It was the Autumn of 2010.
We had just finished filming the third of our challenge videos, and submitted it to the marketing agency.
Looking back, we might as well have picked up our ball and gone home at this point. Because Episode 3 would prove to be the final instalment released. But we didn’t know that. And so we would spend the closing months of 2010 completely wasting our time making an Episode 4 that wouldn’t see the light of day.
Until now that is!
Further down this blog post, we shall at last unveil the never-before-seen concluding episode of the Wicked Pig Challenges, and thus resolve a cliffhanger that has been hanging for half a decade now.
But first, join me as I go into minute detail about the trials and tribulations of getting the bloody thing made in the first place…
You will recall that our third challenge had been to invade France. The origins of this challenge lie in our original pitch document, when we had suggested the challenge of:
“How many countries can you drink a cup of tea in, in 24 hours?”
I still think this is an excellent challenge, and I wish we’d been allowed to do it. But the first thing the marketing agency said was that the client wouldn’t foot the bill for transport. We pointed out that it needn’t be that expensive (you could do all of the UK, plus perhaps France and Belgium very easily) but they were having none of it.
They would, however, be happy to send us to France. But only France. And so, we were told to stage an invasion.
While we waited for our tickets to France, we busied ourselves with filming the scenes of Aslan the dog, and exploring our plot about the double act splitting up. Oh, and actually moving house to London!
It’s interesting to note that Dan and I had been ever so slightly nervous that the client would be angry about the overall critical tone of Episode 3 (especially my rants) and so we’d had the brainwave of featuring the product prominently for the first time. Our reasoning was that the client would be unlikely to demand the removal of scenes if they featured, for example, me referring to Wicked Pig as “a tasty snack,” or Dan eating some in a sandwich. And so we asked to be sent some as props. Which is how we came to have a fridge overflowing with the things.
In the end, we had so much footage for Episode 3, that there was no room to include the actual invasion. So we proposed the solution of a cliffhanger, with all of the France footage held over for the first half of Episode 4.
As you will have seen from the Next Time teaser at the end of Episode 3, we did indeed get to France. But not without a few obstacles. The first issue was that the marketing agency were unwilling to send us any further than Calais.
Hmmm. I mean, the trouble is, once you’ve made the joke that our military aspirations reach no further than Calais, you’ve kind of exhausted the location from a filming perspective. It’s the equivalent of claiming you can seize control of Britain by invading Dover.
Remarkably, this argument seems to have worked. Because they then rustled up 3 tickets to Paris!
Why 3 tickets? Well, as previously discussed, the series had now abandoned all attempts to be realistic. We were fully fictional by this point, and so we would need a cameraman.
Ironically, the scenes in Disparate Set Pieces where we twist Becky’s arm into filming us in Canterbury Castle, proved to be prescient, because a good deal of The Wicked Pig Challenges had so far been filmed by Dan’s girlfriend Hannah. But for our sojourn to France one cameraman presented himself above all others: Chef Gaetan. Not only is he an utterly reliable pair of hands, he is also a fluent French speaker (what with him being Belgian and all) which would prove to be incredibly valuable…
The day of invasion arrived. Armed only with toy guns and a flag made the night before by the ever resourceful Jan Grimshaw, we made our way to St Pancras and boarded the train to France.
There was a catch however. Our train was due into Gare du Nord at around lunchtime. And our tickets back to Blighty would leave Gare du Nord later that afternoon. In other words, the marketing agency had given us about 3 hours in Paris.
This is an incredibly small amount of time in which to nip between tourist attractions and get shots of recognisable features. When you factor in travelling on the Metro, it’s more like 2 hours.
We spent those 2 hours rushing from one location to the next, and then hurriedly scanning our surroundings for ideas for shots. We improvised it all against the clock. It is testament to Gaetan’s camerawork that it doesn’t look like a pile of cack.
Out of breath and rushed off our feet, we darted back on to the Metro…
Only to arrive at Gare du Nord something like 4 minutes after our train had left for England.
Our tickets were non-refundable.
