Tuesday 22 May 2007

On Top Gear

I have been reading Jeremy Clarkson’s articles ever since the early 90’s. My itinerant lifestyle means that I am very rarely in a position to buy the magazines that publish his musings so I rely for my weekly fix on the internet, especially the Times on line to which he is a regular contributor. Satellite TV allows me to enjoy what for me, is one of the best entertainment shows ever; incisive wit riding on a motoring theme combining two things that invariably put me in a very good mood, humour and exotic cars. The last thing I want when I settle down to a Sunday evening’s viewing before another week of hard slog then, is mind numbingly dull reviews of run-of-the-mill family saloons. I am surrounded by them every day on my way to work. The last time I was in any way inspired by a programme of that ilk was when Rula Lenska leant over the back seat of the car she was reviewing to demonstrate the roominess of that part of the vehicle's interior. I can assure you, it wasn't the contours of the split folding rear seats that entranced me.

No other motoring show has ever been so successful and therein lies a problem. So many still try to categorise it as a motoring programme when quite clearly it is entertainment and lifestyle; the entertainment being the antics, and the lifestyle the exotica most of us can only dream about. Why is it then, that a programme should be censured for not appealing to the masses, even though it attracted over eight million viewers in UK alone? I would be no more interested in a holiday programme, just as an off the cuff example, that claimed guest houses in Blackpool and donkey rides on the beach as its high points than a wee small hours of the morning Open University dissertation on yak farming on a ping-pong ball. I want exotic sun drenched villas and scantily clad maids dripping in sun tan oil. So why must I sacrifice elements of the show I enjoy so much so that a few anoraks can marvel at the fact that the latest Hyundai is fourpence cheaper than a Daewoo on a run through the town centre to Sainsbury’s and back?

No wonder Mr Clarkson is depressed.

And if anyone is in any doubt as to his state of mind, read the last couple of months or so of his articles in the Timesonline. Mr. Clarkson, nil illigitum carborundum, my friend, nil iligitum…

As with any delightful new experience, its devotees want more. That’s why people overdose; once they get used to one high, they want ever increasing ecstasy and if they can’t get it they become bored, boring or, much to the relief of those around them, kill themselves. After so many years, it must be increasingly difficult to come up with the fresh ideas needed to feed such widespread addiction. A significant change could very well be disastrous and ratings tumble. You are only as good as your last job so who wants to preside over the demise of a success? Certainly not Mr Clarkson who despite, or maybe because of, his morbid preoccupation with his fast approaching half-century, is still worried about the need to earn his crust for a few years more at least. I could not imagine the anguish of a man who contributed so much to the success of a programme overhearing the pub conversation dismissing Top Gear with, 'Oh, yeah, TG. Used to be good but isn't it boring now?'

Perhaps it is this uncertainty that manifests itself as brief, but worryingly persistent rumours of JC's departure, evident doubts over the tenth series format and content, and an uncertainty as to when it will finally be aired. I am writing from the middle of Africa so if any of these issues have been resolved already then I apologise for my ignorance but right now, from where I am sitting, it all looks so unnecessarily glum. I can understand, though, that having attempted to shoot a Reliant Robin into space and ski jumped a Mini, it is going to be hard to top that sort of outrageous drama.

Maybe a brief hiatus then. Less of the really crazy stuff that demands ever increasing doses of the utterly audacious, the formulation of which no doubt taxes the creativity and imagination of content managers and scares lawyers and insurance brokers witless. But what to fill the void with? Staid reviews of tin clothed motorised roller skates? Please no!

Top Gear has three good presenters. Clearly defined individuals in their own right. Eloquent and articulate, maybe some of their own interests could be exploited? I could imagine James May presenting an ‘old’ classic which, by name and commonality alone would realise very little if sold, yet the owner has spent a fortune restoring it to a breathtakingly new and, more importantly, modernised condition providing a contra point to the current crop of faux retro offerings from the motor industry. There are enough ‘eccentrics’ about who have done so. I can imagine him highlighting the best, unsung heroes, cars that really should have done better but for whatever reason never achieved the high demand they merited. The bargain buys. That should go someway to alleviate the thirst of those that long for car reviews and the lust of many who want a lifestyle they really cannot afford.

