Mark James, Executive Producer of Channel 4’s much loved show ‘Four in a Bed’, gives us a glimpse behind the scenes. Discover the inner workings of the popular tv series and find out what the producers look for when reviewing applications submitted by business owners like you. By Juliet Horner
If you’re a fan of the show, you may have noticed that Four in a Bed also began their hunt last month for the next batch of businesses to take part in the popular tv series.
As one of Channel 4’s most watched shows with a peak audience of 1.3 million, featuring on the televised competition can do wonders for your business.
But what can you expect if you submit an application? What can you expect during filming? How does it all work?
We spoke with Four in a Bed’s Executive Producer, Mark James, to find out all you need to know if you’re considering submitting an application.
“I’ve worked on the show on and off since 2013,” said Mark, “and I’ve now been in charge of the whole series for just over a year and I absolutely love it!”
He has “hundreds” of funny filming anecdotes, but he said one of his favourites was when he “directed a block where a father and son combo found a DVD of an adult variety on top of a wardrobe and their reaction had the whole crew in tears of laughter”.
As the Executive Producer, Mark is involved with “every stage of the production process” and has a lot of knowledge and advice to pass on to potential competitors.
Filling out an application form of any kind can be daunting, but Mark reveals the process behind the Four in a Bed application process to explain that it’s not as cut-throat as you might think.
“We look for everything,” said Mark.
“We like to showcase a whole range of diverse places, from the traditional B&B, to pubs with rooms and amazing glamping sites. It’s not just strictly a bed and breakfast competition.
“We’ve had to diversify,” he explained.
Mark stressed that you shouldn’t be put off by the application form.
“The applications are more about alerting us that they are interested. If someone applies, they will always get a call from our casting team.”
Previously, the team would go out to meet applicants in person and film a little casting video to get a feel for the owners and their business but because of COVID it is done more remotely.
But what will increase your chances of a successful application?
Mark said: “The more they can show us and tell us about themselves and their business the better.
“We also like people to have opinions and not be afraid to share them. At the end of the day, the show is all about opinions.”
Due to the nature of the show, anyone considering applying for Four in a Bed should have at least three rooms available for the other business owners taking part.
Mark then explained it’s not all about the application form.
“Some of the contestants, you look at them and think, would they fill in the application form? Probably not. But then you’d miss out on that type of character,” he said.
“I would never get rid of somebody based on an application form. We’ve got an amazing farmer guy at the moment and I love him. He’s hilarious and I just can’t see him sitting there and filling out an application!”
He added: “How well you fill out an application form isn’t a reflection on how well you will do on the show.”
Sometimes, rather than waiting to receive applications, the Four in a Bed team reaches out to potential applicants.
For example, Sue Brierley at Gables Pod Camping was approached by Four in a Bed without ever handing in an application beforehand.
She said she originally “thought it was a joke” and then went on to win their block of the show.
Mark explained: “You may even be targeted by our casting team. So if you receive a phone call or email about the show, it could genuinely be us and not a joke!”
When searching for businesses to appear on the show, Mark said they look for people who will “embrace the experience” and “enjoy the show for what it should be”.
“It’s a lot of fun whilst at the same time using the experience to point out where other people can enhance and better their business,” said Mark.
For businesses who are successful in gaining a place on Four in a Bed, Mark’s advice was to “enjoy the experience”.
“Just be yourself,” he said, “own what you do.”
“Use it as an opportunity to showcase your business to its best potential.”
TOP TIPS FOR APPLICATIONS
1. Don’t be put off by the form if you don’t think you tick all their boxes
2. Tell them as much about yourself and your business as you can
3. Don’t be afraid to showcase your differences
4. If you receive a call or email claiming to be from the Four in a Bed team, answer it! It’s most likely NOT a joke
5. Be honest and be yourself in your application
If you are successful in being chosen to appear on Four in a Bed, there’s a couple of commitments the crew ask you to make.
