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Sunday
Nov142010

Carpool. The beginnings

How did it all start, it’s so hard to remember.

 It might have been something to do with a combination of technology, the internet and having a few mates who’d been on the telly.

 Or maybe it was interviewing people on Scrapheap Challenge over a ten year period and realizing that I could do it, that I found people interesting and wanted to find out more about them.

 Or was it the time David Baddiel gave me a lift through Notting Hill in his steamy little Ford Ka about ten years ago and I put a small video camera in the corner of the windscreen. It was held in place by a squashed Red Dwarf T shirt. Why did I do that, because Mr Baddiel and I wanted to re-create scenes from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Why did we want to do that? I have absolutely no idea. The most important part of this experience was that we both forgot the camera was on and we just kept talking. That tape is highly obscene, libelous, disgusting and hideously revealing of our peccadilloes. It will never be released.  Some of it is bloody funny though. Sorry, I shouldn’t tease.

 Or it could be that for the first time in 25 years of working on proper telly, I actually had time to try something else. I suspect it was a combination of all of these factors.

 All I wish is that I could honestly claim that I had the foresight to know that if you got someone in a car, with a couple of little cameras suckered to the windscreen and you give them a lift, they are far more relaxed about talking than if they are in a TV studio, with a crew and lights and big cameras. I didn’t have that foresight, it was pure flook.

 If I had tried to do Carpool 10 years ago, for a start I would have to have some giant camera rig strapped to the outside of the car, we would have to stop every 20 minutes to change the tapes and if it rained we’d have to stop.

 That’s just recording, the equally important fact is that I would also not have been able to edit or distribute it myself. I would have had to put on my battered suit and troll up to the swish offices of one of Britain’s leading Broadcasters and ‘pitch the idea’ which would have been a painful and depressing exercise in futility.

 Picture the scene, I’m sitting at the table with a scrotty bit of A4 with ‘Carpool’ written on it, but not much else. My suit looks rubbish, and I’ve now realized it was a mistake to wear it as the guy I’ve come to see is 15 years younger than me and wearing jeans and a T shirt.

 He’s excited though, he told me his mum used to let him stay up and watch Red Dwarf, so I’m in with a chance.

“We love it Bob, it’s brave, innovative, cutting edge, it’s pushing the envelope, it breaks new ground, it’s really not what we’re looking for right now.’

 It would never have happened, the idea is a non idea. Give someone a lift and record the conversation, how banal is that. How would you pitch it?

 ‘Do they win anything?’

 ‘No.’

 ‘Is there jeopardy, you could have an ejector seat like James Bond had, if they’re not funny in the first 2 minutes, you eject them.’

 ‘No.’

 ‘What about if you got singers, you could play Karaoke CD’s on the car stereo and they could sing, and you could have votes and…’ 

‘No.’

‘You could have models and footballers, it could be a massive celeb fest if you did it in the back of a Rolls Royce and you pretended to be a member of the Royal Family.’

‘No, it’s just me, in a hybrid car, giving someone interesting a lift.’

‘There’s no way you could cook something while you drive along is there, or bake cakes?’

So that’s why I didn’t bother. As you may be able to tell from the voracity of that interchange, you can feel it can’t you. I’ve been there. Many many times. So the freedom that the new technology gave me was intoxicating.

The tools we have within our grasp now are breathtaking from the perspective of just a few years ago.

When I wrote and produced my first sit-com for Channel 4 in 1986, I worked in an edit suit that cost over £140,000. It was a mass of boxes, wires and screens that filled a small room.

Now you can edit much better, faster and with more precision on a laptop with software that is either free or a fraction of the cost.

The cameras we shot that sit-com on cost about £60,000 each, they were massive and the picture quality by today’s standards is sub phone.

And even if I could have done that, I couldn’t have distributed it.

So it was all those factors that made it possible.

I shot the early episodes of Carpool using little second hand cameras, we’d used similar ones on Scrapheap, they were a bit wobbly but they just about did the job.

It started very slowly; just a few 1,000 people watched each week. But each week a few 1,000 more joined them. There was no PR machine pushing the show, there was no publicity at all, except me banging away on Twitter and word of mouth.

Then I got 3 new high definition cameras and the quality of both sound and picture increased. So did the number of people watching. I still wasn’t earning any money from it, but I had jobs in TV that kept me going, I had support from RDF media, that’s the people who made Scrapheap, and I had support from Toyota cars.

Total download figures through iTunes and various RSS feeds is now close to 4 million, not each episode, for the whole lot, close to 80 episodes.

Carpool is now on Dave, and in January 2011, the new shows, re-cut to 30 minutes, will be on the regular carpool feed, on iTunes, llewtube, YouTube, all that. I’m also shooting new episodes of ‘old school carpool, although there’s been a gap in transmission, carpool will be back with a bang next year.

And if you have been, thanks for reading.

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Reader Comments (17)

I tagged along from the Stephen Fry episode - and I'm so happy I did! Looking forward immensely to January. Congrats on the success! :)

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIsabell

Very interesting insight into the process and evolution of Carpool! Thanks for that. It's a better answer than I had ever hoped for on Twitter. This blog of yours is a smashingly good idea!

Thanks for taking the time to post this blog entry in response to my simple question.

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSlackdragon

And I thank you for Carpool.
This, among other things, have encouraged me and a very funny American friend to write.

Not that I expect it to succeed – but the fact that two people, oceans apart, can dare to dream of an audience is something unthinkable not ten years ago.

