbers. In London alone there are two every week. 

In Knightsbridge the most expensive car washer in the country is kept busy cleaning the Rolls Royces and Ferraris of the nation’s super rich. Gurchan’s car washing business caters to London’s high flying elite. His cleaning kit would put a beautician to shame and the most expensive deep clean he offers costs £8000. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2012, 9:00PM – 10:00PM

In this two-part series, the dirty secrets about the way modern Brits live are revealed by the filthy work of the men and women who clean up after us. 

In episode one, we follow sewer workers Mick and Shaun as they attempt to unblock the main sewer in Manchester city centre’s fast food district by hand, caused by a huge build-up of fat. Meanwhile event cleaner Marcia attempts to keep Cheltenham Racecourse spotless in the face of 30,000 visitors enjoying a day out and elsewhere armies of litter pickers try to protect our countryside. 

We visit the landfill sites battling to contain the nation’s junk as every day British households throw out a gigantic 82,000 tonnes of rubbish, with the average home throwing away £400 worth of uneaten groceries each year. 

A team of specialist cleaners in Berkshire are faced with the mammoth task of clearing a house filled with 20 years worth of rubbish and admit it’s the worst case they have seen, as they work their way through the astonishing heaps of litter. 

We also join the fearless window cleaners tasked with keeping the glass towers in London’s square mile immaculate, including the 5000 windows of the iconic Gherkin building. As explained by Ross who admits he is afraid of ladders yet spends his days suspended 590ft high outside the building: “You don’t finish. By the time you get to the finish you have to start again. So it’s continuous. You tell people about your job and they say ‘no way, I don’t believe that.’ Until you show them a photo and then they think you’re superman.” 

Finally, pest controller Jim England goes into battle with an infestation of bedbugs, brought back to Britain thanks to the boom in foreign travel after being almost killed off in the 1950s. He is also kept busy with infestations of pigeons and rats. As he explains “I think because you’re dealing with pests, you get marred by association and people go ‘eww’ but I’ve got no shame about being involved in the industry, it’s an admirable profession.” 

Dirty Britain is narrated by Zoe Wanamaker and examines the scale of the muck and filth the nation produces and the epic challenge involved it keeping it out of sight. 

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