We had done everything at breakneck speed, but the Metro had taken too long, and we’d missed the finish line. What were we going to do?
Dan Fryer is known for his magical powers at times like this, but even his baby blues couldn’t overcome the language barrier. Enter Gaetan…
“Leave this to me,” he said. Probably. Stepping towards the ticket office, Gaetan dumbed-down his French proficiency and put on a simple foreigner’s accent. He innocently offered his time-stamped Metro ticket as evidence that we had come hot-foot in plenty of time, only for the Metro to be held up.
Things were said in French which I don’t understand. Gaetan is now a married man, so perhaps we better not delve into whatever promises he made the girl on the desk. But somehow, his cheeky Belgian charm saved the day. Perhaps he slipped her some chocolates from his homeland, perhaps he offered her all the waffles she could dream of. But somehow we were waved onto the next train to London, despite not having valid tickets.
Three cheers for Gaetan.
Once we were back home, reviewing the footage, we felt something was missing. We’d run out of time in Paris to film a scene we’d come up with where Gaetan would play a Parisian member of the public.
This scene, one of the highlights of the series in my opinion, would ultimately be filmed in London (once again by Hannah Higgins!) In fact, pay attention during that part of the film, because we shot some extra sequences in Regent’s Park in London, and then the Gaetan scene in Upper Norwood Recreation Ground, before editing them seamlessly together and brazenly claiming they happened in Paris. They didn’t.
Anyway, our invasion of France was now complete! We could turn our attention to Challenge number 4…
Or could we? What actually happened was that the marketing agency dumped a load of demands on us for further edits to Episode 3. This would continue to be the case right up until the film was eventually released in December. The only benefit to this additional editing time, was that it gave us the opportunity to cut some of the Paris footage into a Next Time teaser at the end.
I shan’t bore you with a comprehensive list of the edits, but a selection should give you a flavour. For example, the client were very nervous about featuring Matt Damon in Episode 3.
That’s right, the cardboard cutout of Matt Damon which we dressed up as a Frenchman. In fact they demanded we blur his face. I pointed out that Episode 2 HAD ACTUALLY FEATURED David Suchet, but they said this was different. We couldn’t use Matt Damon’s face, or the Bourne Identity branding.
I pointed out that I am seen reading Doctor Who Magazine in Episode 3, with Sylvester McCoy’s face on the cover. And I asked the fabled question: what’s the difference between Matt Damon and Sylvester McCoy?
I still don’t know the answer. But apparently Matt needs blurring, and Sylv doesn’t. Nor does Tony Hancock incidentally, whose face features prominently on the cover of a book earlier in Episode 3.
Your guess is good as mine.
The agency also, somewhat sheepishly, informed us that the client had been left unimpressed by the violence of Dan beating up Matt Damon with a plastic axe. This violence needed censoring.
In the event, this proved to be the only required edit which actually improved the films. So much so that we kept it in our 2016 edit of Episode 3 (we no longer censored Matt’s face though, obviously)
And so to Challenge number 4…
The marketing agency had been enthusiastically pursuing Zoo Magazine to collaborate with us on a challenge. We were sceptical, to say the least. But we agreed to be sent along to their offices.
Once there, we filmed an incredibly boring interview with one of their journalists. So boring that we refused to include it in any of the episodes, despite the agency pleading with us to do so. It was a rare instance of them asking for something to be put in, rather than taken out. And typically it was a sequence with no value to it whatsoever!
Anyway, the marketing agency had mooted the idea that we might be asked to feature one of Zoo’s glamour models in Episode 4. Dan and I secretly hoped this would happen, so that we could give her the least titillating role imaginable. Playing Scrabble with us or something.
In modern day parlance, this kind of behaviour would be described as Trolling.
But it wasn’t to be. Instead, Zoo just ran a competition asking readers to set our next challenge. We were sent a spreadsheet of all the entries, and asked to pick one.
I keep wishing this Excel document would turn up on a hard drive somewhere, but it seems to be lost. Anyway, it was a pitiful selection of unimaginative toilet humour. Bo Selecta level stuff.