In terms of time commitments, Mark explained that the competition element “takes two weeks” to film.
“We keep in touch with the competitors frequently by phone prior to filming,” said Mark.
“During filming, we require the owners to either close or get cover.”
Participants are also expected to keep the results of the show to themselves until the show is aired.
“We speak to [the competitors] regularly after filming to ask how they found the experience and let them know when their block of the show will be on tv,” said Mark.
“Then we speak to them after the show has been aired to see what they thought about it and find out how things are going. Like with Mike and Sue at Gables Pod Camping who had so much interest I think they broke the system!”
He added: “The main commitment is the two weeks of filming.”
Before Mark explained what participants can expect during the filming process for Four in a Bed, he touched upon the preparations of some of the participants.
“Some of our [competitors] have a refreshing ‘take us as you find us’ approach, whereas others will scrub every last centimetre clean,” laughed Mark.
“It’s entirely up to them as to how they prepare.”
The Four in a Bed crew – which is made up of a Producer/Director, three cameramen and a team of researchers – have a lot of content to record during their ‘filming season’.
“We usually start filming in late February until November with a six week filming break in the summer holiday,” explained Mark.
“There’s a lot that needs to be filmed for each visit, so our schedule needs to be run with military precision.”
Mark explained they don’t need access to anything in particular when filming, just the hosts and their properties.
“We film for full days, from early in the morning until late at night, but we do try and make the experiences as much fun as possible for our competitors,” said Mark.
“We try and make all the competitors feel a part of the Four in a Bed family as much as possible.
“We like to get to know them as much as their business. Usually one of the team will stay at the property during filming, just in case we need to film something overnight.”
The researchers on the team are the “glue that puts everything together”.
“They’re the ones who pull the activities together, like where we are going for dinners and drinks,” explained Mark.
“They are the ones filling the holes in the schedule and they keep things running. They’re all over the logistical side of things, but we’re keen to get them more involved in the editorial side.”
The Four in a Bed team shoot one block of a series over just two weeks, spending two days filming in each location.
Mark explained that they don’t group competitors and film in one region.
“Years ago we used to travel all over the place,” said Mark.
“We would start in Scotland and finish in Cornwall and we’d spend a lot more time travelling than filming.”
Nowadays, Mark makes sure the team spends a bit more time in each location to get better shots and enjoy the activities.
He explained that they strive to have a range of properties appearing in each block of a series.
“We like the diversity. So we try to have, for example, a seaside b&b, one in the countryside and one in a city centre,” said Mark.
“We love the diversity in the businesses and also the people who run them.
“We try and mix it up so it’s as different as possible.”
But how can you compare and judge properties against each other when they are so different?
“It’s a value for money competition,” said Mark, “and that’s what people lose sight of sometimes.”
He said: “How can you compare a stately manor house against a pub with rooms? You can’t. You’re comparing it through value for money.”
Mark explained that having different properties forces the participants to judge purely on value for money.
“Mixing it up also helps to keep the contestants and the viewers interested,” he said.
“If we went to four very similar places who do very similar things, it would get pretty dull. So we like to mix it up as much as we can.”
Mark describes filming time as being scheduled to military precision, however, “they aren’t always being filmed”.
“For example, we only film one of the room inspections at a time and they get downtime during the day, whereas we are constantly filming,” said Mark.
“They are long days, but there is downtime as well. Like if they’ve done their room inspections and we don’t need them for a couple of hours, some of the contributors like to go out and explore the area and it actually feels like a trip away. Some might even prefer to do a bit of work.
“Either way, they aren’t being filmed 24/7. The second day of filming is always a lot more relaxed.”
Mark explained that the busiest filming days to expect are arrival days when competitors move to a new location.
Due to COVID-19, the Four in a Bed team had to adapt the way they filmed the series.
“Elements of the show have changed to adhere to COVID protocols and I think some of the elements have actually made the show better,” said Mark.
