One of my abiding memories of All Creatures Great and Small is the opening credits: Christopher Timothy and Robert Hardy chortling in their Austin 7 while traversing the lush Yorkshire Dales. Laughs were almost non-existent in Great British Car Journeys (Channel 4), a well-meaning but dull travelogue featuring amateur historian Timothy and All Creatures co-star (and vintage cars fan) Peter Davison, pootling around the British Isles in a Morgan 4/4, 1935 Everyman Guide in hand.
You could see the idea: a bit of Michael Portillo’s venerable-guidebook tourism; a touch of Prunella Scales and Timothy West in Great Canal Journeys; and the uproarious chemistry of two old hams with four decades of shared history. Unfortunately, it lacked the rigour of the first, the piercing poignancy of the second, and frankly much televisually arresting evidence of the third. As they made their way from Inverness to the Isle of Skye along poorly maintained “military roads”, they met fellow car enthusiasts, marvelled at the landscape and rustled up the occasional genuinely interesting historical insight.
Tension proved elusive. Might the Loch Ness Monster make an appearance as they talked to Steve Feltham, a man who has hunting for Nessie since 1991 (“What am I going to look back on my life and wish I’d done?” Feltham once asked himself)? Could Davison free the car when it gets stuck on a ramp? Would an approaching vehicle on a single-track road give way?
As far as series go featuring blokes in sensible clothing, having a jolly time with “the old girl” and indulging petrolhead passions, it was preferable to The Grand Tour, and the scenery was indeed glorious. But after Timothy had declared at the outset that “I’ve a feeling that Peter and I are in for one hell of an adventure,” I felt like invoking the Trade Descriptions Act. This barely got out of first gear.