Alexei Sayle: Shiny motors, muddied TV

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Have you noticed how US crime TV series seem to be cloning themselves?

Have you noticed how US crime TV series seem to be cloning themselves? For example, first there was plain old CSI with William Petersen, then that was so successful it was spun off into CSI Miami with nasty David Caruso, so that the original has now been renamed CSI Las Vegas. Soon apparently there is going to be another part of the franchise called CSI New York.

Similarly Law and Order, the longest running show on American television recently begat Law and Order Special Victims Unit and there are probably others in the works. Maybe British TV could adopt a comparable strategy: for instance they could make Waking the Dead. Macclesfield. Or Heartbeat. Corrupt Fifties Vice Squad Unit - that would be good: they could have lots of bent coppers racing around in old MK 2 Jaguars and Humber Super Snipes. There was a lot of this sort of old car action in the BBC's recent adaptation of Jake Arnott's The Long Firm.

It was a terrific show but it shared the problem that all historical shows have in connection with cars. See, the way it works with providing motor vehicles for TV and films is that the company that hires them to the movie doesn't hold huge stocks of classic motors itself but instead has a list of people who own them. When they know the period that's needed they contact the car owners and coordinate shipping their vehicles to the set, usually along with a driver for each car.

But what invariably happens is that because these cars are the property of enthusiasts, to my mind they always look too clean and shiny. What they need for authenticity is to have lots of dents put in about half of them and mud smeared all over the other half. If I'm ever working on a period drama I always offer to dent and scratch the cars myself but nobody seems interested. So, as it is, all the cars always look like they're exhibits at the 1968 Motor Show.

Which brings us to the other problem which is that if a movie or period drama is set in 1956 then all the cars will come from 1956 and not a year less. They do the same thing with furniture, if there is some classical adaptation where the action takes place in a country home in 1867, every single piece of furniture will be what was screamingly the height of fashion for 1867 as if it was the location of a photo shoot for the Victorian equivalent of Wallpaper magazine. In reality a country house at that time would have furniture from a spread of at least two hundred years.

The same is true to a lesser extent for cars, a street scene especially in the 1950s wouldn't just contain cars from that decade but would also have many dilapidated motors from the 1940s and at least a smattering of pre-war models too.

Incidentally I appeared in The Long Firm curiously not as an actor but as the real younger me being played by another actor. In the credits it read "Alexei Sayle played by Daniel Broadbent". What happens is that Harry Starks, the lead character, has just got out of prison after 15 years and while he's looking up old contacts in late 1970s Soho, he finds out to his horror that his beloved strip dive "The Starlight" has become the first of the alternative comedy clubs.

As the manager of the place tells him what a gold mine the new stand-up game has become we can see, over his shoulder, the young Alexei Sayle up on stage doing my act. However, here there was a terrible mistake which turned my blood to ice. The production designers might have meticulously researched the furniture and the cars, the wardrobe department might have got the clothes just right and make-up might have perfectly captured the period hair, but the young man playing me on stage was doing a routine about wine bars wearing a pork-pie hat!

That of course is a ludicrous anachronism, everybody knows I would only be wearing the pork-pie hat if I was doing my cockney mod Ford Cortina, "Ullo John! Gotta New Motor?" routine! This is a truly shocking mistake, what is the point of getting all the other details right if they get the most important ones wrong? I think the whole show should be re-shot to correct this error and this time round I'll dent all the cars.

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