As I've mentioned before, I've been working on three one-hour documentaries for the BBC about my return to Liverpool after 30 years away. In a way, this type of factual programme – although supposedly free from artifice – can actually make you more egotistical than shows in the entertainment sphere. For example, in a movie drama it is the character you're playing who's up there on the screen, and if it's a comedy show then you have your comic persona to hide behind. But in a documentary it is you, supposedly the real you, who you are selling to the viewing public. It has the potential to be almost as fraudulent as being a politician.
I find myself coming up with (and mostly rejecting) tricks to make the real Alexei seem more charming to the people who will watch the show. One area where I have felt secure in the image I'm projecting is in the choice of car I'm seen driving. This car is my own long-term Citroen C6. "He's an independent sort of guy," I imagine car-conscious viewers saying to themselves when they see what I'm driving, "he's stylish but doesn't run with the pack and he's probably a wonderful lover." I think they'll think this because of the way the C6 looks and because you won't see another one on TV.
I get the impression that despite their aura of naturalism a lot of documentary-makers put a great deal of thought into what the presenter is driving, and I reckoned I'd avoided all the pitfalls. First, I didn't have a novelty car; some sort of classic, or a weird motorised trike that looks too thought-out and phoney.
But, most of all, I didn't have a Land Rover Defender. I don't know what it is about documentaries and Land Rovers, but there seem to be hundreds of the cars all over the TV. Off the top of my head, I recall Rick Stein driving one in his last cookery show; Peter and Dan Snow drove a series of Defenders in their series on battlefields; and I saw Alan Whicker piloting one while talking about his experiences during the Second World War.
Now, I assume Land Rover isn't giving its vehicles away – so why are they in so many documentaries? Well, I think it must be because television people are herd animals (perhaps it's all those films about wildebeest) so they tend to follow each other blindly. So when one uses a Land Rover Defender, it seems to project all those 4x4 fantasy features – toughness and freedom, an air of authenticity, a feeling of go-anywhere independence – and then another director immediately uses it until it becomes ubiquitous.
I thought I'd avoided this hazard. Because the big Citroen is so rare and hard to fit into the hierarchy of modern cars, I was certain that nobody else on television would be using a C6. I would be thought of as an original and free-thinking individual.
Using the C6 hadn't been without its problems. It's spacious and smooth, sure – but when we were filming on the Runcorn bridge the cameraman kept kneeling on the weird electric handbrake and the car would suddenly slow down precipitately and become hard to handle, which is quite dangerous.
Then, the other night, I was watching BBC1 and saw the lead character on Silent Witness driving a car identical to mine. I'm just another TV wildebeest after all.