Just when you thought this story had gone away now comes the news that Vera Productions have sold the controversial series ‘Big Trouble in Thailand’ to Channel 9 in Australia.
This will actually multiply its televion audience twenty fold. Previously it went out on Bravo with a viewership of about 116,000.
Vera Productions in the UK, run by comedian Rory Bremner and comedy producer/writer Geoff Atkinson has received accolades recently for its series ‘Bremner Bird and Fortune’. However there has been a much publicised internal rift between the series producer of ‘Big Trouble in Tourist Thailand’ Gavin Hill and the execs back in London, who were responsible for the edit.
There have been complaints of lack of fact checking and even unethically enhancing some scenes.
In its ‘Bremner, Bird and Fortune’ sketches- the two Johns – Vera Productions has hilariously sent up the government and banking system. John Bird plays the character of George Parr. Fortune is the interviewer However one sketch, based on the ‘Big Trouble in Thailand’ series appears to have been left behind in a teleprompter. I re-produce it here below.
But first follow this link for Bravo Television’s quiz for intellectually challenged British tourists in Thailand. I failed it on the question ‘What do you do when arrested for drugs. Call the Embassy or your mum? I replied: ‘My mum. (Get your mum to call the Embassy!)
JF: George Parr – you are a top TV executive and you seem to have a success on your hands with the reality show Big Trouble In Thailand.
JB: Yes, we’ve sold it to Virgin Media and they are delighted with the ratings … it’s exceeded all expectations…
JF: So, it was your idea to make a groundbreaking documentary about the British volunteers hired by Thailand’s police force to deal with misbehaving British holidaymakers?
JB: No. The idea was brought to us by a freelance filmmaker called Gavin Hill who realised that he needed a company of the stature of Rory Bremner’s Vera Productions to ensure credibility.
JF: So, he must have earned the riches of Croesus? Because I understand the budget was 400,000 Pounds ?
JB: Well, not exactly – more like the salary of a provincial bus driver …
JF: Really? How so?
JB: Well, you have to understand how TV today works. It’s all very well that one person comes up with the idea, produces, directs, films the material themselves … often working like a maniac … seventeen or eighteen hour days aren’t unusual … but that’s only part of the job.
JF: So, what do you mean exactly?
JB: Well, the footage has to be edited …
JF: Yes ….
JB: And then there’s the administration …
JF: Ah yes, of course, the administration. And what form does that take exactly?
JB: Well, for example we have to ensure that Virgin Media’s money is spent wisely and that cash isn’t simply frittered away.
JF: And, how do you do that?
JB: Well, we sent one of our top men, Dean Palmer, First Class halfway round the world and put him in a luxury hotel to monitor the project … you know, keep his eye on things for two weeks.
JF: And did he?
santhiya02JB: Absolutely, for two weeks, well, er, when he could get out of his hotel. Of course it was rather isolated and there was just one boat a day. Little bit pricey, eco-chic and set in 18 acres of lush tropical forests on a crystal bay apparently, but thankfully not too close to the awful people he had to film.
Still the fact that he was on the ground, in situ, so to speak, speaks more than words.
JF: Lush tropical forests, crystal bays, eco-chic, we did not see much of that in the series?
JB: Oh good heavens. No. That would be totally outside the remit, old boy, and financial suicide. We leave that sort of stuff to Judith Chalmers. Is she still around?
JF: But I understand you went to the Thai authorities and said this series would be good for Thai tourism.
JB : Yes absolutely. And it is, it is, let me tell you. My young boys are straining at the leash for some Thai totty, not to mention the old fellows down at the British Legion, chumping at the bit they were. Some of them will be travelling with their nurses, must say it seems a bit superfluous to me, what?
JF: Ah indeed. But but from press reports, especially on the question of sex tourism, many, if not most of the illegal incidents in this area, which one reads about making the courts, appear to involve, dare I say it, erm, man on boy, rather than girls. Why did you not tackle this subject?
JB: Well obviously you’re not considering a much longer career in broadcasting. There are things that we really need to keep sacred. In general the public likes a bit of straight old rumpy pumpy. Going into the area you mention is an absolute minefield. Well, we’d be hung out by our balls by our own community.
In any case we had lots of what are described as ‘pre-op’ ladyboys who described in detail what many Brits want, so we think we have that covered.
JF: I noticed also that you blurred out a lot of British faces but used all the Thai participants full on. Was there a reason for that?
JB: Absolutely. In Britain there are strict laws governning filming without permission. We have to get permission, period. They have to sign waivers. When they do we have got them though, can’t change their minds. Can you imagine how difficult that is with all these people making an ass of themselves in front of our camera? Quite a few were well tiddly when they signed judging by the signatures. Now when it comes to ‘Johnny Foreigner’ well that’s a different kettle of fish. With their one pound fifty a day earnings they are not going to take us on are they. I mean what lawyer is going to open the door for them.
