LAB RATS: ABLE-BODIED SEMEN

The Lab Rats are Mike Leahy and Zeron Gibson, two men on a mission to push themselves to the limit, for the sake of science (and the sadistic pleasure of the great British viewing public). With fun firmly in mind, each programme is driven by the banter and lunacy of our two heroes. But behind it all lies rigorous research and solid – sometimes even ground breaking – science. You definitely haven’t seen anything quite like this before…

In this episode our Lab Lats put their manhoods under the microscope as they take on the sticky subject of male fertility. They’ll discover the quality of their sperm, before training it up to maximise its potential for the final contest – the world’s first ever ‘Big Screen Sperm Race’.

 

BEHIND THE SCENES

On paper this programme was a stale proposition. Sperm isn’t exactly the most visually engaging of substances and the subject of fertility doesn’t immediately stand out as inspirational fodder for our target audience of men in their 20s. My solution was to let my imagination run wild and to follow through the crazy results of that process with total conviction. Mike and Zeron were a director’s dream. They were genuinely up for anything. At every point along the way I expected one of them to say that I was going too far: “I need you to go into that room and masturbate”. “I need you to let me film you trying to get an erection”. But everything I suggested, they were prepared to see through.

Exhibit A. Testicular size has a bearing on sperm production. Fact. Ok. So how do we make that into a sequence? We’ll get the Lab Rats to compare the size of their balls. Good. But how…?

In the course of setting this up I made just two calls to the press officer of Dudley Zoo. The first was to ask for permission to film on site for a sequence that would compare the fertility of animals to the fertility of humans. We’d probably want to see the chimps, I explained, as chimps have quite large testicles as a result of their promiscuity. I was told that would be fine.

The second call went something like this: “Hi. You remember that we were talking about coming to the zoo to film a sequence about male fertility?… Yeah, well I was wondering if it would be ok for my presenters to make plastercast moulds of their testicles in the back of the chimpanzee enclosure”. I was told that would be fine. And incredibly, despite the presence of various escorts on the day, nobody at any point uttered the words “I’m afraid there’s been a huge misunderstanding”.

Having measured their testicles (I never did understand why Mike got completely naked to make the plastercasts) the lads were sent for a sperm count. The results revealed that Zeron was lagging behind – in fact, strictly speaking, he was sub-fertile. Not something that particularly worried him as he already had three beautiful daughters, but a potential blow to his ego nonetheless. It speaks volumes for his commitment to the series that he never once made an issue out of it. The decision was made that the Lab Rats would adjust their lifestyles to try to level the playing field. Incredibly it worked.

I had the idea for the sperm race very early on. Looking at it now, as a finished piece, it looks so simple. But when I pitched the idea to scientific research teams across the country, I was told time and again that it wasn’t possible. Finally I came across the brilliant Dr Lars Bjorndahl at the Birmingham Women’s Hospital, who decided that, although he didn’t know how it could be done, he’d like to give it a go.

Over a period of a couple of months, Lars literally invented a new process to bring this ‘vision’ to life – an artificial mucous membrane that would allow capable sperm to travel in a straight line, just as they would if they were hunting down an egg. With that sorted, it was then just a matter of sending the lads off with their collection pots, rigging a camera to a microscope, marking a finish line on a capillary tube, dipping it in the ‘samples’, and firing up a stopwatch. And with a bit of editing and a few graphics we finally had a race worthy of the Big Screen. The result was genuine. The only question left was where to show it…

I’m extremely proud of what we achieved in this programme. From a difficult starting point we created an event and a programme that captured the imagination of journalists around the world. Heck, the Sperm Race even made it onto the evening news.

In Portugal.

 

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Producer/ Director/ Edit Producer: Nic Guttridge
Camera: Luke Finn
Series Producer: Steve Evanson
Duration: 30mins
Production company: BBC Scotland
Network: BBC3
First broadcast: April 2004 at 11.30pm

 

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