BBC’s new documentary: “The War On Britain’s Roads” – war? really?

Cyclist pedalling next to a bus on London Bridge

“Meanwhile, in an adrenaline-filled one-off film for BBC One, viewers will be parachuted into the middle of a war that is raging between two-wheeled road users and their four-wheeled counterparts in The War On Britain’s Roads. As more and more people take up cycling as a way of beating the traffic or just keeping fit on their commute, the potential for conflict between cyclists and drivers has increased massively.”

Wow! War! Parachuting! Conflict! Adrenaline! Shocking! There’s no doubt that when the BBC commissioned a film titled “The War On Britain’s Roads” from Leopard Films they were seeking an emotional response from people. Will this documentary be a welcomed balanced argument or has the BBC gone too far in the never-ending quest to draw in TV audiences?

Is it really a war?

For a start, suggesting this is a war, very much goes against everything cycling campaigners have been working towards up until recent times. In the UK, “Share the roads” has always been the adopted adage. The reasoning being that there’s simply no room for cycle lanes and no money to invest in proper cycling infrastructure. Instead, we should all co-exist peacefully in a “Why can’t we be friends?” style scenario.

In recent times there’s been an acceptance that if you want to enjoy the fruits that come along with mass cycling – healthier people, less congested roads, lower pollution levels – then it’s not enough to simply ask people to cycle but you also need to provide the facilities for them to feel safe to do so. The culmination of this new thinking of course being the LCC’s Love London Go Dutch campaign. A campaign that has had a strong beginning, with all the leading mayoral candidates pledging support for at least some of its principles.

Perhaps then the “War On Britain’s Roads” will be a good thing. We should accept that essentially that’s what it is. We are in a continuous battle, fighting for our space on the roads. To label it as anything less than a war would be to ignore the elephant in the room.

I strongly doubt that’s true. The reality is that most motorists and cyclists are simply busy getting from A to B. In the process of doing so, occasionally they’ll be conflicts. A bus will pull in too soon, a taxi driver will honk because you are taking up the bus lane and a cyclist will run through a red light. In order to avoid continuous stress, more often than not we should just shrug our shoulders and let it be. Calling it a war serves to do little more than fuel the road rage some people feel.

Providing a balanced view – yawn!


“Leopard Films’ 60-minute The War on Britain’s Roads for BBC1 uses what Moore described as “shocking” footage of the conflict between cyclists and motorists. It is regarded within the BBC as having the greatest series potential.”

Whilst the final documentary remains to be seen, the language from the BBC press release along with what is written on the Leopard Films website gives little to suggest that they’ll be a balanced view provided.

On the forums and via Twitter many cyclists are wondering whether the less TV worthy aspects of Britain’s roads will be touched upon. Such as the fact the majority of journeys are conflict free or to show instead some of the joys of cycling.

Personally, I’m holding higher hopes for the Channel 4 documentary that will in part be looking at the problems and solutions to bicycle theft.

Join 10,221 fellow cyclists who are subscribed to the London Cyclist newsletter

Sign up for our free newsletter to get...

  • Advice on the best cycling gear
  • A Friday roundup of all the latest London cycling news
  • Exclusive content not available on the blog

Subscribe today, and get exclusive access forever! (It's free)

*No spam, ever!

As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.

14 Responses to BBC’s new documentary: “The War On Britain’s Roads” – war? really?

  1. Mike 30/04/2012 at 4:38 pm #

    Is there ay word as to when this will be shown?

    • Andreas 30/04/2012 at 4:55 pm #

      No word other than later in 2012.

  2. Beth A 30/04/2012 at 4:56 pm #

    Titled “Crash, Bang, What a Video”, it’s presented by a rather rotund Alan Partridge (after he’d let himself go a bit, been on a Toblerone-bender and driven to Dundee in his bare feet).

