Fame without fortune
By Phil Lewis
I’ve used this heading before, way back in October 1998 in issue 39 of The Indicator. Then it was all about a brush with the journalistic world of classic car mags when Classic Ford featured my Lotus Cortina and I featured my feature in the club magazine. This time however, it was the big time, a double whammy, a motion picture Company (Icon Film Company) wanted to involve me & my car in a documentary about 50 years of the Cortina. The second whammy of the double whammy was to follow and this is what I am writing about here.
It started at the very finish. After a “full English” and protracted farewells to our fellow journeymen (and women) at the Premier Inn in Dover, the intrepid travellers and participants of the Cortina to Cortina trip headed their separate ways home. For the Memsahib and I, it was back to Weston Super Mare and after an uneventful journey we arrived home around 1.30 pm on the Sunday afternoon.
We were just sitting down to a much appreciated brew before unpacking the car and finally relaxing when the phone rang. “Hello” a voice said, “BBC Television Centre here. Rob Wootton of Icon Films gave me your number. Am I speaking to Mr Phil Lewis?”
I was too taken aback to come up with a smart answer and just said “yes.”
“We were wondering if you would be prepared to come up to the Television Centre in London to appear on The One Show?" We will be showing the documentary on 50 years of the Cortina and would like you and your car to appear on the show at the same time……..”
“This Wednesday, 19th September” (Bear in mind this was the Sunday afternoon).
The caller went on to discuss many details and at the end of quite a long conversation (in which time my cup of tea had gone cold), it was all agreed. I had suggested that maybe they would like a couple more Cortinas-to-Cortina adventurers and their cars (I was reluctant to grab all the fame and glory and responsibility myself!!). And so after a few phone calls to find others willing and available to donate a whole day, it was agreed that Pete & Lynn Pascoe with their Twin Cam and Rod & Viv Smith with their Estate car would appear on The One Show and the necessary security passes and clearances etc were sorted out.
Wednesday the 19th duly arrived and the Memsahib and I set off bright and early in the Cortina; destination; Television Centre in White City for around midday. We had arranged to meet up with Rod & Viv and Pete & Lynn at the M4 services just inside the M25 ring so that we could travel the last few miles together and more importantly to arrive together. Thanks to Rod’s navigation we all eventually arrived at the right gate in the right part of what is really a big complex spread over a large area, fully integrated and camouflaged by urban sprawl! Not easy to spot even when we were there.
Eventually our liaison person found us and we were shepherded into the complex of studios and “back rooms” that support the studios. On route we passed through the Top Gear support offices and an opportunity sprung to mind knowing that Clarkson had owned a MkII Cortina 1600E in his younger days; wonder if we could get the Cortinas on his show?
Needless to say Clarkson wasn’t around and the researchers only did what they were told and showed no spark of initative or ability to see what a golden opportunity we were offering them! The potential for what could well have been one of the best programmes in the series was lost and despite “drifting” through the office several times on the pretext of needing the loo and / or coffee machine we made no progress. No wonder these two guys were never going to progress from researchers!
The BBC’s hospitality knows no bounds and we were invited to go to a coffee shop across the mini plaza, (where they do their outside broadcasts from) and get ourselves whatever we wanted; a cup of coffee, a sandwich, a muffin, the sky’s the limit;” just pay for it and let us have the receipts they said,,,,,!
After the refreshments we all sauntered back to the conference room that doubled up as a hospitality suite (without any hospitality) and after sneaking into the Top Gear office again on some lame pretext in the vain hope of trying to get some glimmer of interest in our cars, we hung around and got bored.
Enter a little dolly bird who introduced herself as “Make Up.”
“No thanks, we are just fine!” we said in unison rather nervously.
No, no, everyone has to have anti glare make-up to avoid reflecting the powerful lights and to avoid having our natural colouring bleached out and looking like cadavers! This actually served, along with a few plates of sandwiches and drinks that had appeared, to distract us and relieved the boredom. I actually got some good photos of Pete getting the attentions of the make-up girlie as she wafted the face powder brush over Pete’s fizzog. However, Pete can be very persuasive when he wants to be and after threatening extreme violence and dire consequences for all if I published said pictures, they remain unpublished and the only one cleared for publication is of Lynn. No disrespect meant to Lynn, it doesn’t have the same impact as the photo of Pete would have had! But I’m not stupid and I can recognise a manic look in Pete’s eyes as well as anyone!
