An interview with...
Neal Davis

Jay: Neal, I am very excited to chat with you. For those that may not know, you were a judge on the original Scrapheap Challenge series and then worked behind the scenes in a technical role for a couple more series. How did you become to be involved with Scrapheap Challenge?

Neal: I was telephoned one day by a chap called Nat Grouille, turned out he was a big wheel at RDF. Nat was looking for challenges, and had heard about tractor pulling, he had approached the British Tractor Pulling Association, who had told him that to build a tractor in one day was impossible. The BTPA put Nat on to me as I was the Chairman of the Minipuller division and I might be able to help. Bear in mind that this was just a few days after the pilot had gone out and nobody really new anything about Scrapheap. I told Nat that we had already built a puller in one day as something to do during a rain off, and he was immediately interested. We went on to discuss other challenge possibilities and finally Nat asked me to put together 4 designs. I did this and sent them to Nat by E mail and he was so impressed that he arranged for me to go down to the RDF headquarters in London for a meet and greet. We talked at great length and I was very enthusiastic about the concept. Nat asked if I might know a chap who could act as a team expert and I gave him some names from our club, which is how Mark Pacey ended up in the first series. Nat and Myself also talked about other ideas for challenges and also my background. I had been brought up in a workshop, my father being an engineering teacher. I had built my first working model steamroller by the time I was ten and had never looked back. A lifelong steam fanatic and train fan, a background of electronics after I left school, built and raced Drag cars in the late 60,s, built and ran hotrod cars with my brother and then getting into Tractor pulling in a big way (we built the first jet powered minipuller in UK), as well as being an explosives expert (22 years in the Royal Air Force as an armourer and bomb disposal officer of which there is a whole website of stories I could tell) and of course playing with classic cars of which my brother and I have a few, meant that the Scrapyard was a second home. Anyway Nat and the team were suitably impressed and asked me if I would act as a technical consultant to the show which I agreed to, working largely from home on the computer. I was on board.

J: What were your experiences like with the show?

N: The first thing that happened was that the team felt I would come over well on screen. There was a deal of discussion about making me a resident expert but the production people felt that the viewers would find it hard to believe that one person could be an expert in everything. I agreed with this thinking, particularly as I fear water ( I was once drowned and revived in a swimming pool) and was not prepared to get involved in waterborne challenges. Also time was a problem because I now was earning my living as a Health and Safety Advisor to a major food producing company in UK and was having to take time of as holiday to film scrapheap. This led to me also being a health and safety watcher for the show. The team decided to use me as the expert on Tractor pulling but obviously as I was designing the machines and giving the show shopping lists for the set it was impossible for me to be a team captain or team expert. The show organizers had no concept of the abilities of the teams and in the first year were constantly worried about making the challenges too hard. I didn't realize it at the time but right from the start there was a conflict with "good telly" and fairness and honesty. The first series was fundamentally different from the rest in that the teams were the same each episode and it was no coincidence that the final score was 3 all. Truthfully this did not matter as the success of the show had been demonstrated and more money would be forth coming for the next series, much more! The RDF team were great fun and I was treated Royally, so no complaints there, but the shows were very hard work as they just ran on and on and of course the whole series was recorded over about six weeks in the middle of the year, so no sooner had you finished one than you were starting the next. If you look carefully at the teams you can detect disguised injuries which hadn't healed from the last shoot all of three days ago! Very quickly I got the name of the Engine man and was always involved if there was an engine in the build. Nat would ring me twice a week for a long discussion about the next show and how we should guide the teams to achieve the best on screen
results, it wasn't as impromptu as is generally thought. Most of my experiences with 4 years of Scrapheap and Junkyard were good but there were some dodgy moments more of which later.

J: Are there any moments from your shows that stand out?

N: Well there are probably a couple, the first was my very first entrance on the tractor pulling show. Robert was on the throne, and remember he was doing the presenting alone in the first series. I was supposed to walk in and climb the steps and shake hands with Robert whilst saying something like "hi there Robert nice to see you". The costume was awful, consisting of a long heavy plastic coat, which immediately got me dubbed as some sort of sexual pervert ( Robert wanted to know if I'd just come from the park outside the girls school) and a Barbour hat painted grungy black with straws in it. This was the production crews concept of a country yokel which was supposed to be connected to tractors. Most modern tractors have more comfort than a luxury car and are operated by a chap in pristine white overalls but no matter. The coat was very heavy and stiff and touched the ground, so inevitably as I stepped on the first step with my hand outstretched I stood on the end of the coat and went flat on my face at Roberts feet. My language was definitely country yokel and apart from hearing the word "cut" loudly from the director I remember Robert saying "while your down there give my boots a rub". No oscars for that but it did break the ice and I got on extremely well with Robert after that.