“It’s made it a bit fresher and more real. Rather than going out for a meal, we might have drinks in the pub with the owners which is something you might actually do. It just feels more natural.
“Obviously COVID has had its drawbacks, but I think it’s helped us to improve in some ways.”
Mark also explained that competitors can expect a couple of mishaps at some point.
“There are always little glitches,” he said.
“Sometimes there’s been a breakdown in communication and you’re waiting for food or the cameras all go down.
“These things happen!” laughed Mark.
He added: “We had a camera fall off the side of a boat last series, which wasn’t helpful.”
Luckily, mishaps like that are rare, but the competitors understand when something doesn’t go to plan and it all works out well in the end.
Having spent a lot of time working on Four in a Bed, Mark has met some very interesting characters and has a lot of advice to pass on to those who may be potential competitors in the future.
Mark said: “Just embrace it.
“The people that get the most out of the show are the people that don’t overthink things. It’s key to give honest opinions and do everything you can to show off your business to its full potential.”
It’s important that competitors understand the show is all about opinions and that it’s important to be honest.
“If you don’t want to give an opinion then you won’t feel comfortable on the show,” said Mark.
“You’ll get asked a lot about ‘How do you feel about this?’ or ‘How do you feel about that?’ so you need to have an opinion.
“You need to know what you like and what you don’t like.”
He added: “The people that enjoy this show are those who don’t overthink it and just take it for what it is. The majority really enjoy the two weeks they spend with us.”
Four in a Bed also helps to highlight the harder side of the hospitality industry.
Viewers are privy to how difficult it can be dealing with complaints and tough guests and everything else that comes with trying to run a successful business.
“You do need to be prepared to potentially receive criticism from your fellow contributors,” said Mark.
“It doesn’t always sit well with some people when they receive negative feedback.”
He added: “Things can get feisty. People can take things very personally because their business is a part of them. It’s like one of their children and if somebody said something bad about your child, you’re not going to be happy about it.
“Emotions run high, but it doesn’t go too far because it’s not that type of programme.
“We let them discuss it and in the end they have to agree to disagree.”
You need to remember that what works for some, doesn’t work for others and Mark says the important thing is to “know your market and make sure what you provide fits that audience”.
TOP TIPS FOR TAKING PART
1. Don’t be afraid to express your opinions
2. Be prepared to receive both positive and negative feedback
3. Be yourself and enjoy the experience
4. Showcase your business to its best potential and make sure you know your market/audience
5. Remember it’s all about value for money
6. Prepare to commit to a busy two weeks of filming and understand that you will have to close or find cover during that time
The Four in a Bed team keep in touch with the businesses who appear on the show, not only to see how they found the experience, but to see whether the show had an impact on their business.
“Not all winners take home a plaque,” said Mark, “You can get so much out of this show just by being yourself. The viewers like that and tend to want to stay at those places.”
There have been many success stories for those who appear on the show, but Mark says they can’t promise anything.
“It puts places on the map,” said Mark.
“It shows the viewers areas that they’d never normally consider and the variety that’s on offer.”
He added: “It’s always great to see owners getting an uplift in bookings after the show has aired.”
An example of one winner who did extremely well after appearing on the show was Gables Pod Camping who won the series that aired at the end of 2020.
“Not even a week after the show aired, I think their site was constantly crashing because they had so many people wanting to book,” explained Mark.
“They were great contributors. They were in a particularly spiky block and it can be so easy to just sit back and let people argue and be petty, but they still had a voice and got their opinions in.
“They were lots of fun and brought the light to a slightly feistier block and then they got rewarded for it.”
Even though the team checks up on their contributors to see how being on the show impacted their business, Mark says there are other things you can do to capitalise on taking part in the show.
“They can do interviews with the local press which we can help guide them through,” said Mark.
“And there’s nothing stopping them from using their own social media accounts to create a buzz around the show and their business.”
He added: “Just enjoy the experience, be yourself and showcase your business to its best potential.”
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