Dan Francis: an apology (of sorts).

I helped create the Halfords idents that accompany this Year’s Tour de France coverage on ITV4.

Having put 3 months of hard work into them – and the attendant documentary – I’m keen to see how they’re received. The web is of course the first place to look.

Not everyone likes everything and Twitter is an ideal platform for naysayers to vent their spleen. A handful of viewers don’t like the idents at all. To be fair, much of this was down to repetition – if you’re watching 3 hours of cycling, you’re going to see the same one more than once. Unless it’s supremely bland – and many other idents are – repetition will grate specially for an event that gets 5 hours coverage a day for 3 weeks.

Some people just don’t like Dan Francis – in the idents at least. It’s interesting that people are won over when they see the full documentary here:

It’s a strange one. At no point during the production did we think, “God, he’s so annoying, what are we gonna do?” It just didn’t occur to us. He was the perfect casting. He’s not an actor. We had the Tour de Francis idea first and cast specifically for someone with Frank or Francis in their name.

We wanted to represent the everyman – the chap holding down a day job, with a family and a genuine love of cycling. We wanted to show what happens when we challenge someone to take their cycling up a level, out of their comfort zone and emulate their heroes to some extent.

Dan, ambushed by a Frenchman talking French, of all things.

And we wanted to prove that a sub-£1000 Carrera Virago wouldn’t fall apart the minute you took it out on the road.

If you want to torture test a bike and the client is sponsoring the Tour de France, tackling some of its key stages makes perfect sense.

The truth is, we had one puncture on the flat (by the big wind turbines on Stage 6). Other than that, nothing snapped, sheered or failed.

Now, you can buy much better bikes if you can afford it and for many, many people, £1000 for any bike is just out if the question, so clearly we can’t please everyone.

But if you want to give non-cyclists an insight into why you ride or just enjoy a fellow enthusiast being given the chance to live the TdF dream, you could do worse than watch the documentary.

I promise you, he’s not as irritating as the idents might portray him.

As for the apology, it’s really directed at Dan. If we made you look annoying and prompt people to put their TV screen through, I am sorry. It wasn’t our intention or indeed our impression having watched them back – many more times than any viewers will ever see!

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Tour de Francis

Once I tried to sell on the idea of the Stevenage Grand Prix using the Vodafone / Lewis Hamilton connection.

It got costed up and everything (£500,000 including policing) but in the end it didn’t happen.

So here’s something I DID manage to get off the ground – this time for Halfords.

They’re sponsoring ITV’s coverage of the 2012 Tour de France and wanted to hero their £1000 carbon fibre bike, the Carrera Virago.

We proposed the Tour de Francis. Get a bloke with Francis in his name and get him to ride some of the key stages of Le Tour on the Virago.

So that’s what we did. Across 6 days, Dan Francis rode through Liege in Belgium, the Champagne region, the French Alps and crossed the finish line in Paris.

We cut a 15-minute film documenting his journey and took short clips from it to create the idents that accompany the TV coverage going in and out of the ad breaks – 24 in total to cover 3 weeks of racing.

Take a look. It’s quite unlike anything Halfords has ever done before. Hopefully it shows the Tour through the lens of an amateur overcoming his own challenges and getting an insight into what it must be like for the pros.

If you don’t have 15 minutes, here’s the trailer:

And how did the bike cope? Total repairs: one puncture. We had 2 spare bikes with us on tour, both redundant in the end.

If you’re curious enough about the behind the scenes stuff, you can take a look here: http://tourdefrancis.tumblr.com/

And I can heartily recommend the Halfords Cycling Facebook page for coverage of Le Tour and all things cycling.

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