Driving the A303: Highway To The Sun

Thursday 19 May 2011, 15:16

Tom Fort Tom Fort Presenter

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"Why a road?" people asked when I told them I was presenting this documentary, then, "Why the A303?"

Actually it took a while for the questions to occur to me. About 20 years in fact, which is how long I've been driving the road on a regular basis.

Like most others I drove it and didn't think about it. It goes from just west of Basingstoke to just east of Honiton in Devon - 92 miles, give or take a few yards.

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On the way it goes over three of my favourite rivers for fishing - the Test, the Avon, and the Wylye.

From my point of view, that was what the A303 was for - to get me to the riverbank.

Between the Avon and the Wylye it went past Stonehenge. Like everyone else, I wondered about Stonehenge.

Then I started wondering about other aspects of the landscape that flashed past the window.

Like Andover and the big slab of forest before it. Like Amesbury and the weird metal bloke on his knees by the turn-off. Like the burial mounds.

The shape of a story formed. A book, I thought. Then someone came along and said, "What about a film?"

So a film it became first - A303: Highway To The Sun. The book is having to wait.

I spent 20 years with BBC radio news, never having anything to do with TV. I was a words man, didn't understand pictures. Still don't, really.

The experience was gruelling, far more so than I'd expected.

For one thing, filming was in February and it was marrow-freezingly cold. For another, I had to drive a 1968 Morris Traveller.

The Morris is the real star of the show. It took me right back, because it was the first car I ever drove on a regular basis.

Tom Fort standing by the 1968 Morris Traveller on a bridge above the A303.

It's happiest at 50 miles per hour or under, which can be awkward on a dual carriageway, and the wing mirrors are at the far end of the bonnet, which means that the only way you can see anything in them is to stop and get out.

All in all, talking to a camera and driving wasn't the easiest thing.

Rather fun, though. As was singing in a pub with a pair of ram's horns on my head. And talking road-kill with the country's leading expert on the subject (if you ask me nicely I'll give you the recipe for fox casserole).

And I learned a lot, both about the mysterious world of television, and about the road. My road, as I've come to think of it.

Not my film, though. That belongs to John Holdsworth, who directed it. A man of heroic - almost inhuman - patience and dedication. I used to imagine documentary makers as precious, arty types. Not any more.

Tom Fort is the presenter of A303: Highway To The Sun.

A303: Highway To The Sun is on BBC Four at 9pm and BBC HD at 10.30pm on Thursday, 19 May.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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    Comment number 1.

    Of course it is difficult driving and talking to the camera. It is also dangerous and stupid -- a really crass feature of so many documentaries.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 3.

    A gem of a film. In the 50s I remember going in the back of Dad's car from NW London past Heathrow, Hook, then down the A303 to the West country for summer holiday. Then the road was slow (mainly single carriageway) but we would see Stonehenge or the barrow at Winterbourne Stoke, and stop to picnic in a field just off the road. Happy days.....

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    Comment number 4.

    The programme was curiously interesting, purely because I have to use the blinking road on an almost daily basis. It used to mean holidays, now it usually means work.

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    Comment number 5.

    David thanks for getting the ball rolling with a comment about our primary concern when planning the filming of A303: Highway to the Sun. When making documentaries we do everything we can to avoid talking and driving shots, but in a film about a road it's hard to avoid completely.
    We followed BBC safety guidelines and ensured that Tom never looked away from the road any more than he would if he were having a conversation with a passenger. And if you managed to catch the programme last night, you'll have seen that many of the driving shots are visuals only. Much of Tom's talking to camera is shot outside the car next to interesting things along the road. Hope you buckled up and enjoyed it!
    Chris Granlund, Executive Producer A303: Highway to the Sun


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