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#5 - Ground Force: What Lies Beneath

Updated: Jun 16, 2021

As we slowly approach the all important 15th anniversary since the collapse of the BBC’s flagship garden restoration show Ground Force, I’ll be casting a cultural eye back over the legacy of this noble and spirited show.

Retracing the steps that led to the demise of the dynamic threesome (Dimmock, Walsh and Titchmarsh) I want to ascertain what lessons we can learn from, and how we can apply these to our own lives in the complexities of a post Ground Force Britain - while obviously sticking within the boundaries of complete and utter truth.

Ground Force had a simple vision: three qualified professionals helping mortgage payers landscape a surprise for their partners. A quaint and pleasant premise, but soon the momentum took hold at an exponential rate. It captured the zeitgeist of late 90’s Britain - a desire to have your back garden redone quickly for free on Tele. The show was a hit.

At their peak 12 million viewers, the Ground Force team became global ambassadors for Britain, putting aside the plights of British families to landscape areas in Jamaica, India and an area near Ground Zero in New York, aptly named Ground Force Zero. They’ve even played a significant role in current race politics by resurrecting the lacklustre appearance of Nelson Mandela’s patio, an action that many people believed helped defuse racial tensions in a post-apartheid South Africa.

Ground Force was unstoppable, but, as with every meteoric rise to fame, their growing success would soon trigger their eventual downfall.

There was an outward masculinity that the show exuded, a realm which Alan Titchmarsh struggled to thrive in. His lack of physical strength hindered him, making it tricky for him to be of any practical use. From this seed of doubt, he started becoming increasingly dramatised and slowly there were reports that he was becoming more demanding and talking in a language as if to elevate himself above his co-presenters. I spoke to one of the countries leading GroundForce experts who believes this sprung from a growing sense of celebrity.

“Titchmarsh became the jester; the buffoon offering comic relief between the practical expertise of Walsh and Dimmock. There is a laughter in response to his witticisms, which he felt validated his light-hearted, cheeky persona, but it was a laughter of embarrassment born from an awkward and abrupt rudeness. Having mistaken this for comedic prowess, he created a presenting hierarchy at which he placed himself on top of. He felt he was the show. He placed himself on a pedestal, similar to the one Jill from North Baddesley had placed next to her arbour: series 3, episode 4.”

This performance would soon disappear when the cameras were off and a prima donna attitude settled in, alienating him from the crew and his co-presenters. This spurred an increased responsibility on the shoulders of Dimmock and Walsh, who simply wanted to get the fuck on with it. Bought on by a new anger from the developing separation, Titchmarsh began conjuring up tactics to subtly undermine his colleagues, placing doubt in the audience’s minds. Hardware providers reported record sales in pecking, bought on by the hard graft of Walsh. Titchmarsh, sensing an opportunity, began drawing on the real-world situation to create the continuous play on words “Tommy needs decking, ‘e does”, insinuating his desire for physical violence.

Dimmock gained a lot of notoriety for having the breasts she had always had. This was an issue for many male viewers who wanted them to be their responsibility, not hers.

Tensions rose to breaking point toward the end of season 8. One example, Titchmarsh opens a show by talking to a horse about the weather in Chesham. Dimmock jests with him, calling him Alan Dolittle, referring to the famous veterinarian. They banter-off together, but with a wicked smile, unable to control her impulses, Dimmock blurts “right name, do-little.” An attempt to gently mock his lack of graft, but her enthusiasm revealed something much deeper, a tortured soul masked under a professional facade.

During a job in Bordon, East Hampshire, Titchmarsh quips about his ‘two willies’ (referring to his colleagues, both named Will.) This sparked off some mild rambling and bouts of placid laughter. Through the plastic chuckles, a voice not too dissimilar to Walsh’s whispers “oh fuck off Alan.” Perhaps this was a result of an increased anxiety and a natural rebellion to the control Titchmarsh enforced over the proceedings.

Luckily for them all, salvation came when Titchmarsh began to feel a sense of entitlement in the celebrity sphere and felt justified in deserting the show to pursue his own egotistical agenda. He abandoned his duties to carve his own career path in the realm of fame. And just like that, Dimmock and Walsh were free.

I fear at this point, some of you may be thinking 'he's being a little bit silly, and childish.' Well, quite frankly, I don't think I am. I mean, I'm certainly not bitter, if that's what you're asking. Of course, I loved Ground Force (who wouldn't?) and I mean, we all got the tattoos, right? Yes, there's an emptiness inside of me now, but if you're asking me if I hold a grudge against Alan Titchmarsh? No, why would you ask that? Why would you even bring that up? In the future, don't interrupt me and don't ask such ridiculous questions.

They bravely attempted several times to keep the show afloat with a more cooperative approach for the benefit of the hardcore fanbase. After the increasing success of Ground Force in America, America created an American version of Ground Force called Ground Force America. Despite Dimmock and Walsh’s best efforts, the American program was not as successful as its overseas counterpart British Ground Force (or, just Ground Force). Viewers just weren’t interested any more in jeopardy fuelled garden transformation. All they wanted was pure, unadulterated Titchmarsh. The show became unsustainable and dissolved into memory but, thankfully, not to the detriment of Dimmock and Walsh.

They were victims of the Titchmarsh machine but the limelight never called for them. They flirted with media, but were quite happy sticking to the professions that made the Ground Force experience so attractive in the first place.

Walsh is not simply a master tradesman - running a successful decking business - he’s also a teacher, willing to share his knowledge among the less privileged of us with his ‘Tommy Walsh’s DIY Guide’ series. Even in her works outside the gardening field, Dimmock showed an authenticity and an unrelenting devotion to her art. She played the organic fairy in regional pantomimes through 2011 and 2012, accentuating the earthy folklore qualities of nature’s flower-dwellers and performing them with an affability and grace that wouldn’t have previously been accessible to the children of Bridlington and Chesterfield. Their careers have been a continual dedication to the broadcasting and public presentation of horticulture and manual labour, unlike Titchmarsh, whose wildest narcissistic fantasies have been explored, thoroughly, throughout all 790 episodes of ‘The Alan Titchmarsh Show’.

But he is not to blame. He is a victim of a culture that glorifies celebrity as the only true path to happiness and acceptance. He is sick and we must do our best to help him. If you pass him in the street tell him that help is there whenever he chooses to seek it. As the Black Dyke Band’s ‘Lament Of The Dandelion’ looms over the end of his career, we must weep for this lost soul and pray for his salvation.

And if do pass him in the street, maybe you could ask for his phone number, or his address - even his actual address. I'd just like to meet him is all. I mean, wouldn't we all? After all, it is Alan Titchmarsh! I just wanna meet him, see how he is, what he's been up to... see if he can pay for tattoo removals. I can ask, right? Why not? He might.

Not that it matters. Can't get rid of the gravel scratches. Doesn't matter how much compost you rub in, there'll always be a Titchmarsh shaped face on my chest. Covered in dirt. Good.

Why d'you do it? Why d'you leave me, Alan...


The Savage Balance Podcast is a weekly podcast offering a new story, essay, interview, thought or leftover scribble from the back of a napkin.

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