One of the few inoffensive entries was some kind of art challenge. The winner was announced (I think they were sent a digital camera or something) and we interpreted the challenge as being: stage an art exhibition.
This was to be the last Wicked Pig Challenge we would ever attempt.
So without further ado, here it is…
Well there you have it.
Thank you for joining me on this trip down memory lane. The Wicked Pig Challenges are complete at last, and we can finally put the series to bed.
But some of you may be left wondering: what happened after we delivered Episode 4? Why was it never used?
Well, there is one last ludicrous twist in this tale. During the editing of Episode 4 we had a Skype conference with the marketing agency where they dropped a pretty big bombshell: the client had changed the target audience! Presumably this was due to poor sales (imagine!) but apparently Wicked Pig pork snacks were now aimed at…
… wait for it…
School lunch boxes!
Yes, you read that correctly. In this health conscious post-Jamie Oliver world, they genuinely thought that Wicked Pig pork snacks were something that parents might consider stashing with their child’s apples and sugar free drinks.
Consequently, we were genuinely given the instruction to re-edit Episode 4 with this new target audience in mind. First things first, this meant removing the breasts. But, as we pointed out, it was literally impossible to feature a Zoo magazine challenge AND aim at school lunches.
I think it was this dichotomy that ultimately resulted in Episode 4 never being released.
There were other demands for edits though, but Dan and I were out of energy. The client said Episode 4 was too long, and they asked for it to be closer to 6 minutes in duration.
By this point, we felt like their feedback was reaching satirical proportions. I mean, let’s just itemise the requirements for Episode 4 here…
1) Conclude the “invade France” cliffhanger
2) Announce the winner of the Zoo competition
3) Attempt the Zoo art challenge
4) Aim at school lunch boxes
5) Conclude the series
6) Don’t exceed 6 minutes
I mean, it’s a joke. You can’t meet all those requirements.
And we told them so. Here is an extract from the final e-mail we sent to the marketing agency in December 2010:
“Episode 4 has a big checklist of requirements and, as a result, can’t really be any shorter. People who don’t share our sense of humour will not like our videos. These people will not get past the first couple of minutes, so they don’t care whether a video is 6 minutes or 10 minutes. People who do share our sense of humour will sit through the whole thing if it’s good. But the more we edit down our comic timing and pacing, the less good the video becomes. We entered the Sty TV competition hoping that our comedy would be presented in its best light. We fear that this has not really happened. But we hope that this final contribution at least can remain as unscathed as possible. If you need to re-edit episode 4, then of course you may do this. Alternatively, we are both willing to perform a single re-edit of this film (if required), once the client has provided all their feedback. However, we would require precise instructions as to what should be cut (e.g. “remove from 2.15 up until 2.47”). We cannot just “make it 2 minutes shorter” – it is already as short as we can happily make it.”
After we sent this e-mail, we never heard from them again. No more requests for edits, nothing. Episode 4 was never released.
Shortly afterwards Wicked Pig pork snacks disappeared from the shops, and nobody even remembers them. These 4 chapters are a case study in how not to run a sponsored YouTube video series.
But, d’you know what, despite the circumstances, I’m glad that we made Episode 4. It caps the series off.
Where Disparate Set Pieces had begun with me saying the words “Dan, I don’t want to be the face of Wicked Pig pork snacks,” Episode 4 ends with me having a breakdown and physically attacking Dan precisely because of what we had subsequently gone through.
A journey that began and ended with self-satire.
POST SCRIPT: We wanted to put the whole Wicked Pig debacle behind us. A New Year beckoned, and with it a new project. Something utterly different. Something where we would be in charge of the quality, and there would be no client overruling us. My girlfriend had been so furious about the ineptitude of how The Wicked Pig saga had unfolded, that she eagerly pointed us in the right direction: that film idea I’d had, the one about the last bookshop in the world. Why didn’t we make that? And in a strange piece of continuity, The Wicked Pig Challenges ends in the exact same living room where The Last Bookshop opens. It was December 2010, and I wrote this blog post…