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.

8 Responses

  1. Myfanwy Alexander says:

    Hell’s teeth, guys, that’s telly! In the mean time, let us all embark upon our own diverse crawls, blessed by the spirit of ‘The Rolling English Road’. My own pitch is this: when I was five, I promised my brother that he and I would grow up to drink a half in every pub in England (he was then twenty). He married and went to America and when his wife died, he said, “What about that half?”
    The series is called ‘Half a pint of Heartbreak’
    In the mean time, for those of us who value a good pub where they think tapas is an anagram, come to Montgomeryshire

  2. Pete says:

    I share your grumpiness – I posted about the fact that I had a meeting to do a series just like it the day before they announced this was going to happen. I think you’re right about it spoiling the integrity of the travel book – read Anthony Bourdain’s Cook’s Tour for his constant frustration with having to falsify what he was doing and discovering. But having already done the book I thought it would be nice to reprise the themes and get a higher profile chiefly so the books would sell more.

    As for the series itself… it’s poorly researched, full of holes as you say, and is much more a vehicle for two blokey blokes (or rather one blokey bloke and one wine ponce trying hard to be a blokey bloke) than it is a serious attempt to explore Britain’s drinking culture and the wonders of beer. If you watch it with that expectation it can be quite diverting for half an hour before the daily fix of crack-addictive pantomime genius that is Masterchef.



  3. Graham says:

    Who’s James, by the way? And Ice Road Truckers is great. It is incredibly strangely compelling. And if, like me, you don’t drink tea, Rick is a good target for throwing cups of the stuff at. But you’d only know who Rick is if you watch it. Not to be confused with Captain Rick of Deadliest Catch, natch.
    Dog The Bounty Hunter. Frightening stuff.

  4. RE; Tape Recorder In The Car; unconstrained we spent most of the journey skitting on a 1940’s guy called Frank; I seem to recall he’d inherited his granfather’s sheath. Always keen to lend it out. A sort of filthy Glumms… ‘Ere, Frrrank… Yes, Ethel?

  5. I hear that at one point they drove over a bridge between England and Scotland that in reality is to be found between Devon and Cornwall. Easy enough mistake to make I suppose, and besides, one bridge is much like another, who’s to know and who cares anyway, isn’t it?

  6. Dan says:

    Well, I fear I raised this ugly issue – so a few comments. Thank goodness (and more) you did not go with the TV idea Ian – that would have ruined the book IMHO – at its best it might have worked with radio – in that you could have had a tape recorder in the car and used it if required, and left it alone if not – but quite frankly hardly necessary. I’m convinced such a ‘multimedia’ approach would have been bad news for the book.

    I suppose if they did rip off the book without telling you that is very rude.

    My other half reckons they never stay in that caravan and that is all a fake too – and I suspect that is correct (after all you’d just kip on the back seat of the roller would you not?)

    No doubt the constriants of a 30 min slot have made the TV prog hard to get to work. I suppose it was the visit to Brook Laddy distillery that made me think of this co-incidence, since I’d read that chapter of your book the day before. In fact the most likeable bit of the TV series was when Mr May got up close and personal with the Victorian gear wheels – but then I’m a sucker for that sort of detail – of which the programme is seriously short on. It’s is, I agree, big on missed opportunities!

    Does it clash with Ice Road Truckers? Maybe I should switch to that – I hear it is strangely compelling….

  7. God almighty, but I’m liking that picture. That’s some kind of heaven isn’t it? I wonder if you can get it on a poster.

    Even better tea-related discourse here:

    Re the Oz and James thing, let us not mince words, it’s fucking poor and if only for that reason couldn’t have been lifted from your excellent work Mr M. The fact that it is entirely unfunny should be another clue.

  8. I think a nice cuppa is what is needed here; and if you take a trip to the home of the the UK Tea Council at you’ll find just the thing, A picture of giant tea cup inside of which there is a lovely brew; and what’s this? There’s a blonde woman bathing in it! One lump or two, vicar?

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