A fly on the dashboard documentary series from the early ’90s captivates your Northern England correspondent this week.
My excuse for neither seeing nor remembering this program when first shown is due to the fact I was probably out driving most nights after work. Needlessly, I might add, but so full of enigmatic memories; cutting ones driving teeth, investing the simplest form of driving enjoyment, simply because you can.
Therefore thanks must go to DTW reader, John Topley for the mention and my subsequent dip into 1993’s Tales of Modern Motoring from the BBC. Set over five chapters covering the business representative, the family group, the female perspective, the driving couple and the one I could easily have been party to, that of the late teen – early twenties lad.
The first thing which struck me upon watching was the lack of traffic on the roads. Even the central London shots, where the traffic is busy, but the streets are not choked with enraged motorists. In fact most places, especially those filmed in England’s North look positively empty. How times change.
More sea changes being the lack of mobile phones or roadworks, only the single visit to the Golden Arches (trips to Little Chefs being the order of the day), the youthful outpouring of parental frustrations and next to no Audis. Life on the road nearly thirty years ago looks blissful viewed in relation to the modern aggression we face daily.
But just as there are differences, there are constants too; the image conscious, people watching and characterisation, but fortunately fashion sense has moved on; too many overtly patterned jumpers are on show for anyone’s sensibilities to bear. As for the chap in his Stars and Stripes shirt and driving gloves or the lady in the lime green suit… well, taste has always been relative.
Characterful individuals abound in each episode. The endearing girl with the lisp driving a 2CV that daddy has bought for her which needed “97 or maybe 99 pounds of repair work doing”, the rep who lost it all but was back on his feet in a BMW, the eternally bickering couple and their relationship breakdown over the heater controls, the happy to be driving a Volvo family guy.
It would be easy to poke fun at some of these newfound screen stars (where are they now one wonders?) but that misses the point entirely; many of the traits shown and commented upon are easily applied to ourselves, then and now.
The cars have changed, obviously. The Metro weighs in with several performances, in basic, MG and yellow painted forms. This particular machine comes in for a lot stick too: a pensioners shopping trolley, a girl’s car, a rubbish one, a mobile target of derision. The Fiesta and deux cheveau also feature quite prominently, but harbouring friendly warmth and for those with a penchant for the tin snail, that excellent engine thrum is an aural delight.
A family Land Rover 110 is shown with mum driving, dad feeding the three kids Polo mints in the back and the queue of traffic behind stretching well into the distance. This family evidently adore Solihull’s finest suggesting that should everything else fail, they could pack the Landy up and head for Africa. And why not? Though I suspect they didn’t.
The reps with their Cavaliers, Sierras, Astras, BMWs et al: as long as there’s an “i” in the nomenclature, they’re moderately happy. One-upmanship is frighteningly prevalent though. Right elbow firmly planted on the windowsill, left hand fingers lightly clasping the steering wheel and a phalanx of grawlixes emanates from our eternally motorway-bound representative, should a lesser mortal attempt an overtake.
Woe betide their quarry in a base model Belmont, Carlton or, heaven forbid, van driver doing so. The driver of the Clubman Maestro takes centre stage for sheer lack of car enthusiasm; can’t think why as all manner of vehicles pass him with ease. In the rep world, egos are either bloated or crushed by the motorway mile.
The girls get their two pen’oth in; driving Capris, MX-5s, a bright red Golf convertible with shadowed black accents and a single mum in her BMW 3 series revealing inner strength, rebelliousness and that plain old attribute for both sexes: pulling power. Or indeed misery, dependant on who she might be driving with. The back seat driving husband, forever chastising his poor missus on how she should drive his car.
Should you find the folk on screen to be too distracting, keep a keen eye on the backgrounds for differences such as a poor or missing car stereo, no charity shops or closed shop windows being whitewashed, a similar plethora of petrol stations (prices significantly lower), a picnic literally by the roadside and terrible parking practices.
Personally liking the idea of a modern version to be filmed, one suspects it would have to be sponsored by a pizza company, contain people with whitened teeth, expectant of their own reality show afterwards and egos the size of their Audi SUV. Perhaps not then.
The full episodes last just over forty five minutes each. If the weather proves too rough to take the dog out, get comfy and engage some rose-tinted theories from when car badges with eyes were relevant. You might just spot a road you know. I did. The much missed Tinsley cooling towers on the M1 on the Sheffield/Rotherham border on the Rep episode. Magical.