Fears grow that BBC's cycling documentary 'War on Britain's Roads' will be 'sensationalist and irresponsible'

MPs and cycling groups add their voices as it emerges a film of an alleycat race could be used to depict 'normal cyclist behaviour'

by Barney Fletcher   December 2, 2012  

Cyclists at traffic lights (©Toby Jacobs)

MPs and cycling groups have added their voices to the cycling community that fears a BBC helmet cam documentary will be 'sensationalist and irresponsible', pitching ordinary commuting cyclists against motorists in a way that could make the roads more dangerous.

The programme, 'War On Britain's Roads', described by the BBC as containing footage that "gives us a dramatic and unique insight into the unfolding tension and conflict," will be aired on BBC One at 9pm on Wednesday. How unique, we'll find out on Wednesday, but the programme's publicity and its title sounds uncannily similar to another BBC documentary, Road Rage - the battle for UK roads aired by the corporation in 2008.

In an interview with The Guardian, Ian Austin MP, who co-chairs the all-party cycling group in parliament, said: "I'm not in favour of banning things but I don't really see the point of broadcasting something so stupid, sensationalist, simplistic and irresponsible. It doesn't reflect what Britain's roads are like for the vast majority of people who use them."

According to reports by journalists and others who have seen the preview version the documentary feature helmet-cam footage depicting confrontations and assaults - including video footage of an assualt on a cyclist in Bexley that went viral and led to an arrest and conviction after being posted by the victim on the road.cc forum, plus controversially, a professionally shot commercial film of an alleycat race in central London.

Although the film, shot by US film maker, Lucas Brunelle, who sells DVDs of his footage, shows participants disobeying the rules of the road and pulling off moves that endanger both themselves and other road users, the BBC fail to mention that it was a 'professional' stunt film, which could cause viewers to think that it was a depiction of ordinary cycling.

On his website, Brunelle has a section devoted to the 'Haterz', aka those reviewers who think he's irresponsible, bad for cyclists and a 'self-centred idiot'. Quite a controversial figure then.

Mr Austin says that his fear is that the footage will play into the public's worst perceptions of how ordinary cyclists behave.

He said: "I cycle in London every week, and have been for years. I've seen lots of car drivers driving badly, lots of cyclists doing things they shouldn't, and everyone should obey the rules of the road. But I've not seen cycling like that. The idea that they present that as normal cycling is mad, irresponsible and dangerous."

A BBC spokesman said the courier race sequence was genuine footage shot by a cyclist taking part and uploaded to YouTube. He said: "The footage has since been released commercially, but the fact remains that it depicts real behaviour on the streets of London."

The spokesman added: "The programme is intended to be a serious examination of the relationship between cyclists and other road users.

"It uses actual footage of real incidents to provoke discussion and investigates the outcomes and consequences of several of the incidents captured.

"Raising awareness of these issues, on a primetime BBC1 programme, can only be a positive thing for both cyclists and other road users."

Charlie Lloyd from the London Cycling Campaign added his fears about the film: "The programme's integrity is destroyed by the use of six-year-old commercial video footage of professional cyclists doing reckless stunts, endangering themselves and everyone else.

"Showing this as real behaviour is as false as presenting a James Bond car chase as how average people drive to work. The programme makers chose to fan the flames of aggression on the roads, that can only increase the risk for all of us."

Roger Geffen, from the CTC, said that the campaign group had met programme makers a year ago and tried to dissuade them, showing them statistics that proved a ong-term increase in cycling safety.

He said: "Instead of covering this good news story the BBC has instead chosen to portray cycling as an activity solely for battle-hardened males with helmets and cameras. This hostile stereotyping merely scares mums, children and others back into their cars."

Martin Gibbs, policy director for British Cycling, said: "It sounds like they're taking what is a serious issue and making it into drama, which is disappointing.

"What disturbs me is that it's creating an artificial distinction between cyclists and motorists. Our figures show that nine out of ten British Cycling members drive cars."

To watch an excerpt from the documentary, including the courier race, click here.


33 user comments

Latest 30 commentsNewest firstBest ratedAll

So you've sent a complaint to the BBC already....... Devil Devil Devil

It is not just using selected footage, it has been interviewing the cyclists and drivers involved where possible aswell.

Lets just wait till its out before jumping on the bandwagon, the only problem I have with it so far is its name.

