Clarkson: SOS (Save Our Show)

The Top Gear presenter tells of his colleague Richard Hammond's first words after surviving a 300mph crash - and his fight to keep the programme on the air
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The Independent Online

A combative Jeremy Clarkson yesterday pronounced his Top Gear colleague Richard Hammond to be winning his battle for a full recovery - but declared that he must now fight to ensure Hammond has a show to return to.

Clarkson, speaking at length for the first time since Hammond crashed a jet-propelled dragster at 300mph while filming for the car programme, wrote in his Sun column: "In the wee small hours of Thursday night ... Richard Hammond suddenly sat up in bed, opened his eyes and asked what had happened.

"'You've been in a car accident,' I said. 'Was I driving like a twat?' he asked, before getting out of bed and walking shakily to the lavatory."

Yesterday, doctors at Leeds General Infirmary said that Hammond, who suffered a "significant brain injury", had made good progress, and so was moved to a medical ward. There were further upbeat assessments from his wife, Mindy: "He's starting to look like Richard again. He's tough as hell and on his way back." She also said the family had been overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of messages on websites, plus the cards and flowers that have flooded in.

The background to the crash is now beginning to emerge. Clarkson disclosed yesterday that the idea for the jet car stunt came from Hammond. He wrote: "The day before his fateful encounter, I shook Hammond's hand and said goodbye. 'I'll probably be killed,' he joked with a huge beaming smile ... He was looking forward to it. He likes the buzz."

As for the cause, Clarkson wrote: "Film footage seems to point the finger of blame at a tyre," and reveals that Hammond was probably going in excess of 315mph when he crashed. He added: "People with beards and dirty fingernails are now saying he should never have been in that car doing that kind of speed ... Rubbish ... A hamster could do it. In fact a hamster did."

Of the crash itself, Clarkson wrote: "As the car began a series of sickening rolls ... Richard's head was taking a ferocious pounding as his helmet smashed into the protective steel cage ... He will have been subjected to maybe 100g. This means his brain will have weighed 71 stone ... He landed upside down with his helmet full of earth, buried in the ground."

But the made-for-TV stunt, reminiscent of the risks the late Australian wildlife daredevil Steve Irwin used to take, has given fresh wind to those who have criticised the show - not always accurately - for having an irresponsible attitude to speed and ecologically unsound stunts.

A car-bound Hammond was once plunged into a swimming pool to test his ability to escape underwater. However, the show's presenters do not usually take such risks. Last week's ill-fated stunt was unusual in exposing a presenter to clear danger. More typical was the filming for the planned new series of a train crashing into a car on a level crossing, as reported in Rail magazine.

Stunts notwithstanding, the programme's popularity depends on the chemistry between the loud-mouthed but witty Clarkson, acerbic James "Captain Slow" May, and chirpy enthusiast Hammond. But this show, which is watched in 100 countries and boasts a bestselling spin-off magazine with editions in 13 languages, is now under pressure.

Clarkson wrote yesterday: "The campaign to have us taken off the air will now be ramped up, fuelled by the environmentalists and spearheaded by muddle-headed road-safety campaigners." He added: "Richard is winning his fight. And now mine begins. To make sure that he has a show to come back to."

The BBC confirmed yesterday that the final part of the Best of Top Gear, due to be screened on 1 October, has been postponed indefinitely. The new series of Top Gear will not now start on 8 October, as intended. In a statement, the BBC said: "Given the circumstances, it's still too early to say when the series will return." Hammond's show Dangerous Britain, in which he was to tackle various hazards, has already been scrapped.

* Car enthusiasts have raised £60,000 in donations, via, for the air ambulance that took Hammond to hospital.

Additional research by Helen Philpott