A young lad with one of those strange multi-angled hairstyles winds down the window of his lurid Peugeot and turns to face the scrawny policeman that has just pulled him over. “It’s my civic duty to inform you that this car is shit!” says the copper as the boy racer’s eyebrows goes skyward. “It could only be driven by a cock-smoking, metrosexual, hair-dressing ponce like yourself..” adds the officer. “Now get out of here before I arrest you for driving under the influence of looking like a tit.”
Welcome to BBC3’s The Pranker, a programme that picks up the wind-up torch once carried by joker luminaries such as Dom Joly, Jeremy Beadle and Noel Edmonds. But as the show’s star and creator Ross Lee tells us, this new project goes further than anything that’s come before.
“It’s like a very modern Trigger Happy TV,” explains Lee as we sit in the production company’s London office. “Yes, it’s a hidden camera show, but it’s unlike any other that you’ve seen. It’s daring, it’s outrageous, it’s in your face, it’s shocking, it’s clever, and apparently people don’t know whether to gasp in shock of burst with laughter. You’ve got to push the boat out in this day and age, if you play it safe you’re finished..”
You can tell that ‘playing it safe’ isn’t something that Lee has ever done just from his bright green trainers and he goes on to explain that after doing bit-parts for regional television he decided to come to London to make his media fortune eight years ago. “It was just me, the streets and my microphone,” says this modern day Dick Whittington of his time as a young prankster. “I got chucked out of The Salon a couple of times and even got arrested for indecent exposure outside the Live Aid thing a couple of years back.”
Yet following some successful slots on CBBC and Nickelodoen, last year Lee was finally given the green-light to produce the show that he’d been planning for over a decade, and this Thursday you can see him donning various disguises and pulling some crazy tricks on the public.
“I think people have difficulty believing just how many shapes I can actually morph into,” he explains. “To watch it, it might take ten minutes to realise, ‘Hang on, is this the same guy?’ Because in it I play a 13-year-old boy called Boris with my face painted like a tiger, then in the next scene I’ll be playing an 80-year-old woman shooting ping pong balls out from between her legs, then I have to play a convincing bloke on a blind date, then a man that’s got ladies’ breasts. You don’t know what’s coming next. Imagine the Beano comic, but an adult version of the Beano put on television.”
In the programme’s first scene Lee saunters into a Garden Centre and asks the bloke behind the desk if he can ‘try out’ the BBQ before he buys it. However when he whacks a pack of sausages on and cracks open a beer, the employee starts to turn nasty. “There was one stage which isn’t quite picked up on camera where he’s right in my face telling me that he’s going to ‘f**king do me in’ if I don’t leave. When someone tells him that he’s been caught on a hidden camera, he looks a bit embarrassed to be honest. His face just said ‘Bloody hell, I’ve lost my temper on TV – again..’ haha.”
You feel for the bloke at the Gardening Centre but it’s also a credit to him that he allowed the footage to be showed. Some people aren’t so accommodating says Lee. “We did one where I was posing as a talent agent and we made this girl pretend to have sex with a mannequin and all sorts,” he admits. “In fact, if anything this is the cruellest one because what you’re doing is inviting people into an interview and you’re offering them a possible job and then you build people’s hopes up and then to say, ‘You’ve just wasted two hours of your time to make you look stupid’… One girl went ballistic. She really wasn’t happy and she wouldn’t let us use the footage in the end. Poor girl…”