And On That Bombshell…. – What The BBC Television Programme “Top Gear” Is Really All About
If you cradle Richard Hammond’s head in your hands and press his ear gently to yours, like a conch shell, you can hear the distant sound of Jeremy Clarkson.Wave after wave of insensitive and inappropriate comments booming and whooshing in majestic miniature. Or so the producers of “Top Gear” would have you believe.
It suits the makers of this show for its viewers to buy into the scenario that Jeremy Clarkson rules the roost, that Richard Hammond is his yappy lap dog and that James May is some sort of itinerant toff who just wandered into the studio one day, disapproved of both of them and then just never went away.
Scratch past the surface of Top Gear and you will see that this is clearly not the case. Clarkson, Hammond and May are all blokey blokes in their own way. Clarkson is the bluff Little Englander, though only for money. He doesn’t believe in his own opinions in the way that Richard Littlejohn does, he only pretends to because he gets paid a great deal of money to do so.
Hammond is a sort of hipster conman type who could probably charm most people into doing anything. He does dress like a particularly happening thitreen year old boy though, which is a bit disconcerting. In fact he dresses like all the cool kids did on my 1982 school trip to France, which is doubly weird for me. Though that’s probably because I was never one of those kids.
James May might be posh, but when an engine needs fixing or something needs building from scratch, he’s the one that always takes over. The other two pretend to stop him but you know they’ll just let him get on with it eventually.
Years ago, Top Gear was just a boring programme about cars. A really boring programme about cars. So boring in fact that even BBC2 had to “reluctantly let it go” in 2001. The following year though, some bright spark had an idea and Top Gear arose reborn from its ashes. This bright spark had a moment of insight which is rare in the world of television. A programme about cars was boring because cars are not intrinsically exciting. So the idea was “make a programme about cars which has cars in it but isn’t really about cars at all.
Look at what Top Gear really is and you’ll find that it’s actually a cross between Jerome K Jerome’s “Three Men In A Boat” and “Last of the Summer Wine.” When Clarkson, Hammond and May swan around America in muscle cars, they are really Jerome, George and Carl from Three Men in a Boat. When they play conkers with caravans, they are really Foggy, Compo and Clegg from Last of the Summer Wine.
A simple idea. Rip off two tried and tested formulas and superimpose them on stuff about cars. Result? The biggest cash cow the BBC has produced since Monty Python. Genius.
And it is genius. I have no interest in cars, but I still watch Top Gear. Jeremy Clarkson’s remarks make me wince, but I still watch Top Gear. The whole world knows that three men like Clarkson, Hammond and May would never gravitate towards each other in real life. Yet the whole world still watches Top Gear.
The irony is though that Clarkson, Hammond and May have gravitated towards each other in real life. Watch the special when they’re on the road away from home and there is clear and actual friendship. They express their love for each other in the way that blokey blokes do, by playing pranks on each other and mercilessly taking the piss. If a blokey bloke likes you, that’s what he does. If he doesn’t like you, he either ignores you or punches you in the mouth.
The new Top Gear has been going for 12 years now. It’s critics question how much longer it can go on. The answer would seem to be as long as people want to watch blokey blokes mercilessly ripping each other to bits. So the Top Gear critics might have quite some time to wait before they get their wish. Unless Clarkson does something really, really stupid.
In the meantime, here’s a Top Gear montage.
© Copyright Michael Grimes 2014