A Very Grand Design
When English Heritage bought Apethorpe Hall - a huge, crumbling Jacobean mansion hidden away in the Northamptonshire countryside - it was supposed to symbolise everything that was good about the energy that their new chief executive, Simon Thurley, was bringing to English Heritage. They would buy the place, do it up, and then recoup the enormous investment of public money by selling it off. Theory and practice have proven rather different, and could yet leave the taxpayer with a bill running to millions.
The scale of the task is enormous - seven million pounds has been spent and another ten million is needed before things like installing electricity are even to be considered. And English Heritage cannot sell it, at any price.
The state of the house and the state of the property market combine to ensure that four years after English Heritage bought it, Apethorpe Hall is still very much on the market, with English Heritage now looking at a multi-million pound loss. Through it all - the meetings with the ever-optimistic estate agents and the dawning realisation that this is a step too far - the beauty of the place shines through.
It is a beauty cherished by George Kelley - he has lived and worked at Apethorpe for 37 years. He is the chorus in the film, wryly dispassionate, as English Heritage and Simon struggle with their nightmare, 'It'll sell, it'll sell... it's just that the right person hasn't seen it yet'.