Utterly charming, inimitable and endlessly entertaining, The Hairy Bikers seem to effortlessly strike upon the winning formula each time they grace our screens. But, what are they like to work with? Television producer and food writer Pete Lawrence has worked with them for many years and helps us get to know them behind the camera lens.
As a television producer I have made several series with The Hairy Bikers over the past 5 years and as well has having the utmost respect for them professionally, do regard them as friends. The first time I met them was in a hotel café near Paddington. We started talking about a programme idea and I realised straight away that they were passionate about food, interested in history and genuine blokes. The series we were discussing was ‘The Hairy Bikers – Best of British’. I’m not sure how long we talked but I do know I missed several trains. The other thing that I noticed was just how many people came up to them in the course of our conversation. Most just wanted to say hello, others wanted photos or autographs but I can honestly say it was more than with any other celebrities I have worked with. That is still true today. What I like about Dave and Si is that are completely democratic – if I were the Queen, Pope or President, it wouldn’t have mattered, they would have still paused for a moment for a chat with their fans.
Dave and Si are ordinary blokes from working class backgrounds. Si grew up in the North East and Dave in the North West. Their roots are very important to them and because they are true to who they are, they attract a broad and loyal audience – in some cases an audience that would never normally watch a cookery show – but this is different, it’s ‘The Hairy Bikers’. That’s the first thing to learn when you work with them – they aren’t a ‘made-for-TV’ experiment, they are themselves. They were mates long before getting in front of the cameras and their friendship is solid and genuine. They are also great fun and pure entertainers and completely unique. They get away with stuff on TV that only they could do – whether dressing up, dancing, singing, being bonkers – that’s who they are.
They both worked in TV before becoming presenters. Dave was an award-winning prosthetics and make-up artist and Si, an assistant director on costume dramas. They met, (unsurprisingly) in a pub, while working on a Catherine Cookson drama ‘The Gambling Man’. The pub was called the Egypt Cottage near Tyne-Tees studios. It was full of the drama crew and actors all drinking champagne and Dave saw this ‘hairy young chap’ at the bar, asking for a pint and a curry. Dave immediately said he’d have the same and it turned out to be the start of a 25-year friendship.
I’ve worked on many series with them, since Best of British but we all think our next one is the best yet. The next series, The Hairy Bikers’ Comfort Food, will air in January on the BBC. Dave and Si cook some truly delicious dishes, have great fun and their friendship oozes from the screen. Co-incidentally it was filmed in my house and the freezer still has a few tubs of deliciousness on the shelves! It will be on BBC One in the afternoons in the new year – keep an eye out for it.
Si: Italy. I know it really well ‘cos my sister has lived there for 20 years so there a connection. Culturally and gastronomically it is so focused and such variety in food terms, regionally and seasonally.
Dave: It does depend a bit on where I have just been as I do fall in love with food cultures on a regular basis but if I had to choose one (and I have recently moved there partly for culinary reasons) it would be France. I love the classical tradition but also everybody’s ethos to food and life – no matter what job someone does, or what their social standing, everyone appreciates wonderful produce.
Pete: What is your ‘can’t be bothered’ culinary guilty secret?
Si: Really nice toast with either Marmite or a burgundy butter.
Dave: Without doubt pizza. There’s is a fantastic pizza place about 20 miles from my place in France and it is so tempting. Honestly, I sometimes cycle there just to make me feel less guilty.
Pete: What would be your top five ‘can’t live without ingredients?
Si: Salt, pepper, chillis, garlic and onions.
Dave: Olive oil, salt, garlic (basis of everything) and bacon.
Pete: You are household names across the world- how do you stay grounded?
Si: I try not to think about the showbiz stuff too much and remember my roots. It’s also about surrounding yourself with decent people.
Dave: My wife Lil keeps me grounded- if I get too big for my boots she will tease me without remorse. Work-wise Si and I tend to police each other too and give each other a nudge if we forget who we are. I remember a few years back I bought a Bentley Flying Spur…thought I was it…then after a couple of weeks the wheel came off on the M40. I sold it – thought it was God having a word!
Pete: Do you ever pinch yourselves?
Si: Yes ALL the time. We have been on an amazing journey – one people from our backgrounds rarely get the opportunity to make.
Dave: All the time – I never take anything for granted. It is like being in another world sometimes though. Last week we were filming together with cameras, lights and so on and yesterday I was down the tip hauling bags out the boot of the car – so real life never goes away.
Pete: I know you both work incredibly hard, how do you like to relax?
Si: Listening to music, reading poetry, watching TV and playing in a band
Dave: I love cooking and feeding people – I love it to the bottom of my boots and I never tire of it. I like fishing too but I don’t get much time for that.
Si: Some days are easier than others, but we are both committed to not leaving people short-changed.
Dave: Well, I have the greatest respect for our viewers and if people are polite I always say yes. At home, once I hit the sofa and start chatting with Lil – I’m totally relaxed.
Pete: What did you want to be as a child?
Si: A coastguard – or a lighthouse keeper. I guess it was growing up by the sea in Northumberland.
Dave: Either Blaster Bates….so a demolition expert or Neil Armstrong…so an astronaut!
Pete: What’s the most amazing thing you have ever eaten?
Si: A barbecued pork and egg sandwich. It was in Vietnam – bought from an elderly lady pushing a cart. It had fish sauce in it, the pork had been marinated, there was a herb called ram…it was crispy, savoury and a real surprise to the taste bud
Dave: It was on ‘Market Kitchen’ and chef Jun Tunake made a Foie Gras and artichoke soup – it was the most indulgent thing I have ever tasted. And then recently on the ‘Chicken and Egg’ series we made together, Si and I visited Georges Blanc’s restaurant. His Poulet de Bresse Chicken with Morels mushrooms was so good, I went back 2 nights running after the filming finished.
Pete: How do you get ideas for recipes?
Si: It comes from having a genuine passion for food and wanting to do it well.
Dave: I just think of something Id like to eat then work out how to do it technically. Like on the Home cooking series we have just done with you – I really fancied a banana tarte
tatin… I just thought that sounds nice lets make it.
Pete: What do you have cravings for?
Si: Bread, butter and beer.
Dave: Cheese. Cheddar. Not good for the diet!
Pete: What do you like watching on TV?
Si: Documentaries, news and anything made by you!
Dave: Benidorm! Anything with Rick Stein in it and box sets. I’m currently watching ‘The Tunnel’. It’s amazing. Oh and I’m quite partial to a bit of ‘To Buy or Not To Buy’!
Pete: What’s your favourite wine- cheese and motorbike?
Si: Wine would be a full bodied Marzo. Cheese would be Comte and for bike a Jota, without question
Dave: Wine would be Meuso – it’s a white burgundy- it’s a big ‘un. Cheese would be Beaufort- there’s a guy sells it in Rennes market- it does everything you would want a cheese to do. And motorbike would be a Laverta Jota 180…it’s from the 70’s and a work of art.
Pete Lawrence (@digthisfood) is the owner and Creative Director of Hungry Gap Productions Limited and Author of The Allotment Cookbook www.digthisfood.co.uk