Being on television: the good, the bad and the ugly

Being on television: the good, the bad and the ugly
So it’s all over… or is it? We were featured on the Channel 5 programme “Harrogate: a great Yorkshire Christmas” over two nights in December and were seen by millions winning the best Christmas shop window competition in Harrogate. Lots of people ask what was it like? Well here is our experience over the last few months. The good, the bad and the ugly….
It’s got to be all good hasn’t it? All publicity is good publicity and you can’t pay for this kind of advertising? So people say…Well firstly, we were thrilled to be chosen to be followed preparing our Christmas window for the annual shop window competition. It was going to be a special window in 2017 as we were approaching our tenth anniversary in Harrogate. We felt that not only would it be great exposure for the business to be on TV but an experience we would never get again and therefore needed to embrace. The window and filming would be a good focus and development opportunity for all of us. We were lucky enough to be chosen after an interview with the producer. We knew we would be one of a few shops featured in the programme, which would showcase the shop window competition as a central theme amidst promoting Harrogate and its Christmas activities, but we had no idea of how much we would feature.
When the process started therefore we weren’t anticipating the level of filming that we would have to participate in. We project planned the work required for the Christmas window for every single week from August right through to the middle of November and the filming was allocated accordingly across many of these weeks. Hours and hours of filming took place. Whole day visits to trade fairs and to Ireland were accompanied by cameras. We had to rush across Paris where we were attending a trade fair to a location showing the Eiffel Tower so that Nev could film Georgina donating to the Harrogate Christmas lights live on Stray FM.  We had three different directors and had to get used to talking to the camera as well as behaving naturally whilst being filmed. Not easy and very nerve wracking. But the lovely team at Daisybeck Studios, who film the Yorkshire Vet, made it easy. Wearing a microphone became second nature. Often things got slowed down considerably because of the filming and it was hard sometimes when we were under pressure and things went wrong. But we got through it and we learnt a lot.
After the windows were judged, the film crew knew the result one day before we did. This was very hard – as was the stressful experience of being filmed waiting for the results. However, it was all worth it. Working with the amazing designer, Clare Jordan, we had done our best window ever and were so proud of both the window and what we had achieved in a very small space. Over 100 shops had entered, including Bettys, and we, as an independent shop, had successfully competed against shops that had a significantly bigger level of resource, staffing and window space than we had. We had thought of a fantastic theme and had combined that with managing a four month project, which involved skilled design work, hand crafting, printing, imaginative resourcing from new and existing designers from all over the world and challenging merchandising. Also, and very importantly, we had involved our customers in the window – customers who had submitted photographs of their favourite Christmas memories. We had worked on average two full days for four months on this project. It was an important and personal achievement for our small team and we had won. And all of this was going to be on TV and promoted in advance via the newspapers and magazines. So all was well with the world? Or was it?
When we got the Sunday Mirror article on the programme days before the first episode was due to air, we were in for our first shock. The lovely journalist who interviewed us wasn’t so lovely after all. She didn’t include anything we said in the interview and the whole article was built upon competitiveness and the theme of window wars. I was depicted as a swearer and ranter – I only swore four times in four months (well yes they always include the slip ups!) and the whole article was twisted but not in a good way. It was national PR – but all publicity is good publicity right? A more measured article from The Yorkshire Post followed, which made us feel better, and we got amazing coverage from BBC Breakfast in a programme about Christmas shop windows. We also felt really excited to see trailers about the programme on Channel 5, hear the voice of Jim Carter from Downton Abbey fame as the narrator, and read TV previews. Stray FM presenters were brilliant in promoting the programme and the experience of seeing yourself on television, hearing yourself on the radio and reading your name in the Radio Times was surreal. So it all felt strange but exciting and we were looking forward to reliving four months of filming and hard work on the TV screen.
We all watched the first episode together and made it into our Christmas party. Anne, who works with us on Saturday and lives a considerable distance from Harrogate was on face time with us as we watched. We were nervous and seeing ourselves on television didn’t seem real. We also learnt a lot. Significant filming time had been cut dramatically and the editing seemed slightly twisted, out of sync, unbalanced and omitted important details. Although we understood this was going to happen, we weren’t prepared for the production and editing agenda. The final product that was going to influence the viewer wasn’t necessarily a true representation of all our hard work. A day’s trip to Ireland to see Clare and her family was cut to 30 seconds, no design activity was included and a whole day’s filming at Autumn Fair sourcing important products was cut. A balanced analysis of the Furnish and Fettle window, which we had been asked to do by the TV crew – Furnish and Fettle were a competitor who were also being intensely filmed – was shown as honest but out of context and without balance. The lengthy feedback and positive feedback we gave on their window was left out. Jim labelled Laura and myself as “Christmas crushers.” We were beginning to feel part of the Sunday Mirror agenda again.