Lynn Pascoe, looking very serious, receiving the attentions of the make-up girl whilst Jenny Lewis looks on with interest. The chaos only really started when the make-up girlie set-to on Pete. Pete, looking stern and (as much as possible) macho cracked us up and what started as giggles soon descended into raucous laughter which even got the make-up girl laughing!
Having whiled away some time eating the sandwiches and drinking the tea & coffee, another group of people arrived in the “hospitality suite”. They turned out to be a group of very noisy and excitable street singers who were also to appear on the show. It was only then that we discovered that the refreshments were for them, not us and so we discretely “retired” to a corner of the room hoping they would not notice the “holes” we had made in the displays of sandwiches and biscuits! But in retrospect the singers most likely thought, if they thought at all, that they were for us as well.
Bearing in mind that we had been there since lunch time it was around 5.30 pm that we were shepherded down to the “outside studio” to meet Matt Baker and be briefed on the where’s and why-fore’s of what was to happen, and where the cars were to be positioned as they were the real stars. (Great, thanks for that!)
With Matt Baker at the wheel, Alex Jones in the front passenger seat and Andrew Marr in the back & trying to sit between the two in the front, Matt nervously drove my car onto the set. (Good job the cooling fan didn’t kick in or it would have wreaked havoc for the sound engineers as it is a high efficiency fan, (damn noisy as anyone who has heard it will testify).
Pete and I drew the short straws and were to be interviewed by Matt whilst Rod got Alex. The producer decided that it was best if Matt drove my car into position as if he had been out on a drive. Alex would be sat in the front passenger seat and Andrew Marr (who was also on the show) would sit in the back. Matt would then get out of the car and interview me and Jenny. He would then ask me three questions;
1) “I understand that you have completely rebuilt your car from scratch for this trip?”
2) “How was the trip for you and Jenny?”
3) I understand that this photo has a special memory for you?”
The photo referred to was an enlarged photo that I was to hold during the interview and to which he would refer; which depicted Rod’s estate in a lay-by high in the Alps where Rod had just managed to get to using only his handbrake as his brakes had failed!
Alex just getting out of the car, me in the centre, with Rod just to my right, holding the photo that we were supposed to talk about. Matt is just off screen & Marr has disappeared! Viv, Pete & Lynn are off to the right of the photo.
So I had an hour or so to think up some Sauvé and sophisticated rhetoric (lasting no more than 30 seconds!) on these questions that would hopefully, possibly led to other greater interviews on competitive channels!
Come the actual live interview it all went pear shaped! Now I don’t know whether he just forgot the questions we had discussed (bearing in mind it was live) or whether he was told by the producer to speed things up as they were running out of time, but he came up to me and asked a question that was nowhere near the 1st question he had said he was going to ask! I had 1-2 seconds to come up with a response, and that included the “get over the surprise” time! And then there was no 2nd & 3rd questions. I have to say my instinctive response was along the lines of; “What are you on about? That’s not what you told me you were going to say!” Anyway, I didn’t, mores the pity. The rest of the interview went by in a blur and I have to say that it was all over in a metaphorical flash. Then they were all piling into Pete’s Lotus and Matt was supposed to zoom off into the night, except that some numpty forgot to move the metal fencing and so after 10 feet, whilst still in full camera view, they had to stop. I said; - “just ram the fencing, its only free standing and it would look like a sequence out of the Sweeny!” They didn’t, and I suspect that it was because it would have looked like a sequence out of the Sweeny, which of course, was a Commercial TV series!
They very quickly lost interest in us as they moved indoors to get in the warm. We were all left to negotiate with some hapless oik to get the gates clear so we could get out, it was 9.00pm before we hit the road home.
Rod & Pete headed off in one direction and we headed off in another; I, heavily relying on retracing my steps to get onto the M4. But, they had started overnight roadworks in that area and all manner of roads were shut off and it took ages to find the route home and it was 1.00am the next morning before we finally made it home.
Now you might be wondering why I used the title “Fame without Fortune” for this article. Well, the BBC has said that they would cover all the petrol and incidental costs incurred in our visit(s) to the TV Centre; “no problems, just send in your bill along with any receipts if you have any and they would sort it.” Did they hell! We submitted our bills and despite numerous reminders, chasers, formal enquiries and phone calls they ignored the lot! Yes, we never got a penny; it’s not the money, after all it was, in our case, only about £70 but it was the principal of it that grated for me. Used, abused and discarded. Such is life.
Viv Smith, Phil & Jenny Lewis, Andrew Marr & Pete Pascoe who you will notice has his hand up Marr’s back pulling the strings so that Marr smiles!
All photos © Phil Lewis