wed 24/07/2024

The Route Masters: Running London's Roads/Airport Live, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

The Route Masters: Running London's Roads/Airport Live, BBC Two

The Route Masters: Running London's Roads/Airport Live, BBC Two

It's transport week on the BBC, with wildly mixed consequences

Abandon hope: traffic approaches the dreaded Blackwall Tunnel

I bought a new car recently, but by the end of The Route Masters (***) I was feeling a powerful inclination to sell it. The film would have rung a masochistic bell with anybody accustomed to trying to travel round London on a regular basis, and the soundbite claiming that the average speed of the city's rush hour traffic is 9mph sounded like a wild exaggeration.

It was a gentle study in collective lunacy. Cab driver Howard Taylor, frozen in West End traffic, enunciated it neatly: "Anyone who drives in London has got to be off their rocker." Howard looked comparatively sane, so why is he still doing it?

On the southern approach to the Blackwall Tunnel, possibly London's most dreaded accident-waiting-to-happen location, we had a chat with a travel agent who's been driving to work through the tunnel for 40 years. He was, needless to say, sitting in a stationary vehicle, asking himself why he was prepared to sit in his car for an hour while he travelled precisely two miles.

The statistics obstinately refused to add up. In the last last decade, the number of journeys around the capital's 9,000 miles of road have increased by 20 per cent, while road capacity hasn't increased at all (in fact thanks to traffic calming and sundry other gambits, road capacity has been reduced, though not parking fees). One car breaking down can send teeth-gnashing gridlock rippling outwards for miles. A freak event like the Vauxhall helicopter crash can take down a sizeable percentage of the road network for the best part of a week.

This would have been a suicidally drab slab of telly had director Frankie Fathers not unearthed some outsized characters among Transport for London's various repair squads and emergency workers. There was Indra the Nepalese ex-soldier, who beatifically puts up with people abusing him, recommends goat's testicles for a healthy diet and says "Britain is the best country in the world to bring up your children." Particularly entertaining was Sean, a jovial geezer who lives in a Portakabin next to the Blackwall Tunnel, waiting for accidents to happen. "I'm self-contained, me," he told the camera as he cooked himself a pancake. "You gotta be incha? Modern man and all that." I still can't see how they're going to stretch this series out to six parts. 

More pertinently, how did Airport Live (no stars) get on television at all? It's like an extended parody of a rejected edition of Blue Peter. Kate Humble, all breezy and eager, had been drafted in to replace an indisposed Dan Snow (good call, Dan) and stand on the terrace of Heathrow airport's control tower, claiming to be at the epicentre of "one of the most important transport hubs in the world!" and that "you will never have seen this stuff before!"

Thank **** for that, because this was telly at its most stupefyingly vacuous. We were invited to feign interest in drab, uncharismatic men who tell aircraft which bits of tarmac to taxi down, while somebody called Dallas was allowed to sit excitedly in the cockpit of an Airbus A380 (the double-decker one) while it was towed to a loading bay. His colleague Anita was taken on a guided walk around the outside of another A380. "Believe me, I'm very excited to be walking underneath this huge plane right now," she insisted. Anita (pictured above, very excited to be standing next to a huge engine) is the boffin of the team, and explained that "the wind dictates which direction planes take off and land". Although clearly not the grammarian. It would be presumptuous of anybody involved with this programme to expect to work in television again.

It would be presumptuous of anybody involved with 'Airport Live' to expect to work in television again

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I am sure that there are plenty of people who are interested in a real behind the scenes look at what goes on at Heathrow. If the BBC and other broadcasters only made programmes with mass appeal, they'd be broadcasting less hours and with less income from the license fees as a significant minority would give up on TV altogether. Just because you aren't interested in it doesn't mean it's rubbish.

Well said, Hairy Airey. Commonsense at last.

It was hilarious, I agree. The best bit was when Kate was on the balcony of the tower with the air traffic control guy and she commented that she hoped Dallas and the tow-truck person didn't crash the A380. Mr air traffic's "I wish you hadn't said that" face was one to treasure...

Brilliant review - made me laugh out loud. Should have been a fascinating look behind the scenes but was reduced to childrens' documentary level for much of the time,particularly the Anita and Dallas bit.

You can't expect people to pay for these 'reviews', can you? Waffle, no insight. What about taking apart the programme's opening statement, that London is 'full'. Is it? Since when? So why do people keep coming. Sorry I stumbled on this site.

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