Michael Smith’s Drivetime, BBC 4

Did we like it?
Writer Michael Smith brings his lyrical analysis as to how the car has shaped Britain and its cities. What was unusual about this was Smith is a non-driver, so relied on friends and members of the public to ferry him around. This opening episode focussed on how London had expanded since the advent of the motor car. A bit half-baked, some evocative quotes from Smith got lost in the general mess of the programme. We don’t think we’ll be tuning in for the rest of the series.

What was good about it?
• We’d always assumed that the centre of London (or at least, the centre in terms of measuring road distances) was Charing Cross. More accurately, it’s actually the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square – about 100 yards away.
• Rather than typical “drivetime” music, the use of classical and ambient pieces made for a refreshing and relaxing change.
• Having a non-petrolhead and camera averse (we don’t think he addressed the camera once) presenter worked – in a weird sort of way. As did the interviews with the sort of people who the cameras would normally studiously avoid – the gentleman who walks passports and visas between the embassies or Nicole Kidman’s seventh cousin – a white van man from County Durham!
• We enjoyed Smith jumping on the 242 bus, just to see where it would take him. The vast majority of us use buses to get somewhere. This was just enjoying the journey for the journey’s sake, “I realised I could lose myself in a top-deck reverie all day, and all for £1 there and £1 back.”

What was bad about it?
• Smith’s voice sounded exactly like that of an old work colleague of the custard.tv. Unfortunately, we’d harboured murderous fantasies about said colleague, so that tended to intrude on some of his longer monologues.
• It was all a bit ‘unplanned’. And while that served as a pleasing metaphor for how roads had developed in the UK, it did feel somewhat unsatisfactory.
• Whilst Smith came up with some pleasing lyrical imagery – “grim, Orwellian hospitals”, there was also the occasional diversion into pretension – “the perpetual present tense of drivetime”.

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