Caravenners have always had an image problem and Caravanner of the Year has done nothing to dispel that image.  The two part series revolved around a competition organised by the Caravan Club (so they knew what they were getting into).  After 109 years in existence, the Caravan Club decided that they needed an answer to the question that the vast majority of us had never asked: “Who is the best caravanner of the year?”  Some motorists would say that the best caravanners are the ones who leave their caravans on their driveways and don’t snarl up the A roads; but to caravanners, being the best caravanner means who can put up an awning quickest, reverse a caravan or navigate just using a map.

The challenges were set by Grenville Chamberlain, who is the caravanner personified.  (Imagine Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army in a field with a chemical toilet and you are getting close;He also reminded me slightly of Lance Slater from the BBC Four series Detectorists  OK, basically he looks like Toby Jones.) ; He was accompanied by Andy Harris who was constantly referred to as “a motorhome maverick”, but we never found out what his maverick behaviour actually was >  He appeared to be a cross between Roger McGough and Chris Langham and was definitely Corporal Jones to Grenville’s Mainwaring.  In the semi-final (or episode one as we like to call it.  We were spared the heats  Have they not learned anything from Masterchef? ; They could have got another sixteen episodes out of this if they televised the heats, unless these were the only six couples who applied) they were joined by vintage style expert Lucy-Jayne Grout and in the final, by “The Camper Van Cookbook” author Martin Dorey.  They both looked a bit mystified by the proceedings and had that “at least this is only one weekend of our life” look in their eyes.

Then there were the contestants.  They had whittled it down to six couples (it would appear caravanning has to be done in couples. A solo caravanner is treated with suspicion) and then after week one that was reduced to three couples (and a dog).  From the word go, a battle between caravans and motorhomes was set up  In the heats there were two VW campervans with their owners (who didn’t make the final) and Keith and Angela with their modern motor home who (spoiler alert) did go through to the final >  Keith (as his name would suggest) is a very organised, list orientated project manager.   Angela, his wife is none of the above, much to Keith’s annoyance Keith also bears a striking resemblance to the Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, and acted like him as well.
In the caravanning corner of the field were: Welsh couple David and Anne ; (I’m still convinced that Anne is Alex Jones from The One Show’s mum); from Yorkshire John, Jenny and a family of cuddly toys; and David and his mum Gwyneth  Where do you start with these two? ; They didn’t make it to the final (episode two) but they did offer themselves up as standby finalists in case someone got injured, like they do in TheJump. The two of them appeared to have come directly from the pen of Roy Clarke and were probably the couple most likely to get their own series off the back of this.  David nearly running his mother over in the reversing a caravan around a ridiculously small roundabout, was classic Last of the Summer Wine.  David likes caravans.   I mean really likes caravans.  Even the other caravanners gave him a wide berth when he got out his scrapbooks on caravanning. If these two popped up as characters in the TV show Benidorm it wouldn’t surprise me; but they would obviously bring their caravan and not stay in the Hotel Solana.

The challenges were based on activities that caravanners would have to do when they are out and about blocking up the roads of the UK.  So driving and manoeuvrability were all tested with much backing up between hay bales.  As someone who struggles to back up a mini, this did genuinely impress me (but I am easily impressed).  These days navigating without a sat nav is actually a dying skill, and as someone who spent most of their childhood being taken down B roads in Wales where the grass verges were touching each side of the car because it was, according to my navigating mother, ; “a shortcut”, I applaud this.  Why should this generation miss out on the joys of their parents trying to navigate themselves up a crease in the map! ; Other challenges left me bemused

Some of the challenges came from “Caravan Rallies” of old.   (The only similarities between a caravan rally and a proper rally are: they usually like using B roads; the navigator and driver end up shouting at each other; and they are carried out at stupid speeds, albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum.) ; The Concours D’Elegance (The Elegant Concord.  Hey, I knew that E I got at O Level would come in use for something one day) was effectively “How Clean Is Your Caravan”.  (Spin off show alert!) ; I said before that caravanners might have an image problem; so taking your caravan to a field to clean it does little to help that image.  The final had the hospitality challenge, where each couple had to cook a meal and provide entertainment for the three judges.  John and Jenny won this by recreating the 60’s with a peace and love party in their vintage caravan.    The judges seemed impressed by the culinary skills of all the wives (for it was the wives that did all the cooking), even when they were forced to eat sat in a draughty awning with a lap tray and mismatched chairs. (I’m sure there must have been a nice pub somewhere that they could have popped to.  You are on holiday for crying out loud!)

The dynamics of the couples was like something out of another era.    The men did manly things (driving, logistics, going to the toilet a lot) and the women navigated, cooked and cleaned.  The men got annoyed when the women did (as they saw it) things wrong and the women got upset when they (as they saw it) did things wrong and let their team down.  At times episode one (or the semi-final) made uncomfortable viewing and I felt desperately sorry for the wives.   But by the end of the final it became clearer that actually, in a very traditional way, these couples did work together as a team and you could see they really loved each other.  They referred to the awning as “a divorce in a bag” and perhaps that was the most important thing that we learned.  If you can spend all that time together in a caravan without killing each other, you have a strong partnership.Many people complain that TV documentaries unfairly represent them.  It’s all about the editing. I actually don’t think this was the case. Caravanners are a slightly strange breed, but at least they appear to be happy to embrace it.  Saying that, I think I’ll stick to EasyJet and Airbnb for my weekends away.

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