The next day, the night that the second episode was due to air, we received an anonymous phone call at the shop. The caller launched into insults, calling us “disgusting” amongst other things, for applying critical evaluation to the Furnish and Fettle window. Although she later apologised, it was a rude and shocking awakening to what it was like to be in the public eye. We felt our Christmas had been crushed. We started to dread the next episode.
When it came to it, however, we all managed to steel ourselves with a few glasses of bubbly and had Christmas party number two. We enjoyed the second episode more, although yet again we were left disappointed by many things. The programme didn’t really properly show the side window, the hand crafting and work of Clare Jordan, the memory tree competition and our launch event with the fantastic vintage performer, Lubelle Rose was cut. The programme exaggerated the stress of making the mannequin move and the final changes to the merchandising. I was depicted as a cat whisperer. But how much the competition meant to us did come over and we went through the emotions all over again. We didn’t expect so much air time and it was interesting to see what had been included and edited generally of Harrogate at Christmas.
So now was it all over? The day after the programme, strangers started to come up to me in the street to say how much they had enjoyed the programme and to wish us congratulations. People started crowding round the shop window and taking photos of the windows and of themselves through our interactive door. Our customers came to see their photographs on our memory tree. Visitors in the shop declared they had come from not just the north but from all over the UK to see the shop windows. They came not just for the day but stayed for a short break in Harrogate as the programme had either reminded them of Harrogate or shown them how beautiful a town Harrogate is. I was sent lots of emails from fellow cat lovers. People asked for my photo and even my autograph. Everyone wanted to talk about the programme and visit all the shops featured. We spend a lot of time referring visitors to all the shops as well as places to eat and drink. It was overwhelming, great for the town and we felt so proud. It showed not only the positive side and power of television but gave us hope that in the age of ever increasing online shopping that a good Christmas window still had such an important part to play in the world of retail. It also significantly raised the profile of raising money for the Christmas lights and the shop window competition, which can only have a positive impact on the number of entrants, how it is marketed, how the social media around it works and how much money is raised next year. Although these activities have been going on for years, the television has now given them a huge profile and will undoubtedly shape their future.
So the ugly side….we have realised putting yourself in the limelight also draws unhelpful feedback. Social media has sometimes become a place for people to hide behind their rude comments. We were prepared for some negativity but not the extent we received. Did the aim of the programme to  show a united Harrogate community work or did raising the profile of and interest in the Christmas fund raising activities and the shop window competition create division? Here are some examples. Visitors complained that other shops wouldn’t tell them where we were located and were rude when asked. Everyone suddenly became an expert in visual merchandising and wanted to pass judgement on our windows,  who should win the competition and on us, without even knowing the criteria or knowing any member of the Bijouled team. Local businesses reopened the competition on social media to get a public vote. Local bloggers didn’t mention the programme or the competition. The facebook page of the local newspaper, which was slow to publish any significant detail about the programme or indeed a good photograph of our windows, demonstrated the ugliness of people’s comments both about the programme and also personal, sexist comments about my appearance. Apart from the fabulous Stray FM, we had received more positive coverage nationally from BBC Breakfast.
People were confused about the awards and results as they were portrayed differently in the television programme to the reality. This led to inaccurate comments. A Harrogatonian facebook post about the Furnish and Fettle window left me feeling down and then angry as to why local people couldn’t respect the outcome of the judging. It felt that people were too quick to seek to somehow damage our success and not celebrate or respect our achievement in sometimes a very uninformed and insensitive way. At times we felt we were constantly on the outside looking at a very cruel bubble of an in crowd, sprinkled with more than a hint of favouritism and discrimination, with all the positives coming from our Harrogate customers, online customers and visitors. We had to remind ourselves that we had won the competition. We certainly got a feel of why people don’t look on social media to preserve their mental health…
So with just two days to go before we take our window down, would we go through all of this again? The answer would be a resounding yes. We’ve had an amazing once in a lifetime opportunity with thanks to Daisybeck Studios and Channel 5. It’s been a total rollercoaster. We’ve all learnt and grown so much from this process. We’ve adored working in a totally different way with the fabulous design giant that is Clare Jordan. We’ve all worked brilliantly together as a small but wonderful team. All the ideas and designs for our window were our own. We’ve crafted, created and been uber competitive. We’ve laughed and we’ve cried. We went for the win. We’ve been pushed out of our comfort zone and to our limits. We’ve celebrated ten years of being in business with a personal and amazing Christmas window. It has been good, bad and ugly. But it’s the good things and the things we have learnt that have triumphed and we will take forward with us to our next window. For now though, we are just going to take the next two days to enjoy and celebrate this window, because you know what, we deserve to… Here’s to the next one!

Posted in General
Pin It

Comments are closed.