JF: … I see … but Hill must have been given a decent budget to have been able to achieve the very possibly award-winning footage he obtained in some pretty hairy situations – wasn’t he shooting in maximum security jails and confronting armed mafia men …?
JB: Well, to be honest we’re weren’t too pleased about that …
JF: Really? It seemed to me quite riveting TV …
JB: Ah yes … but there were some health and safety issues …. he should’ve let us know that he would find himself in some rather unsavoury situations.
JF: But surely the working title of this series was ‘Thai Cops’ – isn’t that what police officers do?
JB: Yes, yes … of course … but the safety of our operatives in the field is paramount.
Thai cops from Bravo Promo
JB: Well, of course not – we would never have sold the show …
JF: So, part of the budget was spent on bodyguards for Mr Hill?
JB: Well … no, but we did send Emma – our twenty-five-year-old assistant producer with a first aid kit, and we have lots of police bar bills.
JF: I gather there were lots of interviews with top policemen, prison governors and other officials. They might have provided an insight into what the Thais, er, thought about the situations you were filming. What happened to them?
JB: Yes. Yes. Indeed. And of course we took all their thoughts and advice on board, as one does. But you know in a programme with this demographic, and we are trying to reach and educate young people here, we do not want to ruin the flow with all that gibberish in some sort of ying tong language…And we have to think of the budget too you know. We would have had to pay more for translators, voice-overs or put up sub-titles.
JF: So … basically the budget is split 50/50 is it? 50 per cent in the field, and 50 per cent back in the office?
JB: No … there’s a raft of other payments that have to be made.
JF: Under the banner of administration …
JB: ‘Quite, quite. For example there’s the payment to Mr Bremner …
JF: ‘What for exactly …?
JB: Well … er … executive input – naturally.
JF: Ah, ah … yes … yes.
JB: And then there’s Mr Bremner’s assistant. And Mr Bremner’s assistant’s assistant. And the assistant’s assistant’s assistant and then of course, we had to find a narrator for the programme.
JF: I see. And are narrators expensive?
JB: Well they can be you know if you hire a celebrity or well known newsman who has an air of authority?
JF: And is that what you did? I can’t say I recognized the voice.
JB: Well, er no. We considered George Michael but he was engaged. In this case we wanted a voice to which our target audience could relate to. Not some old fuddy fuddy out of touch with today’s younger generation. Not to put too fine a point on it somebody who can say, well pardon me here, somebody who can say (lowers voice) bum without feeling uncomfortable, and some other words too.
JF: Oh I see. So where did you get him from?
JB: Hampstead Heath, when we were looking for George Michael. But then of course we had to educate him in the pronounciation of Thai place names, the same as a typical British chav on holiday in Thailand might say them, like Foo-ket, and this all costs money and time too, not to mention the lagers Vodkas and Red Bull etcetera.
JF: And there’s the executive input TOO?
JF: So, what proportion of the overall budget of 400,000 Pounds would Mr Hill have received to make this series?
JB: Well, approximately one thirteenth.
JF: And was Mr Hill happy about that?
JB: Well, we assumed he would be …. but the blighter went over budget.
JF: So, in the end he spent about half the budget after all …?
JB: No … he spent about one tenth of the budget.
JF: Well, that seems pretty good going to me … you must have welcomed him back a hero?
JB: No, actually we fired him. And threatened to sue him.
JF: Oh? On what grounds?
JB: Gosh, where do you want me to start? For example he insisted on using new tape to film rather than re-using old tape.
JF: Well, aren’t there good technical reasons for that … and tape’s relatively cheap, not like the old days of film and pretty damn vital too isn’t it?
JB: Well, yes … but of course you have to ensure there’s enough money for executive input. And another thing he upset the Thai Government.
JF: Well, couldn’t you have forseen that in a series that examined the notorious sex industry, drunkenness and violence and was inevitably going to stumble across cases of corruption?
JB: Well, possibly …But then he put some unedited stuff up on the internet which upset our executives, who have been running around trying to get it off all sorts of websites.
JF: Sorry, I’m not with you?
JB: Well on a low budget production like this, often only having one camera, one just has to bring in sound and film from elsewhere for technical reasons. But we were made to look like we were creating well, not strictly true situations?
JF: But isn’t that what you did?
JB: Not at all. Not at all. Look the public don’t understand the intricacies of television making, and we would prefer it remained that way.
Actually I don’t understand them either, which is good because if I could make television programmes then the whole world could, and then where would we be?
Anyway the BBC are doing it all the time… Like the BBC we work on the principal of WYSIWYG. Or ‘What you see is what you get’. Only we then enhance it further to WWGYIWYG.
