THE BBC is again facing potentially embarrassing revelations about one of its "fly-on- the-wall" documentary-soap hits.
Clampers, which has garnered around 7.5 million viewers with its tales of the day-to-day life of a bellicose car clamper in south London, was revealed yesterday to have, at best, stretched reality.
A Southwark Council spokesman admitted that the show's star, Ray Brown, is an office-bound duty manager who is very seldom seen out clamping.
Mr Brown was shadowed for eight months by the BBC crew on the streets of south London. The impression given in the programme was that Mr Brown's stunts, such as singing the Queen hit "Another One Bites the Dust" while clamping a car, are everyday incidents.
But yesterday it emerged that after interviewing staff at the Airport Parking Corporation of America, which is sub-contracted by Southwark Council to manage car clamping, the BBC researchers felt Mr Brown was the most television-friendly, despite his being supervisor rather than a clamper.
Mr Brown himself undermined the programme-makers when he told a press agency: "I haven't worked on the streets for the last two years," though yesterday he claimed in a BBC statement that those comments had been misinterpreted.
He is currently on leave from Southwark Council, avoiding the media glare, but a colleague said yesterday: "Ray is a bit of a mercurial character... His job has always involved some going out and clamping vehicles but he is largely office-based. Though that doesn't make for very interesting television, I suppose."
The BBC issued a statement, saying: "The series was made with the full co-operation and support of Southwark Council, which has expressed its satisfaction with the portrayal of its work in the series as accurate and fair... Throughout the six-part series [Mr Brown] is seen performing a variety of duties both on the street and office-based."
Broadcasters and producers have been accused recently of blurring the line between fact and fiction in the fly-on-the-wall genre. The new breed of light entertainment-style documentary soap, while gathering huge numbers of viewers, has been all-but disowned by more serious documentary-makers.
The BBC was forced to admit that its breakthrough hit Driving School contained reconstructed footage, while Channel 4 apologised to viewers when it suffered the same problem with Rogue Males. Last week the BBC confirmed it was examining the guidelines it issued to producers to see if there were lessons to be learned.
Clampers was not produced by the same team as Driving School, which came from BBC Bristol. Clampers' producer, Kim Duke, was adamant that her series was fair: "We don't want to misrepresent anything... We do extensive research before we start doing anything."
Through the build-up to the transmission of Clampers, Mr Brown himself has become something of a media celebrity, joining Driving School's heroine Maureen Rees, who has also had rather more than her allotted 15 minutes of fame. Mr Brown is currently filming a new BBC game show called A Date with Fate.
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