    • nilling 04/05/2012 at 12:14 pm #

      Thanks @Beth that made me chortle 🙂

  3. mike_LCC 30/04/2012 at 5:26 pm #

    Sounds like a bit of headcam footage, some swearing, and absolutely no discussion of the issues

    You can get that already on Youtube

  4. Bernard 01/05/2012 at 8:23 am #

    Another reason why I don’t watch TV, or read the majority of print media anymore – the SHOCK! HORROR! factor seems to be more important than getting to the core of the problem.

    “we should all co-exist peacefully in a “Why can’t we be friends?” style scenario.” – This doesn’t make for “good” (define it as you wish) TV. What are the ratings worth of a TV programme who shows two groups of people trying to respectfully argue a point and come to an agreement.

    “Calling it a war serves to do little more than fuel the road rage some people feel.” But it makes for “great” TV and people don’t forget it.

    It’s easier to reduce any problem down to “its a war on ….” than explain the complicated, boring, and one-sided arguments of two parties than it is to has an open discussion.

    I won’t be watching it as, like someone before me said, if you want that type of footage, you can get it on Youtube.

  5. Hannah 01/05/2012 at 2:22 pm #

    I sometimes feel like the world can’t win – downplay the extent of danger faced by cyclists and people will complain, over-hype the extent of danger cyclists face and people will complain. I hate that yesterday Boris said that cyclists consider themselves “morally superior”, and I think this post comes across a bit that way.

    (Sorry Andreas – have left many more positive comments on your others posts, and I absolutely love your blog).

    I agree – the program could be rubbish. But shouldn’t we actually watch it before we judge it? Nope! Moan whinge moan. We’ve decided, we’re not happy.

    My boyfriend likes me cycling, but clearly doesn’t get what all the fuss is about (he can’t ride a bike – I know, disappointing!). I honestly think one week of cycling would make him realise why everyone’s campaigning. It sure feels like a war to me some days! People on the roads treat me in a way they would never treat me face-to-face. 10,000 people were out last Saturday to call for improvements to cyclist safety – there is clearly an issue. This is why the BBC have commissioned a documentary. To call it “There are more cyclists, but everything is just fine” would just be untrue.

    Cyclists really lack outsider support, this could be a chance for non-cyclists to see what we’re making such a fuss about. I just hope it isn’t overshadowed by cyclists complaining about it.

    • Andreas 02/05/2012 at 1:42 am #

      Hey Hannah – really good comment!

      Think that’s what I was trying to put across in this post – should we be downplaying the “war” or should we be bringing it to people’s attention so that something gets done. Perhaps it came across as a little moany – maybe I was having a sulky/complain about things kind of day!

      All remains to be seen with “The War on Britain’s Roads” documentary and we could be pleasantly surprised – especially if the guys behind it are taking note of any of the comments on the cycling blogs.

      Right, now to get back to my more usual upbeat tone of the blog!

  6. idavid 02/05/2012 at 7:25 am #

    Sensationalism is not just the lifeblood of TV, it’s also the lifeblood of cycle campaigning.

    Share the Road has never been the “adopted adage”. Why would cycling activists, those angry self-appointed guardians of “the cause”, campaign for peace and harmony? No, they want cars out of the way.

    The problem with this approach is that it gets up the noses of the general public and, by inference, politicians. Until the cycling lobby tones down the rhetoric and calls for road equality without moral superiority, it will never attract political support broad enough to take UK cycling up to Continental levels.

    The fact is, “we’re all in it together” doesn’t fill meeting rooms and make headlines. Not when it refers to cycling, anyway.

  7. John Somers 04/05/2012 at 7:35 pm #

    Hence the interview I gave to the Buckinghamshire Examiner this week –

    They even got my tone right.

  8. tommy2p 05/05/2012 at 10:23 pm #

    Ah good point Andreas, has anyone from leopard commented on this site or vice versa?

  9. keokiracer 08/12/2012 at 11:36 am #

    Not living in the UK, but being very interested. Is there somewhere I can watch the documentary online? The BBC I-player doesn’t work because I don’t live in the UK…

Leave a Reply