Producer/director Ben Cook on reforming an environmentally unfriendly family for BBC3.
Producer/director Ben Cook tells how he helped reform an environmentally unfriendly family.

When executive producer David Wise first talked to me about an environmental programme that wasn't all beards, cardigans and endless discussions about solar panels, it sounded like a project that I could find inspiring. Maybe it was a chance for me
to do my bit for the planet.

A Betty TV-produced factual entertainment production for BBC3 was an exciting prospect, too. It's a style I like, blending snappy visuals with some solid actuality. And this time it was
a show that clearly had a worthwhile message: green is good.

The aim of Outrageous Wasterswas to transform four families of wasteful energy abusers into more eco-aware households. Instead of long lectures about the advantages of self-composting, our families would be taken out of their wasteful comfort zones into an eco boot camp - a world without running water, where accommodation would be a traditional Mongolian yurt (tent) and where using the loo would mean squatting in a shed and aiming for some straw.

And this was only half the journey. On their return home from the eco retreat our families new-found love of the environment would be put to the test as they discovered that their house had been given an eco makeover. So it would be goodbye to electric washing machines, gas-guzzling lawnmowers and reckless energy consumption and hello to a pedal-powered washer, eco mowers (some sheep) and a big wind turbine.

Continuing our aim of providing something a bit different from the generic environmental programme, we also decided that our talent would be on the edgier side of John Craven. We chose a queen of green, Joanna Yarrow (she even has organic wallpaper at home), an environmental builder, Andy Tugby, and a self-styled anarchist and eco enforcer, Dan Carraro.

It was great working with all three. They each had the courage and passion of their convictions. And all three were prepared to give that extra take, even when they were standing in a windswept field at six in the morning. It was appreciated.

Casting the families was surprisingly straightforward - for the first programme we settled on the Fowlers from Stoke-on-Trent. I was immediately sold when the father, Roger, admitted he had his fingers crossed that global warming would happen sooner rather than later, 'so we can have the same weather as they do in Spain.'

Clearly his outlook presented room for improvement.

Once the logistics were sorted the filming days were intense. It was a 24-hour job getting the family to engage with the camp. But the biggest difficulty for me was creating and putting into action the formatted challenges that would question our family's prodigious energy use.

For instance, when you are stuck filming in a field in Wales, how do you convey the message that leaving your computer on standby for 10 minutes is bad news for the environment?

The answer - a fire-walking challenge. Obvious really. Ten minutes of standby time is the equivalent of five metres of fossil fuel being burned. So I arranged to have five metres of coal ready for them to cross - all smouldering nicely, laid out in front of the family. It gave an instant image of what they were wastefully burning as well as demonstrating a pledge of faith that the family were ready to mend their wasteful ways.

With the family dragging their heels over doing the challenge - though not quite literally (the blisters would come later) - I needed them to engage with the idea quickly before the red-hot coals went out. So, in a surge of group solidarity, I offered my feet up for a go as well.

Initially this seemed a great idea as the family, with the correct amount of drama, completed their walk of faith. It was then time for me to have a go.

I am not sure what the sweet smell of success is like, but in this case it's probably the smell of my burning flesh as I got some coal stuck between my toes, which gives a whole new meaning to the idea of a carbon footprint.

Despite some moments where the Fowlers did wobble over the concept of eco living (let's just say the sheep we gave them to use as eco mowers weren't warmly received), we persevered and I'm glad to report that the family is now committed to recycling, composting and spreading the green gospel.

I, however, have a limp for life, but that's a small price to pay for saving the planet.
Outrageous Wasters is a 4 x 60-minute factual entertainment series made by Betty TV. It airs on BBC3 from 21 August at9pm

Ben Cook: My tricks of the trade

  • Not always the fashion accessory of choice for the average chap, but in biting Welsh wind, a pair of long johns are essential. Worn under shorts they provide effective wind protection, show a complete lack of fashion style and are a visible sign to the rest of the crew that you are losing the plot.
  • Having a great team, from excellent execs to top runners, makes a tricky job easier.
  • Writing a script outline for every element of the production. I never really looked at it often, but it was comforting to have a guide to refer to and to have thought how things would work. Also it serves as up kindling to help warm a yurt at three o'clock in the morning.