How did it all start, it’s so hard to remember.
It might have been something to do with a combination of technology, the internet and having a few mates who’d been on the telly.
Or maybe it was interviewing people on Scrapheap Challenge over a ten year period and realizing that I could do it, that I found people interesting and wanted to find out more about them.
Or was it the time David Baddiel gave me a lift through Notting Hill in his steamy little Ford Ka about ten years ago and I put a small video camera in the corner of the windscreen. It was held in place by a squashed Red Dwarf T shirt. Why did I do that, because Mr Baddiel and I wanted to re-create scenes from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Why did we want to do that? I have absolutely no idea. The most important part of this experience was that we both forgot the camera was on and we just kept talking. That tape is highly obscene, libelous, disgusting and hideously revealing of our peccadilloes. It will never be released. Some of it is bloody funny though. Sorry, I shouldn’t tease.
Or it could be that for the first time in 25 years of working on proper telly, I actually had time to try something else. I suspect it was a combination of all of these factors.
All I wish is that I could honestly claim that I had the foresight to know that if you got someone in a car, with a couple of little cameras suckered to the windscreen and you give them a lift, they are far more relaxed about talking than if they are in a TV studio, with a crew and lights and big cameras. I didn’t have that foresight, it was pure flook.
If I had tried to do Carpool 10 years ago, for a start I would have to have some giant camera rig strapped to the outside of the car, we would have to stop every 20 minutes to change the tapes and if it rained we’d have to stop.
That’s just recording, the equally important fact is that I would also not have been able to edit or distribute it myself. I would have had to put on my battered suit and troll up to the swish offices of one of Britain’s leading Broadcasters and ‘pitch the idea’ which would have been a painful and depressing exercise in futility.
Picture the scene, I’m sitting at the table with a scrotty bit of A4 with ‘Carpool’ written on it, but not much else. My suit looks rubbish, and I’ve now realized it was a mistake to wear it as the guy I’ve come to see is 15 years younger than me and wearing jeans and a T shirt.
He’s excited though, he told me his mum used to let him stay up and watch Red Dwarf, so I’m in with a chance.
“We love it Bob, it’s brave, innovative, cutting edge, it’s pushing the envelope, it breaks new ground, it’s really not what we’re looking for right now.’
It would never have happened, the idea is a non idea. Give someone a lift and record the conversation, how banal is that. How would you pitch it?
‘Do they win anything?’
‘Is there jeopardy, you could have an ejector seat like James Bond had, if they’re not funny in the first 2 minutes, you eject them.’
‘What about if you got singers, you could play Karaoke CD’s on the car stereo and they could sing, and you could have votes and…’
‘You could have models and footballers, it could be a massive celeb fest if you did it in the back of a Rolls Royce and you pretended to be a member of the Royal Family.’
‘No, it’s just me, in a hybrid car, giving someone interesting a lift.’
‘There’s no way you could cook something while you drive along is there, or bake cakes?’
So that’s why I didn’t bother. As you may be able to tell from the voracity of that interchange, you can feel it can’t you. I’ve been there. Many many times. So the freedom that the new technology gave me was intoxicating.
The tools we have within our grasp now are breathtaking from the perspective of just a few years ago.
When I wrote and produced my first sit-com for Channel 4 in 1986, I worked in an edit suit that cost over £140,000. It was a mass of boxes, wires and screens that filled a small room.
Now you can edit much better, faster and with more precision on a laptop with software that is either free or a fraction of the cost.
The cameras we shot that sit-com on cost about £60,000 each, they were massive and the picture quality by today’s standards is sub phone.
And even if I could have done that, I couldn’t have distributed it.
So it was all those factors that made it possible.
I shot the early episodes of Carpool using little second hand cameras, we’d used similar ones on Scrapheap, they were a bit wobbly but they just about did the job.
It started very slowly; just a few 1,000 people watched each week. But each week a few 1,000 more joined them. There was no PR machine pushing the show, there was no publicity at all, except me banging away on Twitter and word of mouth.
Then I got 3 new high definition cameras and the quality of both sound and picture increased. So did the number of people watching. I still wasn’t earning any money from it, but I had jobs in TV that kept me going, I had support from RDF media, that’s the people who made Scrapheap, and I had support from Toyota cars.
Total download figures through iTunes and various RSS feeds is now close to 4 million, not each episode, for the whole lot, close to 80 episodes.
Carpool is now on Dave, and in January 2011, the new shows, re-cut to 30 minutes, will be on the regular carpool feed, on iTunes, llewtube, YouTube, all that. I’m also shooting new episodes of ‘old school carpool, although there’s been a gap in transmission, carpool will be back with a bang next year.
And if you have been, thanks for reading.