I have to admit I’ve been finding James May’s new series, The Reassembler, slightly addictive viewing in a slow, monotonous, relaxing kind of way. I’ve never really been a fan of the old Top Gear team (or Top Gear generally, to be honest) so it isn’t something I would have ordinarily watched, if I hadn’t left the television on after a quiz programme and found myself watching it.
At its heart, The Reassembler is a man of a certain age (James May*) pottering around in his garage, rebuilding items from scratch that have been dissembled into their constituent parts, whilst discussing the history and structure of the mechanism concerned. The first edition had Mr May reassembling a 1950s petrol engine lawnmower, a classic racing green cast iron piece of machinery that took him ten hours to do, but we only got 30 minutes of edited highlights. And that’s it. There’s no drag racing, no dance routines and certainly no glitzy costumes. Just a bloke wearing jeans and jumper getting his hands dirty in his workshop.
I loved it. It was perfectly pointless viewing at the right time before bed on a work night.
In fact, what it reminded me of was the old Jack Hargreaves programme, On The Road, where he basically sat in a shed, smoked a pipe, drank tea and discussed the best lure for tench fishing. If anything, the only difference between the two was that Hargreaves focused on humanity’s links to the land, whereas May is more interested in man’s connection to his machinery.
In a similar spirit is Guy Martin, but he is much more of a speed merchant, being a TT racer and everything. However, Martin also embodies the spirit of “bloke pottering about in garage building things” and has been known to refurbish everything from a narrow boat to a Spitfire, so clearly there is a market for this kind of thing.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with Slow TV; one of my favourites was the all-night walk around the National Gallery, which was shown on BBC4 some months ago, with a very soothing soundtrack and no pesky experts. If I remember rightly, the whole thing was filmed by a robot; it was still lovely having a couple of hours in the company of my own armchair, a decent supply of tea and some of the country’s greatest artworks.
I think I will persevere with The Reassembler. If nothing else, it reminds me of opening the door to my granddad’s workshop and finding him up to his elbows in nuts and bolts looking for a particular shaped one in a certain size.
* Nicknamed “Captain Slow” by his co-presenters on Top Gear, hence the title of this post.