I started working on Scrapheap Challenge in 1998. It felt like a one off, barking mad niche series for Channel 4 and we’d never make another. But we did, moving from a scrap yard in West London to one in East London. Proper, filthy dirty scrapheaps full of discarded junk. We did 2 years there and then made a series in America in 2001. We made the UK Scrapheap in Los Angeles, flying the teams out to take part.
The scrapheap team, headed by the wonderful Cathy Rogers also started making ‘Junkyard Wars that year for ‘The Learning Channel. Same format, different presenters and American teams.
The yard we used in America was just like being in the UK, except it was considerably warmer. Okay, it was stinking hot and if you touched a piece of metal with your bare hands at midday you got burnt. But the test locations were incredible, up in the snow in the Rocky mountains, out in the desert, on white water rivers and deserted stock car tracks.
Then we moved to a scrap yard near Reading for a few years and the final 3 years we spent on a military scrapheap near Basingstoke. This one had to be cleared by mine detectors before we were allowed on as it was an old munitions dump from World War 1. Yes, that old.
So why did it stop?
Well, in early 2005 I had long meetings with the production company, then called RDF. I agreed to do 3 more series, ending in 2007.
As the end of production in 2007 approached it was fairly clear that the TV industry was in a catastrophic nosedive. Channel 4’s income from advertising dropped by 40% in a few months. Although the average Joe was unaware of what was about to happen, the advertising industry is a very good at economic prediction. Sure enough, the global financial crisis hit in 2008 and suddenly we all knew about it.
In 2008 Channel 4 commissioned one last series but on a massively reduced budget. This series was fronted by long time Scrapheap stalwart Dick Strawbridge, the man, the moustache, the legend. It was a tough series to complete as they had to cut so many corners and cobble together what they could.
Classic Scrapheap was an expensive show to make, obviously there are the many millions of pounds paid to yours truly to keep me in caviar and hookers, but there was a very big crew, many camera operators, a complete mobile production unit, costume department, engineering department caterers and obviously the teams.
This meant hotel rooms for up to 60 people when we were on the road, and interestingly, Lisa always got a massive suite in every hotel and I got a broom cupboard at the end of the corridor next to the air con unit and the lifts.
Anyway, although I loved making the show, I loved working with the crew it was taking over more and more of my life.
When I made the first series in 1998 it took 6 weeks of madcap antics, late nights, early mornings and loads of fun. By 2005 it took 8 months, so much travel I can’t even remember and took up most of my year.
In the 10 year period before I started working on Scrapheap, I worked on Red Dwarf. That took up an average of 10 weeks every 2 years meaning the rest of the time I could write.
I published 10 books between 1992 and 2003, some were successful, some not. However that was what I really wanted to do.
Writing books takes time, it requires blocks of time without interruption, it’s slow, labour intensive and from the point of view of bank managers, accountants and anyone interested in money, completely daft.
Even with the most successful books I’ve written the income per hour has to be fractions of a penny, it’s bonkers. Only an idiot would want to do it.
I am that idiot.