JB: ‘What we give you is what you get’, of course. That’s the Executive input. And it costs money.
JF: So, when exactly did the Thais get upset with your programme?
JB: Well, about the time we changed the title … from Thai Cops …
JF: What to?
JB: BIG TROUBLE in TOURIST Thailand.
JF: And Hill went along with this?
JB: Err … no, he protested. Vigorously, in fact. And that’s another reason why we sacked him. Because he was quite clearly a troublemaker.
JF: But of course changing the title wouldn’t have caused Hill any problems personally. He could just come back to Blighty.
JB: Er … well … not quite … the Thais issued a warrant for his arrest and he was forced to flee the country leaving behind his home, his wife and child.
JF: So, you’ve had no choice but to stand by him and stand up for the integrity of the series and free speech?
JB: Well, no … on legal advice we’ve distanced ourselves from Mr Hill and withheld eight thousand pounds from his fee.
JF: Well surely it’s all a storm in a tea cup – it’ll all blow over in due course and Mr Hill can return to Thailand and get back on with his life?
JB: Well, very possibly. But with the Thais you can never be 100 per cent certain. Stories of chaps being flung into jail for getting on the wrong side of the rulers there and the key tossed away are not unusual.
JF: So, let me get this straight … Mr Hill filmed in all these prisons and then the Thais threatened to put him in one. How ironic?
JB: Ironic – yes.
JF: So, presumably you’ve hired a lawyer to defend Mr Hill.
JB. Er … no. Actually we’ve hired a lawyer to sue Mr Hill.
JF: But of course now the show has aired on British TV you won’t want to inflame the situation further, possibly making life more difficult for Mr Hill, will you?
JB: No, of course not. But you have to remember we have a commercial investment here. We’ve already sold the series to Australia and we hope more countries round the world will snap it up.
JF: Australia!? Isn’t Thailand one of the most popular tourism destinations for Australians?
JB: Yes … and the deadliest as it turns out … in fact we haven’t ruled out selling the format as well to the Australians so they can make their own version of the series. Plenty of Australians falling foul of the law in Thailand … one Australian woman I gather was banged up for days merely for stealing a beer mat. Actually we have a few Aussie incidents left out of the original the edit. They certainly know how to party our colonial chums.
JF: The Thais won’t be very happy about that. But I assume, like here, the series will air on a little-watched niche cable channel?
JB: No, actually we’ve sold it to Channel 9, one of the biggest TV networks in the country.
JF: So, Virgin Media – isn’t that owned by Richard Branson? What’s he had to say about it all, given that he has commercial interests in Thailand?
JB: Well, we’re rather hoping he hasn’t noticed.
JF: So, you must rue the day Mr Hill walked through your door with this idea. Presumably as an independent film company you generate many commercial film ideas.
JB: Well, there’s a lot of competition. We put our top man Dean Palmer onto it but in two years he found it very challenging.
JF: So, how many films did Mr Palmer get commissioned in two years – apart from Mr Hill’s that is?
JB: Well …. …. …. err …
JF: Ten, five … three …?
JB: Er , well just this one. But if he can do the same in the the Philippines where the Yanks go, well then we’ve got Hollywood and bob’s your uncle.
JF: And how much was Mr Palmer paid?
JB: Well too much of course, sixty thousand or so, but we pride ourselves on rewarding talent.
JF: For his executive input?
JF: But it mustn’t have been too much of a worry to you because Vera’s trademark show Bremner Bird and Fortune is a much loved institution on the landscape of British TV.
JB: Well, indeed … but sadly it’s been axed this year.
JF: So, the company needs these sort of ventures?
JB: Yes, of course we’d rather stay with comedy, but like other companies you have to move with the times.
JF: But surely if you sue Mr Hill won’t other filmmaking hopefuls be reluctant to come to you?
JB: Well, we don’t think so and we set the agenda. We would hope these people would put artistic integrity above financial gain.
JF: You mean you would like them to work for nothing?
JB: Well, in an ideal world yes. On our website we state we do not pay for ideas. And you can’t put a price on fame.
JF: Nor executive input?
JF: George Parr – thank you very much.
Pictures courtesy of Andrew Chant/Bravo/Fortune and Bird/Santhiya Hotel and Spa, Ko Phangnan:
Apologies for omitting pictures to:
Dream Hotel, Bangkok. ‘Heavenly slumber within five star accommodation.’
Punpreeda Hip Resort, Koh Samui, ‘designed with love and attention to detail. Splashes of colour ignite the soul’.
Amari, Pattaya. ‘Soak in this scenic tropical panorama as you unwind on a shaded beach lounger, or drift into a blissful state of relaxation.’