It would appear that any hobby, no matter how boring can be a competition. First we had baking, then sowing, then pottery, now model trains. Oh yes, the men have come out of their sheds and are on prime time TV (well Channel 5 anyway). The Great Model Railway Challenge (note not Great British. Love Productions own everything Great British) is the latest “let’s take a really dull past time and throw some false jeopardy into it”.
The format is simple enough; three teams of model makers have three days to create a set for a model train set (or diorama to give it its correct title) based on a theme. This week’s theme was Classic. I would have though just “trains” would have been sufficient enough a theme, but not for this lot. So we had dioramas based on Bond films, The Longest Day and one based on a selection of random British films (but not Great British, as that would be a copyright infringement).
The three teams had a collective age of 570, were exclusively male and most were sporting facial hair. There was team called “Strangers on a Model Train” who were thrown together just for this competition. Their secret weapon was a teenager who styled himself on Phil Oakey from the Human League and who bought sound effects skills to the team. I never saw him pick up a screwdriver but there were lots of shots of him with his laptop and headphones on. The Missenden Modellers were hard core as they had embroidered team polo shirts. The team from Porthcawl brought cake, which was shared out amongst all the teams. (I think they may have just been making up the numbers actually).
The show is presented by James Richardson and Tim Shaw who looked as though they narrowly missed the audition for Top Gear so accepted this job instead. The judges were Railway Modeller magazine editor Steve Flint, and Kathy Millatt who is model blogger and appeared to be there for diversity. (Looking at the age and makeup of the contestants, I reckon at least one must have asked her to “pop the kettle on luv and make us a brew”).
As well as having to make a diorama there was a round to test their ability to think on their feet. During the “Scratch Build” challenge one contestant from each team was given an object to incorporate into their diorama. This week (yes there is more than one week, this is a whole series) the object was a high heel shoe. The following scene was reminiscent of the scene in the IT Crowd when Moz is faced with a bra for the first time. They took no time in taking a hack saw to it and converted this most feminine object into a harbour buttress, some webbing and even a hill.
The competition wasn’t without controversy. In the same way that in Bake Off the Professionals they are allowed to bring a prepared item, on this show they can bring six pre-made items. The Missenden Modellers basically bought the whole diorama from home and spent three days erecting it. They were harshly criticised in the judging with Kathy using provocative language such as “they are laughing at us”. They were duly disqualified and the captain probably wrote a stern letter to the producers about the wisdom in allowing a woman into this event.
It would be easy to be snarky about this show (as the previous six paragraphs have proven). But I really like these fellas. In these Brexit looming apocalyptic days, the knowledge that there are groups of men who are oblivious to it all and are quite happy to while away their days building the hoover dam out of polystyrene for their 00 gauge railway is quite reassuring.
There is something quintessentially British and quirky about men pottering in their sheds, but this lot are hardcore modellers who take pride in their work. The Missenden captain even cried with pride at one point at what they had achieved, which was
Having now watched few episodes I have or course become an expert on the subject and will quite confidently proclaim “they should win” or “that’s rubbish” or “I wonder what flavour the cake is this week”. It has certainly lifted the lid on a world that I may not fully understand, but appreciate the passion and skill.
I say good luck to them. They are the epitome of what makes Britain great (but not Great British. Don’t sue me!)