Louis Theroux on alcohol, Top Gear and TV pleasures

The documentary maker says no matter what will happen in the world, one TV institution will remain a constant

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Louis Theroux might be one of Britain’s most well-known documentary makers, but what are his own viewing pleasures? He gives us his thoughts on watching children’s TV with his kids, his upcoming documentary, and what refreshments he likes best when on the couch.

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If you were making an at-home documentary about yourself, what would we see in your living room?

Stacks of DVDs for voting in the Baftas that I haven’t quite got through yet, even though the awards were a couple of months ago. And I have kids aged eight, ten and 18 months, so you would find games consoles and lots of wires. Plus coffee-table books, random things, children’s books. That kind of stuff.

What would you make, professionally, of this set-up: undisciplined kids running wild and adult laziness?

I’m not necessarily scanning for clues when I make documentaries. I’m sort of a normalish, maybe slightly nosy person and I would not usually start in the living room, I would invite myself into the kitchen. There’s a sort of projected sort of friendliness to putting the kettle on. Once or twice I’ve actually said, “Would you mind making me a tea or a coffee, because it’s going to give the interview a more friendly feel.”

Would we find Louis Theroux taking tea in front of his television?

I’m one of those guys who likes, as they say, a glass or two of wine every night.

Yet your latest documentary deals with the dangers of alcohol abuse and its associated depression.

I think everyone understands the urge to want to escape by getting into an altered consciousness. That’s partly, I suppose, what my nightly glass, or glasses, of wine are about. It’s to do with taking the edges off things and making the world feel a bit warmer and fuzzier. I would say I have experienced the normal sort of shades of sadness, certainly nothing pathological. But it’s not hard to relate to feelings of loneliness.

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It can’t be that lonely when the many smaller Theroux join you on the sofa.

No, and I’ve discovered we are living in a time of high-quality children’s TV, of which the BBC seems to be in the vanguard. To be talking about CBBC is a bit sad, but there’s a drama, Hank Zipzer, with Henry Winkler – who I obviously know from Happy Days – that is very well directed.

Do you approve of your children’s other viewing choices?

You can rule out the 18-month-old; the television could be an aquarium as far as he’s concerned. But the other two have got definite tastes and I like a lot of it, especially a Dick and Dom show called Absolute Genius. Horrible Histories, obviously, is terrific, and there’s Blue Peter, which is still very “Blue Peter”. Empires will come and go, the Soviet Union collapses, China can become a superpower, but Blue Peter stays the same.

Surely you’re young enough to be a fully signed-up member of online culture?

No, definitely not. But I do stream, I use iTunes and I will be getting Amazon shows like the new I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Top-Gear. I will follow it as a news story, I think, more than anything, because it will be so indicative of how TV brands carry on. Whether there is loyalty, that really interests me. Does the Top Gear brand exist without Clarkson, May and Hammond? That’s the question, isn’t it?

As a BBC broadcaster you no doubt want the rebooted Chris Evans-hosted Top Gear to do well.

As a BBC broadcaster I really do hope that the new incarnation of Top Gear with Chris Evans does well.

It hasn’t started very well though, has it?

Actually, I thought doing “doughnuts” on Whitehall was good for Top Gear. Better that than being actively racist about people with different skin tones.

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Louis Theroux: Drinking to Oblivion begins on BBC2 tonight (Sunday 24th April) at 9.00pm