tue 29/07/2014

The Aristocrats: Goodwood, Channel 4 | TV reviews, news & interviews

The Aristocrats: Goodwood, Channel 4

How the Earl of March set about making Goodwood pay its own way

Charles Gordon-Lennox, the Earl of March, feels the hand of history

It would be unreasonable to describe Charles Gordon-Lennox, Earl of March and Kinrara and heir apparent of the 10th Duke of Richmond, as one of the idle rich. Certainly his Goodwood estate on the Sussex Downs must be one of the most idyllic in the country, and on the face of it he appears to enjoy the most desirable lifestyle imaginable, hobnobbing with the flat-racing elite and mucking about in vintage racing cars. He does not appear to suffer from a shortage of champagne. But the bottom line is, he always has to keep his eye on the bottom line.

"If I'm sleeping fine every night then I'm not doing the job properly," the Earl opined, and this portrait of his strenuous campaign to make his estate self-sufficient - or preferably, resoundingly profitable - presented an intriguing clash between ancestral tradition and hard-boiled commerce. The Earl has had it bred in his bones that he must do his best to preserve his 300-year-old inheritance, originally a gift to a bastard child from Charles II, and pass it on to the next generation in presentable shape. This is known as "mortmain", meaning that you're stuck with the dead hand of posterity pressing down on your shoulders.

In order to achieve his goal, he devotes most of his time to finding ways of leveraging all Goodwood's assets to the max - the racecourse (nags at the gallop, pictured right), the farm, and the two annual motorsport festivals which he has instigated. Hugh Bonneville's Earl of Grantham is having to come to grips with similar issues in Downton Abbey, though so far is showing far fewer signs of creative imagination. However, the Earl of March would dearly love to have lucked into cousin Matthew's unexpected inheritance.

The film covered the progress of Goodwood's various sources of income over 2011 and 2012, a period during which the Earl had decreed that he wanted all of them to become profitable. The Festival of Speed (which is basically loads of racing cars being driven up a hill by famous racing drivers past and present) and the Goodwood Revival (where historic racing cars, period costume and classic aircraft combine in a nostalgic reverie) are both in rude health and turning a pretty penny. On the other hand, the profitability of the racecourse has slumped, and the estate's organic farm is finding it hard going too.

You couldn't really feel sorry for the Earl, who is never going to end up living on benefits and tax credits whatever happens, though quite a few of his Goodwood employees could conceivably do so. But he seems to go about his business with energy and focus, and has assembled a capable team around him. In particular there was Alex Williamson, Goodwood's finance director, who refuses to see the world through rose-coloured spectacles and is prepared to confront harsh facts. By the end of the film he'd been promoted to Group MD, which gave the Earl a bit of breathing space to indulge in his private hobby, photography. He staged an exhibition of impressionistic photographs of trees, and we caught a glimpse of Bryan Ferry snooping around the gallery.

Such little incidental touches lent the film a lingering charm. There was a comical walk-on by rock'n'roll harridan Courtney Love, who flew in (three hours late) to perform at the Glorious Goodwood ball, and ended up being barracked by the punters. "Go read your Debrett's," she snarled at them. There were several appearances by Stirling Moss too (in action at Goodwood, pictured above), who has become a sort of Goodwood totem. He was one of the winners at the first-ever race meeting at the circuit, and it was at Goodwood in 1962 that he suffered the accident which ended his professional racing career. Stirling has had to live with his own form of "mortmain". 

There was a comical walk-on by rock'n'roll harridan Courtney Love, who flew in (three hours late) to perform at the Glorious Goodwood ball

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