When we heard last week that Channel 5 was airing a documentary tomorrow evening called Cyclists: Scourge Of The Streets, we feared the worst – after all, advance publicity for the show said that it would examine a so-called “war of the wheels.” An article by Guardian journalist Peter Walker today, who has seen the programme in advance of its TV screening, confirms we were right to be apprehensive.
Walker doesn’t pull his punches in his assessment of the show, calling it “undoubtedly the worst, most scaremongering, inaccurate, downright irresponsible programme on cycling I’ve ever seen.”
He says it “is, in effect, 45 minutes of hatred, misinformation and outgrouping against people who just happen to sometimes use two wheels to get about.”
As we pointed out last week, it’s not the first time that a televised ‘documentary’ has tried to sensationalise the perceived conflict between road users on bikes and those in motor vehicles – the BBC’s 2012 programme, The War On Britain’s Roads, being perhaps the most well-known example.
According to Walker, though, this is even more unbalanced – “uniquely damaging,” as he puts it, with “the overall tone is shockingly hostile and provocative” and the only balance provided by PC Mark Hodson of West Midlands Police, who helped pioneer its award winning close pass initiative.
His wide-ranging criticism of the programme, made by Firecracker Films, falls under a number of headings.
Cyclists are portrayed as an outgroup, the narration of the documentary is “openly hostile and aggressive,” once again there is the reinforcement of the misconception of some kind of “war” between different road users, and too much of the show is given over to people “openly hostile” to cyclists – in particular, London cab drivers, as well as the self-styled ‘Mr Loophole’ lawyer Nick Freeman.
The latter, you may recall, went for a bike ride around London with so-called ‘cycling vigilante’ Dave Sherry – besides PC Hodson, the only person appearing in the documentary to put things from a cyclist’s perspective, and whom Walker says “seems almost as fervent a self-publicist and irritant as Freeman, often delighting in the furious reaction of motorists.”
The lack of balance also results in some myths about cycling going unchallenged (it’s possible, of course, that organisations representing cyclists may have been approached to contribute to the programme but, given past experience of such shows, declined to participate – we know of at least one campaigner who was approached but did not take part).
We’ll watch the programme ourselves tomorrow evening when it airs at 9.15pm and bring you our reaction – and more – on Wednesday.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.