Well now, as you might imagine this was not on my list of shows to watch. But Mr H put it on and I wondered what it was about. It’s really a simple premise – spread out a bunch of parts, assemble an item, turn it on and see if it works – fronted by well-known presenter James May, of Top Gear fame. Mr H assures me you can’t actually judge a person by the company he keeps, or can you? If the men you worked with were famously nobbers, I might think you were a nobber too. But all that nonsense is in the past and while James has been out of work he’s been cultivating the indoor hobo look and now he looks a bit like a speccy chinchilla.
So we begin with the component parts placed on a large white table like a 3D diagram and watch them slowly removed by James and put back together. He calls it a “sweet shop of componentry” and he’s as enthusiastic as a geeky school boy.
In this series he guides us through building three classic, but everyday objects – a petrol lawnmower, an electric guitar and a dial telephone. All items taken for granted shown in great and fascinating detail. Hours and hours of work is condensed into 30 minutes. He’s more than happy to talk to himself and his very patient crew in his little workshop.
James May is, it turns out, quite a passionate and romantic person. He says the “chassis is the soul of the telephone” and quotes Descartes, Philip Larkin and complicated musical theory. He is very funny and makes his crew crack up – hearing a proper phone ring he says “this takes me back, a bit like meeting a kid with mumps”.
It’s very satisfying to watch someone do a job well and it’s about as close as we viewers will ever get to technical engineering work. Captain Slow (as I believe some nobbers have nicknamed him) is the perfect presenter for the emerging slow tv trend. Mr H suggests James May would have been a good replacement for Stephen Fry on QI instead of Sandi Toksvig. High praise indeed.
All three episodes are on iPlayer now, but take your time and enjoy it. There’s no rush.