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How to be a first-class male

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 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 1980s.

"I didn't plan any of it," he says. "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," he says.

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.

"And our attempts to rescue a smuggler from the beaches south of Calais in the dead of night by silent sailing boat have failed, because of the weather.

"But we're trying to make honest television. 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."

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.

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 absolutely 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."

In the New Year there'll be a new series of Top Gear, 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 than we did seven or eight years ago, it's beaten us up slightly."


A few weeks back the show itself made headlines when The Stig unmasked himself as racing driver Ben Collins. Come January, there'll be a new man in the white costume, but May's sad one of the BBC's best-kept secrets came out.

"It's like telling children there's no Santa. It's a bit 'spoilsporty', but I think it'll be forgotten quite quickly."

Before Top Gear returns to 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 is on BBC2 on Sunday at 9pm