BULK BUY BRITAIN

What if an entire town came together to buy what it wanted en masse? Five hundred people might want a new TV, fifty people a new car… If they all pledged to buy from the same retailer, their potential bargaining power would be enormous. Their potential savings, vast.

Justin Preston wants to revolutionise the way we all shop. He hopes to prove that the principles of bulk buying that he uses in his own business, can also be used to save individuals a small fortune. As we join him, he’s on his way Bolton to launch his big idea. This is the story of what happens next…

 

BEHIND THE SCENES

I sometimes wonder, at the start of a job, whether people might view me as a doomsayer. For the first couple of days I spend a lot of time focusing on the many and varied issues that could turn my current project into a catastrophic disaster. It’s a strange period, during which I gaze off into the middle distance, furrow my brow and mutter phrases such as “total car crash”.

This painful exercise serves a useful purpose. Namely, to allow me to ensure that none of these “many and varied issues” ever darkens my door. And once that’s been taken care of, I can reset my brow and concentrate all my efforts on finding the factors that will make the project a triumph. With Bulk Buy Britain, this process was rather ‘interesting’ as it was apparent from the outset that many of the issues that could prove troublesome were things over which we would never have any great influence.

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We couldn’t force the people of Bolton to sign up to the project in their thousands. We couldn’t force businesses to give us amazing deals. But, as failure is never an option, my job was to ensure that all factors over which we did have control were handled in a way that would guarantee us a strong programme – even if the television Gods conspired against us in other areas.

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On paper, the content of this programme reads like a producer’s nightmare: a discussion about energy bills, a few people buy a toaster… Indeed, our commissioner’s greatest fear was that we’d end up with nothing but a string of rather dry, very similar sequences. But good programme-making is a little like alchemy. All it needs is a few simple ideas and an otherwise banal scene can be transformed into something approaching that cliché of ‘television gold’.

In the interfaith energy meeting, for example, the giant iPad calculator was all it took to give Justin a framework to work in, and to turn a scene about electricity bills into something pretty engaging. I’m very pleased with the way all our key sequences turned out.

A new presenter could well have added extra risk into the equation. But it was clear from the outset that Justin had something special. A natural screen presence. Completely devoid of ego. A joy to produce. And, as it turns out, a brilliant negotiator. Which, given our subject, was rather handy.

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Justin’s clear sense of fun was the key factor in my decision to take on this job. I was certain that the many and varied issues we might face could be cancelled out with humour. The people of Bolton never did sign up in their thousands. But if I could keep our audience smiling, hopefully they would never notice our shortcomings. Or, if they did, hopefully they’d forgive them.

When attempting humour, the skill – if that’s the right word – is to make sure it suits the programme’s tone, and fits naturally with the personality of the presenter. Situations I would create for Justin would not necessarily be appropriate for Ronnie Corbett, or Michael Winner or Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, for example.

Justin, however, would be completely at home in a sweatshirt emblazoned with a slice of partially cooked toast. Justin would have no problem bringing the technological awesomeness of a ‘Toastaliser’ to life. And as a result, watching a few people buying toasters could become great TV.

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Careful producing and directing are, of course, always important. But there’s another, equally important element, without which this programme would not have been nearly as good. The casting.

Having spent far too long working on the Jeremy Kyle Show (it is good for something after all), my assistant producer, Klare Gaulton, is a casting tour de force. She immersed herself in the town, and found its gems. From the list of Boltonians who signed up to Justin’s website, Klare brought me Lorraine and Megan who gave us our TV story. She found Andy and Margaret, the priceless DJs at Bolton FM who added a vital energy to our toaster story. She built connections within the Council of Mosques, which led us to Inayat and our energy story. And she found us Stacey, whose purple locks were the launchpad for our hair salon story.

A huge amount of effort went into the making of this programme. I worked harder, and worked my team harder, than I have on possibly any other production. It was a difficult show with “many and varied issues” along the way. The measure of our success, I like to think, is that nobody who watches it will have any idea of just how hard it was.

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Producer/ Director/ Edit Producer/ Camera: Nic Guttridge
Duration: 1 x 60mins
Production company: Storyvault Films
Network: Channel 4
First broadcast: September 2012 at 9.00pm

 

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