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Andy Wilman on the Africa special (plus your post-show discussion)
A brief silence has descended on the Top Gear edit suite. On Friday night the last bits of the sound mix were completed, grading was tweaked, a shot was shortened here and there, the traditional spilling of a bit of takeaway fried rice into a control panel occurred, and then the Africa Special was bundled off onto a motorbike to the BBC, where it now sits, awaiting a technician in flares and sideburns to press “play”.
I think it’s very good, but as ever I’m nervous because, as ever, things haven’t turned out as expected. The main curve-ball is the length because a two part, two hour special was never planned. We went to Africa, filmed what happened, and then when we’d completed the first cut it was running at 2 hours 15 or something ridiculous. With the target being 75 minutes, we set about trimming back, but as Jeremy has explained before elsewhere, cutting stuff is good to a point, because you’re invariably getting rid of excess fat, but keep going and eventually you’re slicing into muscle, sinew and bone, and the story starts to suffer.
This quickly became the case with Africa. In order to hit our target time we were messing up the whole jigsaw puzzle of the road trip, and also losing those lovely moments which may not move the story along, but which provide the warmth and the texture – you know, scenery floating by, three mates being mates and so on.
It quickly became apparent that the ideal length for this adventure was about 1 hour and 53 minutes, but since the BBC stopped showing Tom and Jerry cartoons to fill up gaps many years ago, we took a brave pill and settled on 1 hour and 57, cut into two.
So I’m nervous because this wasn’t the plan, but in truth, not nervous about the show. It’s better than India, mainly because this time we have a more focussed goal for the road trip (finding the true source of the Nile) and also because we didn’t plan as much, instead just letting things unfold. Tonally, I’d say it’s a mix of the Bolivia and the Middle East outings.
Another mistake in India was buying pricier cars in better nick, and this time we’ve gone back to the belt tightening £1,500 budget, which theoretically gets you a runner, but one that’s seen many miles, multiple owners, and should therefore be carrying mechanical timebombs.
Finally, there’s the other star of the show, Africa itself. I never knew countries could look quite as beautiful as Rwanda or Uganda. In fact, the only thing that spoils the epic sweep of the landscape is Jeremy’s double denim.
Anyway, I shall check in next week with some more blather, but I hope you enjoy watching tonight as much as we did accidentally making it.