Imagine you’re on a big bus, with luxury tables and enough room for a rugby team, about to embark on a tour of Europe. Slap a huge United Kingdom flag on the roof and equip it with a load of cameras. Throw in an ever-present international tour guide going by the name of Brendan and you can begin to imagine what Channel 4’s cult daytime hit ‘Coach Trip’ is all about.
Those are the initial positives. The down side is that you’re sharing that bus with up to thirteen other passengers, only one of whom you’ve chosen to travel with. But don’t worry, every day, after taking in the sights and sounds of Europe, you have the chance to vote off the most aggravating couple and send them back to blighty.
It’s been described as being like “Big Brother on wheels”, but Coach Trip is so much more than that. For five days a week, at five o’clock, Channel 4 viewers are treated to thirty minutes of sightseeing, wise-cracking, bitching and Brendan; a more perfect cocktail I’ve yet to sample. Tour guide Brendan Sheerin really is the star of it all, leading the passengers on a merry dance through Europe with a smile, a wink and a theatre-load of campness. Without him the show wouldn’t be half as fun.
It’s not all about Sheerin though. The travellers certainly provide their share of entertainment. Like so many reality programmes the casting is vital. Get it right and you’re left with a great blend of jokes, friendships and backstabbing. Get it wrong and you’re left shouting at the telly for someone, anyone, to be voted off so a new couple can inject some life in to proceedings.
That’s where the all important vote-off comes in. Every day the face to face ‘nominations’ rarely fail to serve their purpose. Truths emerge, tears fall and game playing begins. The most devious couples form alliances with others to protect themselves and eliminate the weaker ones. With a target in mind, two days later they could be gone. The vote operates a yellow and red card system, with the most unpopular couple getting that yellow at the end of each day. When they receive their second, it’s time to let the neighbours back home know you’ll be seeing them very soon.
Those fortunate enough to survive the vote get to explore the wonderful cities of Europe. Every day Brendan and the team set out a morning and afternoon activity for the group to get stuck into. These range from the sporty to the historical, the educational to the downright bizarre; Coach Trip has it all. Only on this show could you be high-wiring and wine tasting one day then curling and castle-touring the next. The variety of activities keeps the show fresh and interesting, even after fifty days.
The main area where Coach Trip differs from Big Brother is the tone of the show. Whilst the latter focusses on nasty contestants and horrible atmospheres, Coach Trip is much more light-hearted and gentler. Obviously being shown at daytime and repeated in the mornings it is bound to be, but this is to the programme’s benefit. If it focussed more on the voting side it wouldn’t be as successful. Likewise if it focussed solely on the cities it wouldn’t be as watchable.
The greatest compliment I can pay the programme makers is that after more than 130 shows over the years, the show is still as fresh and exciting as ever and is well worth a passing glimpse. It won’t be long before you too are hooked.
Contributed by Mark O’Meara