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MANLY LESSON.

JAMES May is one of those lucky individuals who has managed to carve a career out of doing things he loves. His passion for cars is fully indulged by his role as a presenter on Top Gear, his love of toys saw him making a Lego house last year in the BBC series Toy Stories and he's toured France and California drinking wine with Oz Clarke - all in the name of good telly. Now, the 47-year-old's planning to re-educate the modern British male in the ways of all things masculine with a new series for BBC Two called Man Lab. He's come a long way from writing for Autocar magazine in the '80s. "I didn't plan any of it," says the Bristolian in that slightly plummy voice. "I've just drifted along and been nudged this way and that and this is where I've ended up. "I have put quite a bit of work in and if there is a secret, it's that you have to stick to things you know about and you truly love and not be a tart!" Man Lab, as its name suggests, sees May and a bunch of male volunteers gathering in an old warehouse to "sally forth and relearn lost arts and practise things" including bomb disposal, duelling, carpentry and playing in an orchestra.

"I'm bored of television being about blokes just being useless and cocking everything up, so I thought we'd make a programme where everything works properly."

Not quite everything has gone to plan though, he admits. "I got killed in a duel, which was not what I was expecting, so that was a bit of a disappointment," he laughs. "We're trying to make honest TV.

If something doesn't work, we'll say it doesn't work, we don't deliberately mess things up and play it for laughs.

It's slightly anarchic and a bit scrappy." The TV show coincides with the publication of May's latest book, entitled How To Land An A330 Airbus And Other Vital Skills For The Modern Man, which does what it says on the cover.

Chapters include How To Escape From Butlins, How To Deliver Twins and the rather ominous sounding How To Prepare And Eat Your Best Mate.

"It's first and foremost entertainment, but the advice is accurate, and you could use it as a guide to landing an Airbus," explains May.

"There are lots of books about tying your shoelaces and how to win at pool, but these are things that aren't covered elsewhere, all based on scenarios that are highly unlikely but not impossible."

He's not worried people will take it seriously and barbecue bits of their friends? "I don't think they'll do it recreationally, I don't think your mate will become one of those dare foods like puffer fish. It's something to read and keep lodged in your subconscious and, should you find yourself stuck up in the Andes, you'll know what to do."

There's some crossover between the book and the series - duelling is tackled in both, as well as the art of wooing. May describes in the book how to play the Moonlight Sonata and writes: "The man who can rattle off this bit of Beethoven gets the girl."

But a return to traditional chivalry is not his main point.

"The problem is more that I see the portrayal of modern man as being a buffoon, he is wantonly useless and we're all rejoicing in the idea that blokes are hopeless and I don't think they should be. I think men should be dependable and useful."

"Man Lab is not a backlash against feminism, it's a backlash against blokes being lazy and incompetent. I don't think they've been enfeebled by women, they've enfeebled themselves and given up somehow."

For all his blokey hobbies and bravado, May's not afraid to embrace his female side and even admits to having a rather feminine take on interior design.

"I like brightly coloured furnishings - part of me must be a very small child! I've got my orange and lemon carpet and beanbags with flowers on them."

It's the kind of admission May's Top Gear co-presenters Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond would have a field day with, since May is generally the butt of their jokes.

In the New Year there'll be a new series of the motoring show, which May says the presenters still truly love.

"We're still up for it," he insists, despite conceding the trio are "all getting a bit old and tired".

"The day you can't be bothered to do it, you'd have to stop really. I just think we get worn out more quickly these days, it's beaten us up slightly."

But before Top Gear hits our screens, May's hoping Man Lab will be a hit with viewers.

"It's mucking about on a grand scale, but I just love it. I get up in the morning, I go to the Man Lab and make things out of wood - it's superb." James May's Man Lab starts on BBC Two tonight at 9pm
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Oct 31, 2010
Words:836
Previous Article:switchedon.
Next Article:Gentlemen back to haunt screen.

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