The departure of Escape to the Chateau’s Lt Colonel Dick Strawbridge and wife Angel Adoree from Channel 4 this week was as mysterious as it was unexpected. The show had reached its final season in December 2022. To dump the presenters now suggests the rumours about bullying – if that was the cause of the HR investigation – were serious.
“You don’t cancel a presenter if the show is over,” says Ed Waller, managing editor of industry bible C21 Media. “Channel 4 and the production company Two Rivers both said they wouldn’t work with the couple again. They do have off-shoot programme Escape to the Chateau: Secret France lined up and a healthy TV career, but this feels almost like a punishment.”
Channel 4 wouldn’t be drawn on their original statement – “Following a review, we have taken the decision not to work with Dick and Angel on any new productions in the future” – and sources say the show’s previous production company, Spark Media, accused the couple of bullying and, according to a report on Deadline.com, “swearing at people”.
But there’s a thread on the serving and ex-soldiers’ forum Army Rumour Service (ARRSE, of course) where Strawbridge gets a lot of respect for caring for his men – and respect is something that’s absolutely not guaranteed in that particular chat room.
One ex-serviceman remembers Strawbridge “was my Troop OC when I joined Harrogate at the age of 17, Some years later I was going through my dad’s attic and found a letter from him to my parents to let them know how I was getting on.”
Another recalls: “Maj Dick Strawbridge was my Sqn OC (Penney) at AAC Harrogate in 1989-90ish. From what I remember he was a very fair bloke and certainly inspiring to the young lads under his command. I must add that his ‘tache was mahoosive then as well. It was the talking point of the kids there due to most peoples’ lack of ability to grow a top-lip-slug.”
Still another met him when he was with “Bowmanisation of a CR2 Regt. Top bloke, very down to earth, and not afraid of getting his hands dirty. Not at all rank conscious either, which was nice.”
It’s another puzzling moment in one of the most unlikely TV careers of the century. Strawbridge first hit the screens on Scrapheap Challenge in 1999 whilst he was still in the army, heading up a three-person team with a sort of gentle nerdiness as well as his ridiculous moustache. He relished explaining his diagrams to Robert Llewellyn and, even though his popularity led to him eventually replacing the host in 2008, Strawbridge showed up on Llewellyn’s EV YouTube show Carpool the following year.
By then he’d forged a career that could be described as Chateau-lite. It’s Not Easy Being Green on BBC Two saw him trying to live an environmentally-friendly life with his green activist first wife Brigit and children James and Charlotte by moving into a 400 year old farm in Cornwall. ITV’s The Hungry Sailors, in 2011, mixed Dick and son James sailing the coast of Cornwall with getting local cooks to compete to provide the best meal.
By then, Dick and Brigit had split. His agent introduced him to Angel – who won backing for her patisserie and a TV career on Dragon’s Den in 2010. They approached Channel 4, bought the run-down 45-room chateau for £280,000 in 2015 and got married in the final episode of the first series. It was an instant hit with critics and viewers alike – there was something about the castle toilet emptying into the moat, the toxic lead paint and the asbestos that, when twinned with Angel’s hipster vibe and Strawbridge’s enthusiasm, proved significantly more appealing than a Cornish farmhouse.
People lived vicariously through them, some even bought their own chateaus – prompting one of many spin-offs, Escape to the Chateau DIY where slightly bewildered guests such as Jono Prior and Mariam El-Accad with their 18-year-old son Monty realised how much it was going to cost them to do the place up. “It’s more than the purchase price,” El-Accad sighed.
The show inspired a host of copycats like Sarah Beeny’s New Life in the Country, Channel 5’s A Country Life for Half the Price, and Ben Fogle: New Life in the Country on Apple TV+. But none of them had the one thing Chateau had – a great big bushy moustache.
Now, however, the spin-offs and the books and the merch and all the other cash-ins the couple have on the go are in jeopardy. One senior PR consultant, who preferred not to be named as “this is all a huge s—show,” said “lots of people – and you can apply this to the whole Phil and Holly saga – overcome all sorts of accusations and move forward. But it’ll be very difficult, and they will need a good PR expert.” So far, the allegations against the couple amount to them not suffering fools, getting impatient with producers and having onscreen personas that differ from real life – much like most people on TV. Could the bullying charges stick?
“Chateau was an incredibly popular series with a devoted audience, and this doesn’t mean there isn’t a life on an SVOD channel,” says the consultant. “But it’s going to be an uphill struggle. In the current culture the minute the word bullying is mentioned you have a lot of trouble moving on. The next series would have to show them in a warm and fuzzy light. The mid-market public can be won over, but it’ll take time.”