Scratching away layers


Well the last posting got a bit reflective; it started out as one of my many diatribes on the foibles and flaws in the people featured on tv. I love to study anyone who is self-absorbed (and tv is choc full of them) and to then scratch away at their veneer of gloss till I find the shallowness underneath. It sounds cruel but, hey, they set themselves up for some criticism and I mostly try and do it without being unfairly hurtful. And in the last posting I thought I was straying into aiming appearance barbs at people who were just being filmed doing their very caring volunteer work and not seeking celebrity. And I hope we’re better than that. Even if I did feel one person did deserve to have his look at me-ness pricked a tad. Yes SC, I mean you. 

So what’s this posting about then? Well I’m U-turning back into tv commentary of course.  Ha! I just can’t stop myself. And the person I’ve been studying this time is a chap called Henry Cole. I came across him watching a mid-afternoon C4 programme called Find It, Fix It Flog It. It’s based on the concept that England’s barns and sheds contain lots of unwanted items that can be renovated and up-cycled to make some cash for their owners. Henry forms one half of the ‘pickers’  alongside Simon O’Brien, a regular presenter on crappy daytime tv renovation programmes.

Now the two are chalk and cheese characters; Simon is the oik from Liverpool with a passion for wood, old clocks and chopper bikes. Henry is the more sophisticated ex-Etonian posh boy sporting unfashionably long blond hair, trendy paper-boy cap and stubbly beard…

Simon is supported by an even scouser workmate in Gemma  Longworth who runs her own up cycling business and likes to do nothing less than chalk paint any bit of wood  much to Simon’s dismay who only wants to use nourishing wax on his finds. Henry’s mate is Guy Willison who he’s known since they were 15. I’m pretty sure Guy must have attended the local secondary modern and is Henry’s bit of rough mate. They are both motor bike mad and it seems that Guy, affectionately nicknamed Skiddler, used to fix up and repair the bikes that Henry regularly bought and crashed.

Now what becomes apparent is that Henry’s love of things mechanical extends to lots more too. As well as picking out any 2- wheel item they may come across, Henry also has a love for vintage tractors, classic cars, stationary steam vehicles, old bicycles, petroliana, and indeed anything that might be made from metal, like pigeon holes, lockers, lamps etc, that can be sand-blasted and re-sprayed candy apple red.

What usually happens is that Simon picks out a manky old pine table to renovate which delivers a £75 profit whilst Henry uncovers and renovates a vintage French Velosolex bike for £1500 and wins the contest. And that was what presumably prompted a change in programme idea, where Henry partners up with an even-stranger looking old pal Sam Lovegrove to trawl through the same old barns looking for old bikes/car/mechanical objects to renovate and sell on for a profit for themselves this time. It’s called Shed and Buried and you should check it out because it is worth scrutiny for a number of reasons. Firstly mate Sam is a lovely fellah but  he is the archetypal grease monkey; you only see him in scruffy overalls, scruffy beard, scruffy bobble hat hiding a two foot long pony tail of straggly hair, dirty finger nails and he is a mechanical nutcase/genius…

Secondly you will be amazed at the number and state of strange old men who have sheds full of old bikes, old oil cans, petrol dispensers, rusty old enamel advertising boards, Austin A35s, steam engines, rusty old tractors and the like. There is a whole industry translating this crap into polished-up products which sells to another army of strange middle-aged men who own man caves full of petroliana and the odd British sports car or Norton motor bike undergoing 15 year renovations. I’m a man and I never knew this mechanical underworld existed so if you’re a woman it must seem like a completely different planet (or maybe not).

Thirdly the chaps take on board lots of cups of tea, as you can see from the image above, as they discuss purchase/bargaining strategy (I’m not joking) whilst talking in this strange language to each other about their prospective buys. ‘Oh my lord look Henry it’s a 1920’s Ascot-Pullin 500 with single overhead valves and sprung frame with hydraulic brakes and a Binks Mousetrap carburettor’. I have no idea what they are talking about but it sounds amazing and dispiriting at the same time.

But it is the common denominator Henry who interested me. I noticed that the number plate on his Land Rover showed HCA, the same initials as on the end credits. I looked it up and it stands for Henry Cole Associates (Entertainment), the TV production company responsible for the shows. It seems that old Henry’s been in the business of making a number of daytime tv programmes and documentaries as well as films and theatrical productions for the last 25 years. Before that the set a least one land speed motorbike record at Bonneville Flats and before that he was addicted to heroin for 5-6 years (clean now for 20+ years). During those years he was in a rock band and before that a session drummer and tv cameraman. Wow. He’s also pretty well-connected our ‘Enery. His great great uncle was William Gladstone PM of England and he’s the owner of a customised motor bike manufacturing company called Gladstone Motorcycles (after a beloved grandfather rather than the old PM) which he set up with Guy his mucker from FI,FI,FI. He’s also bred prizewinning guinea pigs.

An interesting life eh!  He appears happy, married with two boys and lives in a lovely place in Oxfordshire, which features in the programmes.  So there you go. A programme about upcycling brownwood sideboards and oil cans turns out to be far deeper and more interesting once you scrape away that surface.

scratchy paulie

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About Paul

Having decided on a change of life by moving home from the UK to Italy, this is the story and thoughts of a man on a personal journey from the Blackpool Tower to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, in search of la dolce vita. After several olive harvests he's now back in London but en route he shares his very personal perspectives on life.

2 thoughts on “Scratching away layers

  1. Very nasty condescending comment referring to Simon the way you have done. For an “Oik” he’s not done badly for himself and is also very skilled. Is this about an individual or do you have some deep routed prejudice about people from Liverpool . Shame on you !

    • Fair comment Shirley Ann. On reflection I think ‘oik’ was a poor choice of word. It suggests somebody who’s uncouth and I really didn’t intend that. I was just trying to highlight the obvious contrast between the public school-educated and well-connected Cotswold-based Henry and the working class chap from up north (where I hail from incidentally so no I’m not prejudiced). It’s clear that the show’s producers have deliberately chosen two guys with quite distinct backgrounds to create some on-screen frisson. To a large extent it works. I wasn’t having a down on Simon as such though he’s not my favourite presenter. He has a tendency to be a bit too prickly. But thanks for coming by and taking the trouble to comment.

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