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [9355 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 12:28


We could on mass withhold our licence fees? Or maybe more realistically a mass complaint to Ofcom? I would have though after the Newsnight debacle the BBC might be treading more carefully at the moment. Do they want to have to dismiss another Director General so soon Wink) that could start to get really expensive.

Rigobear's picture

posted by Rigobear [84 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 12:44


Seems the concensus is that the poor road cyclist is once again about to be shafted by the media? Or maybe it will do some good; and highlight the dangers a cyclist faces on todays busy roads? I'll watch it before denigrating the programme.

posted by Mostyn [425 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 13:10


Has anyone seen this yet? No ... imaginations are running riot. I'm looking forward to watching this. The program would be pretty boring if all it showed was one average day cycling. Chop out all the average bits and what you have left is sensationalist ...


posted by nbrus [286 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 14:20


Who will actually watch it though? Cyclists and people who already hate cyclists. For the latter it'll reinforce their view that we all deserve to be crushed because it slows their journey, but they're the people passing too close and shouting abuse already. The vast majority of people don't have strong feelings either way and probably won't even be interested in the programme.

CraigS's picture

posted by CraigS [135 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 19:00


Whatever this documentary contains, and I don't think it's a good idea to pre-judge anything, it is in our best interests as cyclists who use the roads safely and responsibly, and want to engender better behavior from motorists, particularly those unsympathetic to our cause, to carefully consider our reaction and its possible consequences.

What strikes me, and I don't think is often said, is how little good it does us to say or do anything which can be interpreted as shrill and militant. This behavior plays into the hands of those who wish to paint us as tax-dodging, law-breaking, lycra-clad extremists who should do more not to get in the way of the true owners of the road, and wins little sympathy with most motorists who are reasonable people, and some of whom also cycle on the roads.

The main point I want to make is that I think we'd do better to point out the distinction between the very few people who ride bikes through red lights etc and the majority of the two-wheeled community who simply want to get where they're going as safely as possible. We need to recognise we're a minority and, like all minorities, easily lumped together and stigmatised, and therefore adopt a smarter position which takes as its starting point that some people will deliberately take whatever we say out of context, and instead stick to a few key messages aimed at the majority of reasonable motorists, and which gives as little ammunition to our opponents as possible.

Other points I think we should make more often are that we're vulnerable, squishy, and easily seriously injured or killed in collisions with cars (there could be nasty consequences for you as a motorist if you hit us (probably not, actually, but that's another matter)), are often capable of travelling as fast or faster than cars in an urban environment (don't pull out on us or feel you've got to beat us because we're on a bike), and that we're keen to see everyone, bike users (i.e. dickheads with bikes as well as proper cyclists) and motorists alike behave peacefully, responsibly and safely.

These points may seem bland but their blandness is the crux of my argument. As cyclists our weaponry is puny compared to the driver, and we should acknowledge this by doing all we can to appear as responsible and reasonable as possible, and seek to take the heat out of what none of us with our puny weapons want to become a war on our roads. We can be angry (and I do privately get mad as hell when my life is threatened by an impatient driver) and lobby hard, but let's not do that so much in the media gaze where it's all too easy to be written off as lefty anarchists when we forget we're a minority and, under the current laws and judicial system, have the most to lose.

This is politics, play the percentages & we may yet achieve peace in our time.

posted by Peacenik [7 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 19:35


Knowing the BBC the program itself will be reasonable but after seeing the advert the other day that certainly goes for the sensationalist tabloid media approach.

Personally that's enough to ensure I don't watch even though I'm generally of the opinion that you should watch it before campaigning against it.

EDIT - Well said Peacenik but I fear it's hard to get that message across in the current media environment (dominated by extremism on both sides).

posted by racingcondor [147 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 21:22


Cue the Jeremy Vine phone-ins the following day!

"Just as every cop is a criminal, and all the sinners saints".

LondonCalling's picture

posted by LondonCalling [146 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 21:39


I can't believe the BBC have hired/commissioned Brunelle to make a documentary. He's a bloody menace. The people above commenting that we shouldn't rush to pre-judge the film need to take a look at his back catalogue and get an understanding of where this moron is coming from.

In his own words, "Fuck bike advocacy". This man has no desire to improve the safety of Britain's roads. It's a total disaster that he's being given air time by someone like the BBC.

posted by Mr. Rossi [37 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 22:12


Mr. Rossi wrote:
I can't believe the BBC have hired/commissioned Brunelle to make a documentary.

