Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?
Earlier today I wrote an alarmingly positive review of The Grand Tour for the latest episode - Season 2, Episode 3.
It appears though, that I may have been too quick to judge. As regular readers will know, my major bugbear with The Grand Tour is the fakery. That the show dresses up as a factual endeavour, but is in fact carefully scripted - which makes for misleading viewing.
This is actually why I praised S2E3: All of the films strayed on to the right side of believable. Sure, TV inherently involves a level of fakery (you think Huw Edwards turns up for the News at 10 without needing a little make-up?). But in contrast to much of the rest of The Grand Tour, I thought the show's second major segment - lunchtime car park racing - seemed credible. It appeared as though we were watching an account of what really happened. And this added a layer of excitement: We thought we were really watching people arsing about in cars - not just actors pretending to.
To quote myself, literally hours ago I praised the segment saying that "it was definitely the best thing the show has done this season: it was good-natured, a clever idea, and strayed just on the right side of believable. Good work.".
Unfortunately, I may have been too quick to judge.
The premise of the segment was pretty clever: Office parks have little private mazes of roads, which can make for a perfect racetrack. So off May and Hammond went to Dunstable, to try it out. They recruited a bunch of office workers from two rival companies and put them in a motoring head-to-head competition. What a great idea for a bit!
So it's hugely disappointing to learn that it appears that rather than rely on real office workers, The Grand Tour instead employed the services of professional drivers, who has worked with the show on previous occasions.
The segment did a good job of setting the bit up. Here's a map of where they went - the two companies in question are Storage King and Cura Technical, which are both real companies based in this real business park:
We see Hammond setting the scene, in a consciously boring conference room - telling the poor, straitjacketed office drones what his plan was.
Here we can see a number of the drivers the show introduces us to from two companies - note the guy second from the right.
This guy, we're told, is Steve from Sales are Cura Technical.
He's a really good driver: He's shown on screen driving fast, skidding around corners and so on. In the final head to head race in the film, he wins overall - beating Gav from Storage King.
Except here's the problem - which basically undermines the whole bit.
As best we can tell, "Steve" is actually stunt driver Niki Faulkner from Driving Wizards. He has a pretty cool job - he does lots of stunt driving for TV and film, and has previously worked on Rush, The Sweeney, and a little show called Top Gear. In his Twitter bio, he also says that he has worked on The Grand Tour.
Sadly then it appears that rather than use a real office worker, as the film implied, it appears The Grand Tour instead decided to create a heightened reality for the viewer - and use Niki's expert driving skills.
Here he is with James May, while filming what appears to be something else from the show:
And here he is with Hugh Bonneville, who was a guest on a different segment in the same episode of the show. Presumably he's the expert driver they get to coach the celebrities on driving around the track.
And here's a direct comparison of "Steve" and a photo of Niki that we found in profile.
Note the hairline, ridge of the nose, and the fact it really, really looks like the same guy.
This observation though does appear to have chimed with a few other Twitter users who spotted that Steve appears to be Niki:
.@drivingwizards Nice lunch time car park driving 😉
— Jane Brewer (@jane_brewer) December 21, 2017
@drivingwizards Loved your car park racing prowess, Mr Wizards. 😆
— Jane M (@ridesandskis) December 22, 2017
— James (@jameselmer73) December 22, 2017
I actually tried to phone Driving Wizards to confirm that "Steve" really is Niki or not - but it went to voicemail. Which is perhaps unsurprising given that it is the Friday before Christmas and perhaps further evidence that I should really get a life.
It also appears that "Steve" isn't the only actor. "Nick from Accounts" is reportedly stunt driver Mauro Calo - who more or less owned up to it on Twitter:
I walk around in a constant disguise mate. 😂😂😂
— Mauro Calo (@Thecarmagdriver) December 22, 2017
So what's the point in pointing all of this out? Why does this matter? Frankly, it doesn't matter as much as The Grand Tour's handling of electric vehicles. But it is interesting, right? It makes you wonder: was the racing actually genuine or a setup? Perhaps it was - having two pros on set, they might want to test their skills against each other? But it definitely appears that the way the race was dressed up was something of a fabrication.
It's perhaps illustrative of just how contrived TV production is in general - that even things that you think could be real, like normal members of the public driving around a makeshift racetrack, is actually carefully thought through first. And I think this further feeds my unhealthy obsession with the reality created by Clarkson, May and Hammond: Where does the fact end and the fiction begin? As this film shows, it's really hard to tell.