Hells on wheels: Top Gear is back with more prime-time pranks but I'm nostalgic for the days of non-exploding caravans and practicality

 

Share

Top Gear; the show that never grew up. Indeed, if anything, as Harold Wilson once remarked of Tony Benn, it has immatured with age. In fact, this week, the show's executive producer, Andy Wilman, revealed in an interview about series 21, due to start this Sunday, that "almost everything we'd filmed was, once again, aimed at people with a mental age of nine". It shows.

I may be one of the few "petrol heads" who doesn't particularly enjoy Top Gear. Some of the presenters' antics are beyond cringe-worthy. The stand-out episode for puerility was the notorious "Mexican" discussion. This kicked off with the news that a Mexican firm was producing a sports car, the Mastretta MXT, but the obvious problem for Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond was that it was made in Mexico. Cue a string of predictable, lazy, borderline-racist but above all unfunny quips about Mexicans being lazy and eating sick-looking food. I would like to think I detected a flicker of unease on May's face, but can't be sure. Anyway, it was unworthy of any schoolboy.

Their "special" in India recycled dreadful old stereotypes, a sort of It Ain't Half Hot Mum on wheels. Recently, I caught a bit of a show where the trio reviewed some Chinese cars, with the usual condescension: for example, there was some business with a "Chinese Stig" doing martial arts. God knows what was going on there. It was on Dave, where Top Gear repeats seem to run on some sort of loop.

To be fair to them, the Top Gear guys are also insulting about their homeland. Our car workers are derided as "hairy-arsed Brummies". British cars of the Seventies – Triumph Dolomite, Princess, Rover SD1 – are wrecked in the name of proving that they were rubbish; yet I doubt that a contemporary Datsun, Renault or Audi would have stood up to the same abuse any better. Hopeless stuff.

But despite, or perhaps because, of its casual offensiveness, the programme enjoys great success here and abroad. It must now be the case that, at any given moment, someone, somewhere on earth is watching Clarkson, May and Hammond "cocking about", to use Jeremy's own expression, blowing up caravans and the like.

I am old/sad enough to recall the early days of Top Gear. Back then, it was, if you'll forgive the expression, a pedestrian affair. Presenters such as Angela Rippon, William Woollard and the still-wonderful motoring journalist Sue Baker were thoroughly practical. Thirty-odd years ago, buying a car represented a much more significant investment for (typically) the family man; it was a serious business.

Top Gear would tell you what the new Ford Escort, Vauxhall Cavalier or Austin Mini Metro was like to drive on the motorway; how expensive to run; whether it was likely to be reliable; and, yes, how big the boot was. The presenters never set anything alight. Sadly, that must have included the viewers, though it did well for a BBC2 audience at the time. So, the BBC changed everything and the Age of Clarkson began.

My problem is that I would like an intelligent, consumerist TV show that told me what I need to know. Every attempt to compete with Top Gear has failed because it copied the format – three "personality" presenters, someone burning rubber on a racetrack, and self-consciously "wacky" stunts – but without Top Gear's vast budget (a big BBC secret).

Obviously, I'm envious of watching car nuts having the BBC licence payer fund their fun and holidays abroad, but I've nothing against Top Gear celebrating its golden jubilee in due course, if the viewers still want it (though it may run out of ideas/fuel long before). I just want someone to drop down a gear and make a telly show about cars that I'd want to watch.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss