ARRIVING at their new digs, the cast of The Young Ones wait a moment on the steps outside.

“It’s nice to have a front door”, muses Mike, as Neil acclaims the letterbox.

Quick to add his opinion, Vyvyan, carrying a bin bag in one hand and hanging a medical skeleton limply over his shoulder, is quick to add his opinion.

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“We had a front door in the last house!” he shouts.

It’s only when Rik Mayall, playing sociology student Rick, pipes up that their previous door was nailed to the living room ceiling, does the joke come out.

The Young Ones was a televisual slapstick parody of student life, of their farcical experiences and their less than salubrious accommodation.

Today, however, says Peter Smith, such depictions are outdated.

Mr Smith is managing director at Bill Free Homes, a letting agency known for providing properties to the students of Durham University and New College Durham, as well as professionals.

The business, which operates from the city’s New Elvet area, gets its name because all its rentals include bills, from utilities and water rates, to TV licences and emergency call out cover.

It’s a service that has not gone without acclaim.

Only a few weeks ago it triumphed at The Estate Agency of the Year Awards, when landlords and tenants voted for the business to retain much-coveted gold prizes.

It is also bidding for a hat-trick of successes after receiving the gold award for student letting agency of the year from The Times and Sunday Times in 2014 and 2015.

When The Young Ones eventually get past their front door, Neil and Mike are faced with a mountain of bills left for the home’s previous tenants.

Upstairs, Vyvyan and Rick, played by Adrian Edmondson and Mayall in a precursor to their Bottom sitcom days, end up smashing windows and setting a mattress alight as they fight for a dinghy-looking bedroom.

But such accommodation, so overtly depicted in The Young Ones, says Mr Smith, is simply not acceptable or accepted any more.

He said: “Bill Free Homes is where we have a lot of expertise.

“Durham is an excellent university and there is a lot of building going on.

“It is a blue-chip university and people fight to get here; we have got a lot of people from wealthy backgrounds but equally there are a lot from very normal backgrounds, whose parents have worked hard to get them here.

“People are looking at accommodation as something else, rather than three years at a cost to the state.

“Parents don’t want their children to have a second-class choice and don’t want them living in somewhere that will bring them out in hives.

“Students are looking to get good degrees and they won’t get one by falling ill.”

Mr Smith spent years in the stone industry, working in Portugal and Brazil.

But, while he was overseeing deliveries of material for developments, such as hotels, he was also active in the UK property market.

Bill Free Homes, it seems, was always going to be a natural progression.

“After a while it became a little bit too big to ignore,” he said.

“That’s how Bill Free Homes was born.

“The other big turning point was the big crash in 2008, which put a brake on my plans for world domination”, he jokes.

But Mr Smith is very serious about Bill Free Homes’ provision and says it hopes to add to its trophy haul at next month’s Times awards.

He added: “The competition is fierce, but we have got a very good application.”

Five minutes with... Peter Smith

Favourite North East building and why? I am sure everyone rightly chooses Durham Cathedral, but I would choose Shire Hall Durham for its amazing details inside and out. It's soon to open as Hotel Indigo and will be a good asset in Durham to add to the excellent hotels we already have, like the Ramside, County and Radisson.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? Selling insulation door-to-door under a Government grant scheme as a gap year job. In relative terms I was paid a fortune. I cannot remember the exact amount as it was 1980, but it was about £300 a week, which was a fortune then.

What is the worst job you have had? Selling insulation door-to-door as I realised easy money attracts bad people. I uncovered a very large fraud - started dealing direct with the contractors but received lots of threats.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? I would get a private chef or a takeaway. You won't find me on MasterChef, unless a fridge stir fry counts.

What would your superpower be? Mind-reading. This would help in negotiations no end.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party: town planner Ebenezer Howard (look him up), John Cooper Clarke, Bill Bryson and Donald Trump, just to check if he is really that stupid.

What is the most expensive thing you have bought – other than car or house – and how much did it cost? I am quite frugal. I buy nice things but always carefully.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? Any of your competitors or people in similar walks of life.

Favourite book? Summer 1927, by Bill Bryson. He can make baseball statistics, something about which I know nothing and care even less, seem positively enthralling.

When did you last cry? Big boys don't cry, but losing a dog to illness is always difficult. Also when Sunderland lose to Newcastle, but I cannot remember that far back.

What is your greatest achievement? At the risk of offending everyone I know, it is probably being on University Challenge this year as part of the Salford team. I can't say any more as it has not been aired yet.

What is the best piece of advice in business you have ever been given? Listen and think before speaking.

Favourite animal and why? Dogs - they are unconditional in everything that they do.

Most famous person on your mobile phone? Rui Janota - a legendary Portuguese football manager.

What was the last band you saw live? The Dark Horses, a great local band from Durham. Check them out.

In another life I would be… I am very happy with who I am and what I do.

Who would play you in a film of your life? Early life - Ben Affleck. Later on - Richard Gere.

What irritates you? Rudeness and insensitivity.

What is your secret talent? I speak excellent Portuguese.