Take another read of the article. Brunelle is not involved in the production, but some of his footage of an Alleycat race may be used in it (according to a vague rumour flying around on the internet).


posted by stewieatb [299 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 22:52


Hmmm. Seems I may have over-reacted. Ooops.

He's still a bloody menace though.

posted by Mr. Rossi [37 posts]
2nd December 2012 - 23:47

Has anyone seen this yet? No ...

This article is based on the Guardian piece linked to above, which was written after seeing a preview copy of the documentary. So yes, I can believe it's as awful as claimed. I'm not going to be watching the next Michael Bay film to check whether it deserves its critical pannings, either.

And the source of Mr Brunelle's "haterz" comments: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/bsnyc-friday-fun-quiz-now-with...

posted by Mr Agreeable [161 posts]
3rd December 2012 - 0:41


So the meek and mild will inherit the earth?
The evidence to date is to the contrary I am afraid.

onward ever onward

bikecellar's picture

posted by bikecellar [261 posts]
3rd December 2012 - 10:48

1 Like

I think Jeremy Clarkson should present the show dressed as Biggles and all cyclists interviewed should be dubbed over with menacing German accents and wear High Viz swastika's.

posted by Dog72 [108 posts]
3rd December 2012 - 11:03


The title itself is somewhat hyperbolic, no? It evokes some kind of Mad Max post-apocalyptic dystopia.

Even through the mean streets of Moss Side and Rusholme my commute is hardly a war zone. The sawn-off shotgun I sling over my shoulder is actually for the geese (Mancunian wildfowl are no joke).

Ghedebrav's picture

posted by Ghedebrav [1132 posts]
3rd December 2012 - 14:15


Ooops wrong programme.

posted by MinardiM189 [34 posts]
3rd December 2012 - 21:13


This article over at Bikebiz suggests the footage has been selected to give provide controversy and give the haters some material.


I don't see any value in watching it, what will it teach me? Nothing. I see too much selfish and poor driving already on my way to work.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2374 posts]
5th December 2012 - 14:53


Peacenik, I like the cut of your jib. I agree with pretty much everything you say. The only thing I'd take issue with is the suggestion that it's a 'very few' people who run red lights etc. I wish that were the case but I honestly don't think it is. Apart from that I'm with you 100%.

Martin Thomas's picture

posted by Martin Thomas [623 posts]
5th December 2012 - 20:10


Thank you very much for putting this documentary in context.
I can imagine no other way I'd have found out the provenance of the footage you mention.
It's shocking that an ostensivley 'Objective documentary;' should mix fact and fantasy so irresponsibly - adding to the 'War' it claims to merely report on.
Or - maybe that's the game plan?
Does he have a 'follow-up' feature planned, maybe with more scenes from 'Mad Max'?
Ok. I'm being flippant.
Thanks anyhow. Good Public Service Information there.

posted by Phytoramediant [23 posts]
5th December 2012 - 20:31


Re: Clarkson:
I was impressed when I randomly paused in my trawl down the channels to see Clarkson announce that "Only 5% of all countryside road accidents are as a result of speed".
Presumably cars are just as lethal to cyclists whether they're roaring through blind bends at 50mph or simply stationary.
Only one reasonable road-safety measure:
Ban all cars from the countryside, irrespective of their speed. They're lethal even at rest.
For some reason, this WASN'T the conclusion the bellowing buffoons drew.
- It was that all accidents are caused by wildlife.
In the interests of Balance, can't the BBC have a program in which all cyclists and animals blame their high mortality on the roads on cars?
For - That would be "Political correctness gone maaaaad".

posted by Phytoramediant [23 posts]
5th December 2012 - 20:39


Phytoramediant wrote:
Re: Clarkson:

- It was that all accidents are caused by wildlife.

This reminds me of an incident where a driver insisted that he had lost control of his car when he drove round a bend to see a Deer in the road... People were falling over themselves to tell the traffic officer that the driver had overtaken them at high speed and was driving like a complete idiot. The officer laughed at him and asked him if he was going to stick to his story. Which, fair play to him, he ignored the provocation and stuck to his story. Result? Incident caused by (imaginary?)wildlife....

posted by SideBurn [912 posts]
5th December 2012 - 21:08


Oh my Gawd. The size of that arse at 53 minutes will give me nightmares.

posted by Cauld Lubter [126 posts]
5th December 2012 - 22:57


there goes an hour of my life, never to be reclaimed. thanks BBC

posted by Rvizzle [99 posts]
5th December 2012 - 23:04


I've just watched the documentary and whilst the footage will have been edited to be sensational it strikes me that this was done to make the point that there is good and bad on both sides.

