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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Only a game? Far from it

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speaking at the Grand Mosque in Mosul  

The al-Baghdadi doctrine: leading British Muslims offer their response

Independent Voices
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil