To travel is better than to arrive, as long as you don't pass by Heathrow. My current aim in life is to replace Michael Palin as the next big TV travel "personality". It won't happen, of course, as I am physically incapable of wearing chinos, sensible blue shirts or a panama hat and am, therefore, disqualified from even putting myself up as a contender. This does have its benefits. For instance, it allows me to do a bit of a "Magician's Secrets Exposed" about the world of travel docs.
I'm a huge fan of this genre and set about doing my own version last year, when – in what had been described by, well, me as "the greatest blag in the history of television" – I went round the world getting drunk. One of my aims in the series was to have a gentle dig at some of the slightly patronising clichés of the travel programme in general.
In the current climate of fear at the BBC over TV lies and "noddies" being banned from news programmes, I hope that my exposé won't have any serious ramifications. I do, however, presume that none of these "little lies" will ever appear in any more programmes. First, the "chance encounter". This is where the panama hat-wearing traveller pretends to bump into a colourful, English-speaking local who then takes them out to a meal and a tour of the city. An example of this was in a recent programme featuring Paul Merton in China when a "passer-by" helped him to eat some fried insects at a roadside stall and then "became" his guide. We all know that this woman was hired by the production team and was probably working for them as a "fixer". Why pretend?
When I was filming in Prague, we had an appalling "fixer" called Jacob who hindered us in every way and was a major pain in the arse. We got revenge on him by setting him up as a "chance encounter" in an unbelievably run-down bar in the poorest part of the city at breakfast time. The "scene" called for Jacob to be filmed knocking back pints of vodka in this dump at seven in the morning. He complained that this made him look like a complete alcoholic. He was not best pleased... but I was.
Second, the "tension moment". This is where, to build a bit of excitement, the director decides to pretend that they have to get somewhere by a certain time. For instance, Michael Palin is always rushing to get a train that will take him to another train to get a boat... The thing is, when he does just get the train and hops on as it's leaving, we then get a beautiful wide shot of the train as it pulls out, taken from atop some distant hill.
Now, either this is a shot of a different train, and that would be an untruth, or the time pressure wasn't quite as tight as we were led to believe, and the second unit had time to set up and get this Bafta-winning shot. When we were filming on a train in Goa, I am seen telling my cameraman off for filming a passing train bathed in glorious evening light. "Oi, that's not our train, stop cheating."
That's another little lie – the sunset shot. In travel documentaries, people only ever arrive at sunset and leave at dawn. Admittedly, the light at these times is always a lot better and makes everything look beautiful but it's ridiculous to watch camera crews religiously filming long, time-lapse shots of sunsets every day. I would venture that, often, you see a sunset that was not shot on the same day as the footage you saw previously – sort it out Yentob! I did. I banned all shots of the sun from my series.
Travel shows are possibly the most egocentric of all genres as it's all about ME, ME, ME in lovely, interesting places that you can't afford to go to, telling you facts that I've just nicked from the 'Lonely Planet'. While doing these pieces to camera, you often have to use cut-away shots or bits from other days of filming, so it's best you wear the same thing all the time so that everything looks fluid. This is why the panama, blue shirt, chino combination is so popular. When I eventually get the call, I suppose I'll just have to bite the bullet and get myself down to Hacketts. If I do, please forget everything you've just read, I was only joking. TV is all real, honest.
'Dom Joly's Happy Hour' DVD is released on 1 OctoberReuse content