Tonight at 19h30 on BBC Two, and again on Wednesday night, James May, Kate Humble and Ant Anstead will broadcast for an hour from the Mini plant in Oxford. For anyone with a passing interest in the automotive industry - or just manufacturing in general - it promises to be gripping viewing.
As with all car manufacturing plants, Mini’s facility in Oxford is a jaw-dropping place to visit. Watching machines interact with men and metal to create something as complex as a car is one of the most amazing things I’ve watched - but also one that I’ve never seen adequately conveyed either on film or in writing.
That’s because none of the numbers, amazing though they are, ever do justice to the sheer artistry and wizardry that goes into making a car, both from the automated robots and the men and women who work around them. Watching a plant in full swing is like watching a particularly brutal form of ballet and is as much an assault on the senses as it is your brain.
I’m delighted that the BBC is tackling this subject live. Others have tried to tell a similar story in a polished, finely edited film, but to my mind that kind of production can never convey the real sights and sounds of these amazing facilities, which somehow turn cars out night and day without normally raising a ripple of interest. While I fully expect the presentation to be slickly scripted and roll without a hitch, I’m also hoping that the live element mixes in some of the shock and awe as the machinery hammers away and sparks fly from the welding robots.
So while I’ll wager now that the fact that a Mini rolls of the line in Oxford every 67 seconds will be mentioned within the first five minutes of the show, and they’ll reference over and over the facts thta the plant is so big it has its own fire station, hospital and rail terminal, I’ll also bet that if the dynamic trio of presenters and the team behind them can do their jobs properly, come the end of the first episode it will be far from being the most amazing thing you see or hear.
I’ll certainly be on the sofa watching – and I’ll be interested to hear what you make of it in the comments section below.