Without sounding too gushy, I think Carpool worked because it was natural. Whether our writing can succeed or not, I thank you for the incentive.

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNorrie

I only started watching after Emma Kennedy mentioned her appearance on Twitter. I gave since watched all the previous episodes and now the Dave series. As you have mentioned the relaxed atmosphere really works well and makes me as a viewer feel like part of a chat with friends.
My favourite is the Lisa Rogers episode, you are so good together.

Keep up the good work

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRoland

I've watched the whole series of carpool having recently discovered it. I find it very interesting, particularly when you have had less famous people - at least people who were not famous to me. Although you don't make the show an opportunity for people to push their latest 'project' I have bought a couple of books, a DVD and switched energy provider - something I would never have done in response to someone plugging on Jonathan Ross or a TV show of that ilk.

It's great that you have been able to migrate to TV, and I hope you are now making something from doing it. I wonder if you might achieve something similar with Fully Charged - though you will probably have to widen it from electric cars to other future technologies? Maybe you could get a slot on the gadget show or similar...

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkevinhallas

A good read. It is true that the technology many have in their hands is just staggering; and if more and more can peel themselves away from mainstream, federated media and start making things themselves (or contributing to spreading other independent works like your own), I'm sure the airwaves could be filled with plenty of interesting stuff without a middleman to be seen.

We know (and yet find it hard to accept) that moore's law continues (and has done for over 30 years) such that it is almost a certainty that what the average child will hold in their pocket will be more powerful, more capable, and more world-changing than a whole TV studio worth of equipment now -- but will these kids be able to pull themselves away from the one-way content distribution cycle of old and actually use this world-changing technology to change the world? We'll all be watching.

November 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKroc Camen

As a slightly late-comer to your carpool videos I must say I find them very entertaining and particularly interesting when you have some of the EV players on.

I hope you can continue to get the EV crowd on the show now that you're on Dave - they're very important for humanising and dispelling the myths about EVs.

Very glad you're getting paid for this type of thing, also very glad you're championing the cars of the future. Best of luck with everything.

P.S. Xfactor is certainly a huge waste of everyone's time.

November 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSzczypka

Love Carpool on Dave, but I can't find old videos on Llewtube - just the one about the show coming to Dave. I preferred the classic Carpool site with the menu of videos down the side in order.

November 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDaryl Millar

It's brilliant sir, it really is. Thanks so much for sharing this story with us. It's very encouraging for those that have such aspirations to see that it is possible and you deserve much success with this. My only hope is you don't get pulled for driving without due care and attention :-)
ps. have you got the squarespace app on your iphone, if you have one? ;-)

November 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNik Sargent

Have watched pretty much since you started and not only love the format itself, but also the meta-idea, ie that someone who is relatively high profile can "just do it" - put a concept together, film, edit, broadcast and gain popularity that way. I can't help but feel that the scope for really fresh new concepts here is huge. Google TV.

Congratulations on such a successful project conclusion, albeit a long-time coming.

Not to detract in any way from the substance, but as you state you worked hard to
prove your model and it was the easy availability of technology that made a significant
difference.

It will no doubt have inspired many to attempt to follow
your model but let's be absolutely clear on one thing ....
your original ides was stupendous.

Good man ...... the EV issue is an entirely worthy incidental
promotion too.

Keep doing what you do SO well!

January 2, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLadybizbiz

I haven't watched the show yet, but the idea isn't unique (although it might very well be in the UK)
In the Netherlands, a dutch broadcaster (NCRV) had a show called "Taxi" in 2001-2006 where "ordinary" people would end up being "interviewed" during a taxi-ride.
This show has recently been started again on Dutch TV.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRoeleveld

It really is a little gem of a show that is slowly, but surely, growing into a classic. So simple, but the people you get in your car are fascinating (and that includes you).

I get the feeling that, if you didn't know most of the guests beforehand, you end up being good friends with them afterwards.

Keep up the good work. You are an institution bobbyllew! :-)

May 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Wilson

Very interesting information, I wasn't aware of the actual origins, thanks for the knowledge.

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June 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCosquilleo

The Convair B-58 originally went into service in 1960 with standard ejection seats, but the possibility of ejecting at supersonic speeds and at extreme high altitude meant the crewman stood little chance of surviving these extreme conditions.

December 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWheel Alignment Equipment

Dear Mr Llewellyn

Please give us the good news that Carpool will be coming back?!?!?
I saw you at the Beeb the other day and desperately wanted to come over and say something but I would've just wibbled and gushed and sounded stupid so I went to tesco and sulked!!!! Only discovered Carpool about 3 months ago and have become a carpool bore to my friends!!! Its always Stephen Fry thats and Jo Brand that!!! There are still so many more people out there that need your 'lift'!!! Im a EA at the Beeb (worldwide) so let me know if you need anything!
Kind regards
Emma

August 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEma

I found this series just last week, OMG how did I ever miss this gem ? It has some of my favorite persons, some of the most up to date people and leaders in their fields with the background and ultimate ideal of "being green" without a script. I love the series Bobby (I'm allowed to call you that aren't I ?) can you please make another series or three, I'm sure there are lots of people who would jump at the chance of a hearty chat with an interesting/ed intelligent person.

I'm a proper fan, Red Dwarf, Scrapheap Challenge, and up until now everything I have had the pleasure to witness your involvement !

April 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey Maith

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