This whole Oz and James thing
Well, I guess it has to be addressed; is it feasible that somebody read ‘The Longest Crawl’ and then projected the idea onto the hilarious duo?
Well; yes it is. Even the graphics showing their progress bear an uncanny resemblance to the original cover. On the other hand, since this is now their third series together, it’s also possible that somebody just had the idea of making them do Britain; and although I like to imagine that at this point a researcher might have had a look at the ‘Crawl’, you always have to accept that ideas have to be the easy bit when it comes to writing/TV etc. Lots of people have the same ideas; look at the way that Pete Brown and I ended up getting reviewed together. We just had a similar idea at about the same time, so much so that our books came out almost simultaneously. So it’s perfectly feasible that the Oz and James team had the idea independantly.
Before Perry and I set off on our booze fuelled peregrination from Scilly to Shetland, Bloomsbury fixed up a meeting for me with a TV production company; I can’t remember for sure, but I think it might have been Hat Trick. The producer there liked the idea a lot, and she suggested that she and a crew hack round with old Perry and I. Although the idea of a BBC 2 series with an accompanying book lifts my accountant’s soul, it was not at all what I had in mind for the trip. When you are writing travel books, the trip itself is your research. You can plan a certain amount before you set out, but on the whole, you don’t know what’s going to happen until you get out there. Having a TV crew along would mean that you had to be in such and such a place at such and such a time, and be pretty much at the mercy of the producers whim. The whole nature of the thing would have been radically different… like an experiment in quantum mechanics, the outcome would have been altered, because our modus whatsit would have been other than it was. Then the book would have been about the making of a TV series about a long pub crawl, and that wasn’t what I wanted. I suggested to the TV bods that after Perry and I returned from our jaunt, we could recreate part of it for them; but they weren’t interested in that. We left it there.
So I hope it’s not sour grapes to say that I’m not really enjoying the series. I sit watching it (with a bit of a grump on, it has to be admitted!) thinking what a missed oppurtunity it has been. Although not so cringe-making as the car crash television that was Steven Fry in America, it’s full of holes. Take for example the trip to Ireland, which just ended up as not much more than a jolly to the Guinness visitor centre. Why not go to Cork, and contrast Guinness with the Murphy’s, for example? Or look at why red ale is big in Ireland, and not really anywhere else? And why did nobody think to find some poteen and go to film the distilling process? I guess because it’s illegal, and TV is well-behaved almost to the point of being neutered.
The bit that seems most futile to me is the quest to find ‘The Drink that Defines Britain.’ If you ask foreigners to come up with what business studies boffs call a ‘cultural metaphor‘ for these sceptr’d isles, they might well talk about the aggressively drunk British; but if they were called upon to name one drink which the world associates with us, it’s still going to be tea, quite clearly.