Why a telly programme devoted to classics makes sense

| 5 Jul 2011

It's always great discussing movies with classic fans because there is such a breadth and depth of knowledge.

Whether it is reeling off the street-parked "furniture" during the chase scene in Robbery or waxing lyrical about the origins of the Bellini, or the Swiftmobile for that matter, in School for Scoundrels, you know you'll have a sympathetic ear, and in return your partner in conversation will bring equal enthusiasm to the table.

Of course, a couple of "rules" hold firm:1. The cars are the stars and the dialogue, plot and human stars are all secondary.2. Barring a few cameos in modern movies, these conversations will always be about period flicks, ancient pieces in which the cars were largely contemporary. And that's what got me thinking.Though I am sure we are all the sort of nostalgic types who would enjoy those films anyway, our obsession is more than likely fuelled by the fact that we are so starved of anything about classics on TV. Dearth doesn't begin to describe it.Sure, all the enthusiasts I know still feel obliged to tune into Top Gear, but nowadays more because they don't feel they can miss it, rather than because they really want to watch it. And that programme really does set the agenda still, even if the last series felt a bit like watching an assisted suicide long before the current BBC controversy.The other aspect about enthusiasts' dysfunctional relationship with Top Gear is that, though they (we) constantly decry the fact that it ignores classics, we absolutely dread it when it does feature them. They are not exactly sympathetic, after all. At least it increases web traffic as we all spend a happy couple of days fulminating about the lack of respect, shoddily brutal driving and shallow, un-authoritative treatment the cars get.

But then, first and foremost, that is what Top Gear does and that is why we love to hate it and hate to love it...but watch it religiously.
 The problem is that we care and they don't (deteminedly so, that's their schtick). But let's not blame Top Gear for all the world's ills, there are plenty of other people doing that, largely I suspect out of resentment that it is still the best that we've got by a country mile.

There are a few other programmes that do care, after all, but not only do they share the same lack of authority which has you screaming at the telly ("it's a series one and a half you imbecile" that sort of thing), but they are also cloyingly worthy and, worst of all boring, confirming and sustaining all the non-enthusiasts' worst prejudices about our hobby.

The biggest failing of ALL TV programmes purporting to ‘live in classic-land’ or just taking the occasional day trip to it, however, is that if they spend more than five minutes on any one car or topic, they break into a cold sweat and move on before the ratings drop another half point.

When it comes to coverage of classics, telly generally is just a class full of attention deficit kids and Top Gear gets the flak simply because it is the loudest and most disruptive of them.
I am sure this soundbite formula is extremely well researched to work, but all the enthusiasts I know don't have the attention span of a gnat (hell, if you're still reading this, you are clearly immune to boredom) and long for something about old cars with some good old-fashioned values such as depth, substance and research.

The classic world is a multi-billion pound industry enjoyed by millions so surely there is sufficient audience for proper classic telly (and I don't mean the interminable, unedited slot-filling dross that so much historic motor sport has fallen victim to). 
We deserve it. Maybe one day some production company will be brave enough to do it properly.  Maybe they already are on some channel only available in the Tora Bora caves and I just don't know about it (despite propping up the Murdoch empire in the vain hope that, having long-since given up any vestige of hope of finding something good, praying that I might stumble across something merely adequate). 

So if there is any decent classic-related telly out there, let me know, but for now let's assume there isn't. In which case, we need to create our own. I'm thinking an hour-long programme maybe shot in a vintage aircraft hangar. 

There would be two main parts to the show (one celebrating a great classic, including a track test on our special track with our tame anonymous historic hotshoe at the wheel, the other focusing on an event) interspersed with some humorous news from the classic world and, and this is my masterstroke of originality, taking a household name (a star if you like) each episode and seeing how quickly they can lap our track in a reasonably priced classic, such as an MGB.

Ok, so I am making light about the solution, but that does not mean that I am not deadly serious about the problem. If you agree, come up with your own formats: tell me who and what you would watch and why.