I'm a celebrity, take me home
edits this blog. Twitter: @chblm
How would you set about making a documentary about Ireland, or class and politics?
Maybe start with a presenter? Someone who knows the subject. Say, Terry Wogan for Ireland, and Andrew Neil for class and politics.
Then perhaps devise a 'journey' for your presenter? Both physical, as they travel around to 'find out' about things, and metaphorical, as they are presented with different testimony that will help them move towards a conclusion. And, let's hope, as they learn, they will sweep viewers along the same road to enlightenment.
So, in Terry Wogan's Ireland (BBC1) on Sunday night, we saw Terry Wogan in the back of a chauffeur-driven car revisiting the scenic west coast of his native land.
And in Posh and Posher: Why Public School Boys Run Britain (BBC2) on Wednesday, we saw Andrew Neil in the back of a chauffeur-driven car revisiting his native Scotland.
Journey: box ticked.
But to make the most our presenter we need some personal stuff.
So we were shown Neil's parquet-floored Kensington apartment. We weren't exactly given a tour, but we got a good look round as we watched him on his exercise machine, and in his bedroom (left), packing up to go on his journey. He told us he has a driver and a housekeeper. We got a glimpse of the latter, and heard him saying "Bye Vanessa" as he wheeled his suitcase over the floor that she presumably polishes.
And we saw Wogan waiting at the station in Limerick to meet his brother (long-lost? - we weren't told), and enjoying some cheery reminiscences with him about their dad's old grocery shop, in the back of the chauffeur-driven car. Dad was a hard taskmaster, apparently, and their mother was a hopeless cook.
Different programmes, different presenters, different stories.
Well, yes, but it was all leading in the same direction.
You could almost hear the production wheels turning: they're back in the land of their childhood, so why not have them take a look at their childhood home? Wogan's is in Limerick (below left), Neil's in Paisley (below right):
They each made the pilgrimage. Neil just looked at his from the bottom of the garden path and chatted to some children returning from his old school. Terry and his brother got inside and remembered their dad singing The Floral Dance in the bathroom.
Both films worked well, and the way the presenters were used undoubtedly added interest and brought the subject alive. But the similarities indicate that there is an element of the formulaic, or at least a kind of convention which is drawing producers into a groove here.
Take the narrow question of revisiting childhood homes. How did that begin? Perhaps with John Major's 1992 party political broadcast (below) driving round Brixton in the back of a chauffeur-driven car in search of his. ("Is it still there? It is, it is. It's still there. It's still there. It's hardly changed.")
Since then, there's been the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? making the personally revealing presenter journey an end in itself.
And at the end of last year, Channel 4's The House that Made Me made the return to the childhood home an end in itself.
Sometimes conventions are so deeply engrained they're almost invisible, like natural laws. But in years to come, could it be that the idea that a subject needs a presenter, that a presenter needs a journey, and that the journey tells us about them, may not seem as inescapable as it does today?
It must have once seemed inconceivable that a male presenter could be shown without a suit and tie, or that pieces to camera could be unscripted and filmed with a handheld camera.
We must be nearing the zenith of the 'personal journey' phase of factual programme-making, but what will replace it? Any ideas?