The ‘Hamster’ is evidently very interested in all things scientific. I am sure that he could come up with some very interesting video articles on the latest innovations, the weirder and zanier the better. And what about addressing the conundrum of youngsters who want the sexiest wheels on the planet, for severely limited financial outlay; and their parents who prefer their offspring to drive the safest, most boring car ever? How about getting a representative sample of cars and an equally representative sample of new drivers (remembering that girls will think differently to boys and Vive la Difference) and letting them decide? That would go even further to satisfy the review hungry, appeal to an up and coming future audience and I am sure that in the hands of the Top gear presenters, it would be bloody amusing. Maintain Mr Hammond’s credentials as the fastest man on Top Gear (or is that Captain Slow since the Veyron?) and get him to drive a Formula 1 car, or an Indy car, how about a Nascar?

Let Jeremy continue his assault on the lunatic fringe that man the barricades of political correctness. Let him answer the questions that many of us have, those whose mortgages are now thankfully paid off and have rediscovered disposable income and now want to know what they should buy. Is there a new car out there that would fit the bill or should it be Jeremy’s nemesis, God forbid, a beautifully restored classic?

Critics say the programme bears little relationship to reality, encourages a yob culture and is politically incorrect. The first two criticisms are utter nonsene but I cannot deny that TG is wildly PC insensitive. I do relish, however, the fact that at least someone has the couraqge to fling the garbage back in the faces of the severely mentally challenged, arrogant twits who tell us what is correct. Nevertheless, it wouldn’t hurt to involve the public more. Clearly, eight million viewers are not sufficient endorsement (the head of BBC must be bewildered by the unfairness of it all), so get some of the public in front of the cameras and onto our screens. It is good to see the interaction in the studio between audience and presenters; even better to let a lucky few get their hands on the cars. Now wouldn’t that be absolutely compatible with a programme designed to make us dream? There’s a limited number of ‘Stars’ out there but an awful lot of normal folk, the hard working man-on-the-street joe now used to interactive programmes, reality TV and instant on-line surveys. Get some of them involved, after all, it is these same citizens who have come out in the defence of a damn good programme.

Top Gear obviously likes to travel so how about showing us some of the best drives in the world? And I don’t mean the usual crop of Italian alpine curves or romanticised US highways, I mean the best in the world. And those of us that have travelled, I mean really travelled, all know of such places. Top Gear is a global phenomenon now so why not appeal to a global audience. There may be occasions when Jeremy would need reminding that when in Rome, especially if the locals carry AK 47’s, it might be better not to poke a verbal stick in their eyes but his commentary would still undoubtedly be hilarious. If he cheers up, that is.

I see plenty of mileage in Top Gear but it might have to get off the Autostrada and explore a few more B roads but please, please don’t let it turn into a pastiche of the really inane 5th Gear or a TV equivalent of ‘What Car?’ Like I said, Top Gear is entertainment. It provides an hour-long weekly escape from the day to day drudgery that most people have to endure.

There are over eight million in UK and a whole bunch more abroad who like Top Gear as it is. For those few who don't, there are dozens of other channels out there, both terrestial and satellite and the average four year old can help you switch between them so there is no excuse really. No-one has tied you to a chair with telephone flex and is forcing you to watch Top Gear. If you still insist on statistics, go into Smith’s or Exclusive Books and look around. There’s shelf loads of it and for a few quid, you can exercise your God given right to overdose without boring the rest of us to death.


  1. Jeremy Clarkson is no more and no less than a complete wanker.

  2. But he's a bloke, a normal bloke, of course he is a wanker! Bloody funny though. Guess that makes me a wanker as well?


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