“ Channel 4 „
Now that the great Fred Dibnah has passed away (that bloke from Bolton who knocked the chimneys down) a vacancy for another northern eccentric to do factual and fun television programs on heavy engineering and our glorious industrial past has opened up. Happily the affirmative action people on Channel 4 have not used up their 15% quota of black and ethnic employment here and gone with Guy Martin, an unexpected but ideal choice, a true working-class hero.
Guy is a star in the sport of motorbikes and came to the attention of many more people that like bikes with his starring role in the thrilling documentary 'Closer to the Edge', about the terrifying and exhilarating world of TT Racing, where he is a living legend, the Jimmy White of the sport and the greatest rider never to win it. Guy is a bit mad and had some big crashes in his time, nearly wiped out in 2010 when he clipped a wall at 170mph on the famous Isle of Man circuit. As the man himself says: 'if it were two inches more that way I would have been bu**erd'. Fred couldn't have put it more succinctly. This is why motorsports big associations don't recognize the event. Their health & safety rules are appalling on race week.
An engineer by trade - be it fixing lorries or restoring old cars, he and his old man build their own race bikes at the family firm in Boston. Guy is broad Lincolnshire, gurning away like Charlie the Cat after eating his fish in that famous infomercial of the 1970s. Down to earth? He's covered in it! He is SO grease monkey he probably sprinkles iron filings on his cereal and uses oil for milk and although a rugged attractiveness on offer to the ladies he prefers getting his hands dirty in engines and sump pits than with pretty girls in fancy restaurants. He puts the A in Alpha Male! You will like our Guy.
'How Britain Worked' will run for six episodes and we are three in now on Sunday nights at 8pm, with the opening episode looking at the railway industry of the golden years of the industrial revolution, Britain's greatest legacy to the modern world, Guys magnificent Victorian sideburns very appropriate. To make it interesting each episode offers up a challenge for Guy, the first week to help restore an old rusting steam train, the idea that he learns the skills and working conditions of the job and the age that way, no modern tools or working conditions allowed, brining home just how hard and dangerous the work was. Steam trains seem to be an iconic image of Victorian England and a great way to start the season and a chance to get the presenter extremely mucky and out of his comfort zone. Every time I see Guy on TV he looks like he has designer engine oil on his face.
The second week Guys team had to try and fix the world's oldest working water powered sawmill's belt system and the plan to build a wooden bicycle with the power tools it runs off. Guy again gets to grips with the wonderfully efficient non electrical power sources of the day and gets his hands dirty, no problem with doing the crap jobs for our motorbike hero. History show us that the industrial revolution was not only built on the backbone of British workers but also children, the kids employed across the factories and mills to help power the unstoppable industrial revolution, kids often used to get in the places adults cant or wont reach, like mechanisms and belts, dragging them into be mangled if they were unlucky. With no unions or health & safety in place because of the pursuit of profit this was common. Guy did indeed make his wooden bike with wooden wheels.
Every industrial town needs a brass band and in week three our Guy is drafted into one as he helps to repair the town of Llandudno's seaside pier and its fairground rides and attractions, welding and iron work skills this time around. Sparks fly, if you excuse the pun, when he attempts the cymbals in the band and we also learn about the growth of seaside resorts in Victorian times. It is lightweight entertainment but you do learn stuff and Guy's no nonsense style makes you want that stuff to register and so an entertaining hour to be had Sunday nights. The final three episodes will see him try and fix an old fishing trawler, design a giant rockery and fountain at a Birmingham botanical garden and help rebuild a steam pumping engine at Blenheim Palace.
So far the series has been enjoyable and Guy a star in the making and I only hope he doesn't become a media tart and do all the panel shows as that will spoil the appeal he has. But he has chosen to do this TV show and so seeking more exposure and ultimately that will change him and distract him some from his racing. And when you are flying around at nearly 200mph with lampposts, brick walls and barbwire a twitch away you need to be concentrating 100%.