WE ALL love a good double act. Del Boy and Rodney, The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise, Ant and Dec … there’s no shortage of entertaining partnerships when it comes to the biggest shows on TV.
And over the past few years, another duo have become more and more popular on the small screen – Mike Brewer and Edd China of Wheeler Dealers fame.
Seasoned car salesman Brewer and lifelong engineer China have made such a success of the show that it is screened in dozens of countries worldwide and has a global audience of more than 150 million.
The format’s simple enough. In each episode of the show, Brewer goes in search of a special vehicle that can be worked on by China, improved beyond all recognition and sold at a profit.
And the duo have managed to turn their enterprise into nothing short of a global phenomenon.
We were invited to join the boys at their workshop in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire – and it’s clearly a place that sees plenty of automotive action, tucked away on an anonymous industrial estate a few miles away from the busy M4.
Brewer and China have been busy filming in the morning and are enjoying a well-earned tea break when we arrive, the day after an episode of the latest series is screened. They both seem happy with the way things are going.
‘Yes,’ Brewer smiles. ‘The series is great, it looks good. But TV work is not easy. We work bloody hard at it, but when you see the results on screen and how good it looks, it makes it all worthwhile.’
So how long does each show take to make? Surely there must be a big team of people who help things run smoothly?
‘When we’re trying to explain what we’re doing, we try to compress complicated things and make them simpler’
‘We give each car around two weeks,’ says Brewer. ‘It’s incredible that we can turn a car round in that time. And when you think about some of the stuff we’ve just done, to get that bought, painted, renovated and out the door in just over two weeks is incredible.’
And the numbers of other bodies involved? Just a handful. As well as China and Brewer, there are two other guys, Paul and Phil, and that would appear to be pretty much it, apart from the production crew of course.
It’s time for China to get a word in.
‘It’s amazing what we get done, considering,’ he says. ‘We can’t have more people involved because it would be a case of too many cooks. What we’re about is actually showing the audience how they could work on cars.
‘When we first started Wheeler Dealers, we just did really simple jobs, so we’d be changing a power steering pump or an alternator or whatever, and that was the whole job. We’d film absolutely everything and most of it would end up on the cutting-room floor. The viewers wouldn’t know what the story was, really, until we’d finished making the show.’
Back to Brewer: ‘You have to think, right, if we’ve done 100 cars, say, and there’s four jobs per car, that’s 400 jobs you’ve seen on TV. Of those 400 jobs, there are likely to have been at least 20 times you have seen the brake discs changed on a car. But you’ve never noticed, because we’ve always found new and innovative ways to do it.’
One thing that Brewer and China like to feature on the show is problems that crop up frequently on the same models.
‘When we’re trying to explain what we’re doing, we try to compress complicated things and make them simpler,’ says Brewer.
‘We have to make it understandable. We’re always thinking, ‘‘Will my mum understand this?’’ But also, are we making it interesting enough for the person who knows all about the intricacies of a particular car?
‘We get told. Viewers go on Facebook and Twitter and they will tell us if we are doing it right or wrong. We get chastised regularly. But we have to make a show that’s appealing to everyone all over the world and in every language.’
No shortage of feedback then? Brewer nods in agreement: ‘The most-asked question on Wheeler Dealers, and has been for the last 12 seasons, is, why do we never account for Edd’s labour?
‘Although this is a fully-equipped, fully-fitted workshop, Edd is always showing you, and I am always showing you, that this is stuff you can do yourself. Yes, we’ve got a ramp – but you might be able to get access to a ramp. Yes, we’ve got a good set of tools, but you can borrow a good set of tools.
‘You’d never charge yourself labour at home, and that’s why labour is never included in the programme. And we’re inundated with people every day saying it’s because of you that I’ve worked on my car. We’re showing what is possible. If you buy an old clunker, we can show you that you can fix it and get it back on the road.
‘The reason why this show really does work is that we share the same common enthusiasm – and that’s for the car.
‘We build the show in our heads – what we could do with it, how we could make it look.’
‘We absolutely love the car. And we know we’ve got this magic between us. If I buy the right one and Edd fixes it up the right way, we can make that car special again. We don’t care if it makes £50 or £5,000 – truthfully, we don’t – we just want the car to live another day.’
So how does a particular car win a place on Wheeler Dealers?
‘How it works, and this is the truth,’ says Brewer, ‘is that me and Edd spend an awful lot of time together. We probably spend more time together than we do with our wives, and when we’re together, we’re talking about cars.
‘We’re always building these lists of cars. That’s how the first chat starts off. And I might say, let’s get a Noble, and Edd might say, yes, a Noble, that’s good because they’ve got a problem with turbos, so I’ve got to find a Noble with turbo problems.
‘You can almost build the show sitting together in the car. And we build the show in our heads – what we could do with it, how we could make it look.’
China adds: ‘We’re very lucky in that we get to play with cars that we would never normally play with. I’d always wanted a Lotus, and I’d always wanted a DeLorean, but now, having worked on both cars, I realise that I can’t drive either of them because I don’t fit. [He’s 6ft 7in.] I’ve managed to exorcise that bit of passion and move on to something else.
