Aired On Channel 4 at 21:00 on Monday 28th May 2007
Once upon a time there were three businessmen: Vance Miller, a gunslinger if ever I saw one; Peter Williams, who was 70, military and starchy; and Tony Caldeira, who was big in cushions until the bottom fell out.
They all decided to try their luck in China.
Brits Get Rich In China (Channel 4) would have been much less fun without Vance. He sells cheap Chinese kitchens in Rochdale and, finding his suppliers were ripping him off, he arrived for a quick word. It was always the same word. He criss-crossed China in a coach with "Olympic Inspection Committee" painted on it, which, he found, smoothed his way remarkably.
Vance gets to the point like a heat-seeking missile: "I ain't going to no wholesaler. If I want a kitchen, I chop down a tree." Indeed, when last seen, he was on his way to inner Mongolia, with his nine-year-old son, Kent, to chop down an oak forest that was going cheap ("lots of kitchen doors there"). To travel with him was a commercial education. Kent, an adventurous child, urged Vance to try the donkey's penis, a local delicacy, which Mr Lee had ordered for him. Vance strongly suspected Mr Lee, who owed him money, of taking the piss. It was just one of the cultural bumps you hit in China.
Since you ask, simply enormous.
When Mr Wang tried to sell him damaged granite worktops, Vance immediately bought the quarry. Surprisingly reasonable at £30,000, if, admittedly, a death trap. That's China for you, dirt cheap and dangerous.
Whole Chinese cities make one product. There is Condom City, Zip City, Bra City and Toilet City. Vance drove through streets lined with lavatory pans. "You'll see all the posh names in these factories. All the companies you think you would never see." His voice took on a high, affected note: "Oo, it's an English company! Got their own factory in Stoke-on-Trent. Have they toss! Made in some sweatshop here." In Tap City he met a cut-price cowboy called Black Horse ("nobody likes him, so I liked him as soon as I heard about him"), and beat down the asking price of a shower from £100 to £50 by dismantling it and costing every component.
He is surfing a tsunami. Three hundred million Chinese are moving from the country to the city in the biggest migration in human history. In Britain, the tide is going out. As Tony said, "Everything was made in England, and life was great and we were all happy." Then he switched out the lights in his empty factory. Vance has bought up bankrupt British machinery, the pitiful carcases of dead companies, for a song. He is building a new factory on the north Korean border and arrived to find, in a fusillade of fucks, that only the wall was built. "It's more expensive than the fucking Great Wall of fucking China."
On the border of Mongolia, Mr Wong, who owed him £75,000, had arranged an ovation saying, with some emotion, that he was their saviour. Without him, the village would be reduced to selling ducks. Without him there would be no school. Vance let it go at that. After all, Mr Wong made the cheapest doors in China.
Unlike Vance, Tony and Peter relied absolutely on a Chinese partner. Tony trusted Miss Di and her sister's father-in-law to build him a factory in a paddy field while he fended off offers of massage in his hotel suite. It was built on time and the village is thinking of changing its name to Cushion City. Peter relied on a local tycoon to market his air-conditioning device and do the wining, dining and wenching the tycoon claimed was essential, while Peter watched war films in his hotel. Peter has yet to see the money.
Alistair Cook and Rob Davis produced, directed and filmed it all. And enjoyed the ride like little boys clinging to a stagecoach as it headed for the new frontier.