If you're a lag on the lam, head for Chelmsford

We might have chosen the wrong town in which to film if we were looking for upstanding citizens
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The Independent Online

I have started my annual two-month period of roaming around the country annoying the public for televisual purposes. I'm filming series two of Fool Britannia and it always takes a little while to get back on to the hidden camera saddle.

I forget the things that make it a peculiarly difficult art form. These mainly boil down to two things – people and weather. I am not the world's most organised fellow and seem to have a knack for starting hidden camera shows as winter draws in. This means nobody is on the streets, it's dark by four and everyone is miserable. For series one of Fool Britannia, I thought I'd got it made when we began filming in May. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the wettest summer on record and we were lucky to get the show made.

It couldn't happen again, could it? I started the week reading of snow falling in the North and, sure enough, when we arrived at our first target town, Chelmsford, it was pissing down.

The first joke involved me dressed as a prison guard with a bunch of inmates who just so happened to be free-runners. For those who are unaware of this activity, it's when people hurl themselves off buildings, leaping from roof to roof in rather spectacular fashion. It turns out that they are not quite as "free" to run as might have been expected, as they were very loath to do any stunts in the wet. Although understandable from a health and safety viewpoint, I couldn't help but think that, in these soggy isles, this must put a bit of a kibosh on most of their work.

The joke was a simple one – start chatting to passers-by about my criminal charges and come across as all liberal and forgiving about them while they proceeded to escape in a spectacular manner behind me. The hope was that the concerned passer-by would attempt to point out their flight to me as I waffled on. It quickly became clear that we might have chosen the wrong town in which to film this particular piece if we were looking for fine and upstanding citizens.

The first man I approached took little time to inform me that he had served time himself and didn't bat an eyelid when the boys scarpered. The second guy tried to distract my attention to allow the youths to flee the long arms of the law. He had been a guest of Her Majesty for more than nine years of his life. The third person I approached turned out to be a prison officer herself and asked me why the inmates weren't shackled. I decided that I was taking the wrong approach.

I targeted an older man, in his mid-fifties. He seemed very respectable (for Chelmsford) and I started my patter. The moment my inmates started escaping, however, he held on to me while shouting "Go on, lads, good luck to ya" as my charges sprinted away along a high roof. He then did a disappearing act himself, leaving me to the mocking tones of the camera crew in my earpiece.

I was determined not to insult any more towns this series but … let's put it this way, no move to Chelmsford is on the cards in the immediate future.