‘On the other hand, Mike was so enamoured with a Mustang we did once that he ended up buying one.’
The DeLorean that China is looking back on helps the boys to make an interesting point. In the same way that people might flock to buy certain cookery ingredients after an episode of The Great British Bake Off, the pair can help to influence the market for various models.
‘Bodywork is my bugbear. I can’t be arsed to rub down for days and days.’
Says Brewer: ‘The DeLorean was a car that had a fan base. But it was kind of looked down on by some people who thought it wasn’t very good. I went and found a DeLorean in California and it was a really good example. We then discovered that they had made 9,000 cars but enough spare parts to build 38,000 cars, so you can build a DeLorean basically from scratch.
‘We found that you can actually repair a DeLorean quite easily. So when we get the car back to the UK, and Edd does that amazing job transforming it, helped by the fact that parts are readily available, lots of people watch that on screen and say, oh my God, that’s so cool – I didn’t know you could do that.
They think (a) I didn’t know you could go to the States and buy a car that easily, (b) I didn’t know parts were available for a car that’s no longer made and (c) doesn’t it look amazing at the end of the process?
‘We took it to a show at the end and because of the success of the transformation of the car we raised prices round the world!’
Says Brewer: ‘The other day, we had a Messerschmitt KR200 – there’s probably only about 200 of them left in the world. If you want a part for that you can’t go to your local car spares shop and buy one off the shelf, you literally have to have it made. This car was lacking the hubcaps. I went and found an engineering company in Birmingham that takes a sheet of aluminium and they hand-moulded it on a lathe.’
Adds China: ‘It’s a very symbiotic thing. We benefit, the audience benefits and the company in question gets valuable exposure.’
Are there any jobs in particular that China really dislikes? ‘I think probably bodywork is my bugbear. I love doing the metally bits, fabricating stuff out of metal to make the shapes, but I can’t be arsed to rub down for days and days. I have so much respect for the people who can – I would be driven insane by that.’
Another question the guys have probably been asked 1,000 times: what are their most memorable cars, both good and bad?
‘The worst car we ever had,’ says Brewer, ‘was a Suzuki SJ410. It was a horror. We couldn’t even get it through its MOT. We had to sell it to a farmer’s son to use to bounce around in the fields.’
‘The best one was our Lamborghini,’ recalls China. ‘Some of the features on it are insane, though. Why would you have the timing marks on the distributor underneath the engine? When you’re trying to play with the dizzy it’s difficult to use the gun and you have to have two people.’
Another car that’s clearly etched into the boys’ minds is a Capri from the first series.
‘That was a hateful car,’ says China with a passion. ‘As it was part of the first series I was very meek and mild. They delivered new wings for it but they were two different years. I tried to object but it was too expensive to change the filming day. In the end they were similar enough, so I actually fitted the wrong-year car wing just so we could film it that day. Then I had to spray- paint it on the hottest day of the year and it was a disaster.’
‘Can you please stop reminding us online about how bad it was?’ implores Brewer to anyone who might be reading.
‘We know! We thought it was crap too!’
So, with mishaps, adventures, some great comic moments and serious knowledge and experience to back it all up, it seems Wheeler Dealers could run and run for years to come.
Brewer can’t resist the final word, and it’s difficult to argue: ‘We’re two ordinary guys who make an exceptional car show. Brilliantly.’
Edd’s wacky side
Google Edd China’s name and you’ll see a distinctly wacky side to the (mostly) sensible mechanic of Wheeler Dealers fame. In his younger years, he was part of the team behind the hit TV comedy Father Ted (remember Father Jack’s motorised wheelchair?) and he also worked on a programme called Panic Mechanic, transforming hearses into dune buggies and Reliant Robins into drag racers.
With a company called Cummfy Banana, he ventured into the world of advertising, helping to create a grass van covered in daisies for Innocent Drinks and a giant shopping trolley for the premiere of Jackass.
He’s in the record books too, having created the fastest sofa, able to travel at 87mph (although that particular record has now been beaten), the world’s fastest bed (69mph) and the world’s fastest bathroom (42mph), among other triumphs.
‘Don’t forget you’re probably the tallest mechanic in the world,’ jokes Brewer. ‘With the biggest feet!’
And we mustn’t forget to mention Brewer’s record-breaking achievement – he holds the land speed 24-hour endurance record. Well done, fellas.
Mike and Edd’s top tips
1 Use the right tool for the job. It’s just not worth botching things with something not meant for it.
2 Don’t buy a car in the wet. You won’t get a proper sense of what it’s like.
3 Health and safety does actually matter. Use ear plugs to prevent tinnitus when you’re older.
4 Never walk past a puddle of oil. Wipe it up and get rid of it as soon as you see one.
5 When it comes to fixing stuff, everything is possible – it just depends how expensive it’ll be.
6 Never be scared of what you’re tackling. If you’re worried, check out an instructional video online.
7 When you’re trying to solve stuff, think sideways. Lateral thinking is good.