Wander from the surfaced path of terrestrial television and you soon find your feet trudging through the quagmires of cable, satellite and freeview broadcasting. There are so many channels, and thanks to a quirk of the universe, twenty-four hours in the day.
To any right-thinking person there simply isn’t enough content to fill the millions of hours of vacant broadcasting space. Apart from the BBC, most channels make a valiant effort by filling the space with adverts, but look hard enough and you will find televisual gems. One of them is Wheeler Dealers.
It’s a simple concept. Tubby barrow-boy Mike Brewer, a man who could sell life insurance to a corpse, finds a clapped out old banger, buys it and delivers what’s left of it to his mate Edd China. China is an eight foot giant who can’t fit inside most of the cars Brewer brings back, but China has a secret: he is an engineer, and so skillful at what he does he holds the world land speed record for a motorised garden shed!
The strength and appeal of Wheeler Dealers is its avoidance of melodrama. In so many similar programmes the show’s protagonists find themselves in life or death situations just before every ad break; on return the crisis always turns out to be surprisingly none threatening and simple to solve. Not so with Wheeler Dealers. China never finds his life put in danger by a rusted ball joint, and Brewer never faces violent annihilation whenever a front bumper needs re-chroming.
Over the years the boys have changed. You can spot the early episodes because China’s hair is short and lacking the shock of grey round the forehead. Brewer is still as cheeky as he ever was, but where he once hunted 3 series BMWs and Vauxhall Corsas he now goes out hunting for rare Jaguars and in season 12 a Noble supercar (found in Italy of all places, minus it’s heater).
And they don’t always make a profit after China has fettled the lemon into an exotic fruit salad. The programme is honest enough to see its cars go for less than the amounts spent after some lucky punter out-Brewers Brewer in the art of haggling.
Lacking the potential fatalities of Ice Road Truckers or the bald-headed anger management issues of Chop Shop: London Garage, Wheeler Dealers is simple entertainment and to those of an auto-mechanical bent, educational and fascinating. Is there anything more interesting than seeing worn out alloy wheels being brought back to life with an acid bath and new powder coating?
Production companies have a habit of killing their golden geese and Wheeler Dealers may one day introduce some element of peril: Edd China working on a hydraulic platform that threatens to squash him before he can get the inlet manifold off; or Mike Brewer’s kidneys pledged to charity if he doesn’t make a five thousand quid profit on that 1981 Lada Niva.
But I doubt it. The biggest risk to Wheeler Dealers is China continuing to grow in height until there isn’t a workshop in Britain he can stand up straight in.