Things that I think and do
I love Top Gear. Well no, I like Top Gear. Actually, even that isn’t quite accurate: I quite enjoy Top Gear, mostly when they have those are-they-aren’t-they-staged “races” or challenges and when James May does something charmingly nerdy.
Clarkson is the motoring journalism world’s equivalent of Marmite – for much of the time he’s an utter knob but he does occasionally crack an amusing line or say something of some small value. Which is always funnier when it isn’t racist. And Richard Hammond’s new persona on the show, which appears to consist of being lovable and excitable but ultimately an idiot, only ends up grating.
But overall it’s a pretty good show, and the unending repeats on Dave mean that it provided easy viewing during my student days in Leeds. The series that came out earlier this year was particularly entertaining, possibly because it contained a few more big-budget races and features.
I get the impression that these are what most of today’s audience wants to see. A few years ago you’d flick on to Top Gear and most of the show would be taken up with an extensive review of a ludicrously sleek and ridiculously expensive sports car, in which Clarkson (and it was generally Clarkson) would stalk around it and extol the practical virtues of having a monstrous engine that can produce lots of horses.
The new series, and quite a few of the recent repeats on TV, have been of the group challenges instead. The three of them go and buy a tatty old machine and drive huge distances while it slowly falls apart. Apart from the gushy nonsense towards the end about ‘falling in love with it’ and a car being ‘plucky and courageous’ (that’s usually Hammond) those episodes are pretty good.
I think the reason for this is that the three of them are outside the confines of the studio without a scripted technical analysis of the latest Ferra-cedes-gatti. They are much better, and funnier, in an environment which allows more spontaneity and reaction to events that are actually unfolding. Yes, some of it might be staged for comic effect. But, equally, amusing things are probably going to happen when you’re driving a cheap hatchback through an exotic country and encountering all kinds of mechanical, cultural and linguistic difficulties.
I realise that it’s a motoring show. I realise that, in reality, it is primarily supposed to be factual and informative. I also realise that people who are highly interested in unattainable and expensive fast cars will hate me for my critique of the show’s format.
But frankly, I don’t care how fast it takes any car to go from 0-60. What does it matter to me if it can reach 200mph; or even if it has a top speed of ‘only 100mph’? I care not how many horses have been crammed into the engine, nor (if I’m honest) what Jeremy Clarkson thinks of it.
I could go on a rant about how absolutely irrelevant it is to the vast majority of viewers that car x has a top speed of y, and how complaining that a car might only reach 120mph is irritating and ridiculous (why does it need to be that fast?). I do understand the concept that we like shiny fast things, and that Top Gear represents a fantasy world in which we have access to these supercars, and that for someone, somewhere, great importance is attached to Clarkson’s opinion on the latest Ferrari (excluding his immediate family).
But I won’t. Because a) I realise that it would be just as pointless an enterprise as discussing the torque of any given car in revered tones and b) people would moan at me.
I watch Top Gear in the way that a football fan only supports a team when they’re winning. I will happily watch them pootle through Nepal in a three-wheeled cart bought for under £30, but sitting through a twenty-minute spiel on how fast a four-wheeled chunk of speeding metal will go around an airfield? No thanks.