I thinks it was pretty balanced in the end and any bias that existed was towards city cycling. I ride in a rural area and rarely experience aggression - more often close shaves on fast roads. I do sometimes have close encounters in towns but these are rare.

I cycle like I drive. The rules of the road apply to me regardless of means of transport and if I wouldn't do something when driving I wouldn't do it cycling.

Lastly, well said Peacenik.

JoD Smile

John of Denbigh

posted by turvy [13 posts]
5th December 2012 - 23:31


So, anyone watch it?
I did, and agree with CraigS, can't see that it was of much interest to anyone but drivers and cyclists, and the same old stereotypes were reinforced yet again. Not totally sure what the point was TBH. Sticking Live And Let Live quotes from people involved at the end did very little to distract from the sensationalist content.
Very reasonable thread of thought , Peacenik, that's how I tend to think too, with an occasional bout of shouting if someone's really endangering my life

posted by sonicsol [7 posts]
5th December 2012 - 23:53


I knew it would wind me up and it did! (my son wanted to watch it)

posted by SideBurn [912 posts]
6th December 2012 - 0:07


I could not believe the attitude of some of the road users. Seems that human life has very little importance or value to some people.

The programme sickened me a little, although, I do believe it will do some good; and highlight the dangers a cyclist faces on British highways and Byeways? The boy racers didn't do cycling any favours; and as far as I'm concerned, their blatent disregard for the road regulations and rule of law was idiotic; and lacking in any true skill of riding a road bicycle.

This should not be termed as : A War On The Roads!
There is no them and us; because most of us Drive as well as we cycle. What would happen if you took all the cyclists in the UK off the roads? I'll tell you the answer : Millions more cars on the road; increased congestion and more time spent getting from A-to-B more fuel costs and a lot more time spent sitting in your vehicles going no-where. Thank God for people who use a bicycle as their transport, they certainly help to ease congestion.
This programme will do a good deal for the sale of Helmet Cameras. I Must Get One! Will You?

posted by Mostyn [425 posts]
6th December 2012 - 0:51


The link to production company was on Twitter last night so I sent this to the producer (no reply yet)...

To ToddAustin@leopardfilms.com


As someone who cycles and drives in London regularly I found your documentary's view of a 'war' unrecognisable. The usage of the staged alley-cat footage throughout without flagging it as such is inexcusable and inflammatory.

The only person to come away with any credit was one of the two women represented - the mum. The other was dead. How did you choose the other contributors?


Rob O'Brien

posted by robert_obrien [120 posts]
6th December 2012 - 10:44


A couple of things I thought after the programme (which I found very scary and off-putting).

We need a public poster campaign to tell everyone what's what.
'To be safe cyclists should ride well away from the kerb'
'85% of cyclists are car owners'
'Vehicle excise duty does not pay for roads'
(I'll suggest this to CTC)

Also, you should avoid criticising anyone's driving. Try it in the car with your partner and see how it goes down.

If you have a video that should be enough and the police should always take action. That commitment (if we could get it) should also be on posters.

posted by robert_obrien [120 posts]
6th December 2012 - 12:13


[[[[[ Note: Justifiably angry bikers scream, shout, and and ask drivers to explain their actions. On the other hand, all the aggressive body-language, threats, and actual violence on the footage comes from drivers. I've seen many of the helmet-cam clips before, in which one shocked motorist reacted apologetically after knocking a cyclist down, offering assistance, home phone-number, insurance details etc.....yes, the driver was a woman.
Idiot boyracer "cyclists", in town, giving us all a bad name---no footage of DRIVERS competing with each other, (although we've all witnessed it ad nauseam) and not one single shot of a car going through a red light---no, only cyclists do that. However, in most clips, the bikies appear more reasonable than the drivers, and most motorists watching the prog will, hopefully, spot that.
My own cycling philosophy says never bang on the side of a vehicle (it's an extension of a driver's house, alledgedly) and never ever show the finger, or V-sign. Nothing is more guaranteed to provoke the alpha-dickhead-male to violence than those two responses...keep it strictly verbal. Ride carefully, all.


posted by PhilRuss [328 posts]
6th December 2012 - 14:40