On the same show the crew set me up very successfully. The crew got quite bored at times and were amazing practical jokers. At one point in the programme I had to explain to Robert and the Audience how it was that a pulling tractor could manage to pull far more than its own weight. To help, the props department had provided a toy tractor which Robert would hand to me and then ask the question. Unknown to me the tractor had a voice unit in it and as Robert gave it to me he turned it on. I was just about to start my rehearsed speech when the tractor promptly gave forth with "take me to the barn" and engine noises. I was momentarily speechless and then realizing I had been had, I retorted by saying "you bastards" which was not very polite, but just came out. Everyone on the set collapsed with laughter and a complete stop ensued with the two teams working on in a bemused state. The camera man said "that's one for "It'll be alright on the night", I've got it all". It was a typical bit of fun and every shoot had some. Another outstanding moment was during the filming of the scrapyard dragster challenge when the Brothers auto gearbox failed and there was a necessary break whilst repairs were made. I will explain fully later, why, but there was an audience of about 3000 watching this challenge and Robert was called to the fence for autographs. He had his kids with him on this shoot as it was near his home and Robert promptly said to me "you had better come too they'll want yours you know" I wasn't convinced but we went down trackside, and with the kids on our shoulders, we walked the crowd. Robert was right and I signed everything from paper napkins to knickers! It was a brilliant experience and really brought home to me the problems of fame.

One more and I'll move on. I'm not sure which show but in the second series the weather got really hot and the girls on the crew were dressing down a bit, well a lot actually! This series introduced the Megalomaniacs, A bunch of bikers who were the salt of the earth and I'm proud to have worked with them. You'll hear a lot more about them later. Nosher was a bit of a character and found the girls a bit disturbing, but then who wouldn't they were all very attractive. I don't know how it started but Kathy was Complaining about the heat and was finding her jewelry was becoming a nuisance. This led to an off set discussion and Nosher became involved. He set Kathy up by asking her what the problem was and she said that she would have to remove her jewelry because it was irritating. Nosher agreed and said he'd got the same problem and would Kathy assist by unclasping his ring. Kathy said yes and Nosher promptly undid his flies and produced a large member with an equally large ring through the end. Yes, I can vouch that I've seen Kathy speechless. It was so well done that it was one of those all time great moments and it took about twenty minutes before some of us could stop laughing. It's probably on film somewhere as everything got filmed one way or another.

J: We know that you judged 3 challenges. Would you have rather get in there and gotten your hands dirty?

N: I did enjoy the judging and I probably would have liked to build but as I was doing the designs it was never possible. There was a lot of talk during the third series of having a celebrity special with some role changing. By now one or two of the people involved were becoming a bit well known and it was thought this might be fun, as a christmas special maybe. The format discussed was to have two teams made up from the shows crew and/or selected competitors, for instance one suggestion that got a lot of interest was for one team to be, myself, RDF'S resident engineers, Richard and Simmo and Robert, versus Major Dick, Bowser, Nosher and Kathy, With perhaps Craig Charles as presenter. Craig hosts Robot Wars but of course is a great friend of Roberts because of Red Dwarf. The show would probably not be that serious with Robert claiming to have chosen all the skill for his team and Kathy claiming the best of the available blokes, the result being engineered into a draw. It never happened for one reason or another which may be a pity.

J: Do you have a favorite episode?

N: This is fairly easy and will probably come as a surprise to you but it was the all terrain vehicle challenge in the first series of Junkyard. Yep, I was the tech consultant and I had submitted 4 designs as usual. What made this so good though was that the Long Brothers were probably one of the most likable bunch of guys you could wish to meet and also they really knew their scrapyard engineering. They had such a charisma that I can recall virtually nothing about the other team, Dammage. The long Brothers were also tractor pullers in USA so we had a lot in common. The challenge was a load of fun and nothing significantly went wrong. I was also on screen in a non speaking part (look closely at the two flag men during the race, I was one, so that I could keep an eye on the mechanical state of the vehicles) but best of all the long Brothers went on to win the series which they thoroughly deserved particularly with a view to the appalling goings on of the Dragster challenge between Chicago fire and The Texas Scrap Daddies. I will detail this show later.<

J: Before we let you loose with stories galore, what have you done since appearing on the show?

N: I continued to act as consultant in a minor way up to the final challenge of series 4 but as I was not able to come out to USA at one weeks notice for a filming I think RDF felt I'd run my course. My friend John Kilgower took my place, he's retired.

J: And now, we're gonna turn things over to Neal who has graciously provided many memories and stories from his days on the scrapheap. The following pages are sure to fascinate -NEXT->
 

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