Un­holy Trin­ity

NZ Autocar - - Road Watch -

royal fam­ily a ‘soap opera’. He once also said that there is no more wretched oc­cu­pa­tion than try­ing to make the British laugh, and the fol­low­ing Mug­geridge quote, to me, en­cap­su­lates the true mean­ing of com­edy:

“Bad hu­mour is an eva­sion of re­al­ity; good hu­mour is an ac­cep­tance of it.”

Ap­ply this tenet to the evo­lu­tion of Top Gear dur­ing the Clark­son era, and you soon be­come aware that by Mug­geridge’s def­i­ni­tion of amuse­ment that the show drifted from the realm of good hu­mour into the bad. The beau­ti­fully-staged races be­tween cars and other forms of trans­port be­gan to de­gen­er­ate into travel spe­cials de­signed to mock, em­bar­rass or an­tag­o­nise the cit­i­zens of the coun­tries trav­elled through. It was like the cen­tral theme of the Top Gear pre-pro­duc­tion plan­ning meet­ings had be­come ‘who shall we piss off this week?’

The Ar­gentina and In­dia travel spe­cials were low points that al­most stopped me watch­ing the show. But I kept com­ing back to Top Gear when­ever there was a re­run fea­tur­ing May at his most in­sid­i­ously la­conic, and Ham­mond at his pre-head in­jury height of of­fer­ing lu­cid coun­ter­points to Clark­son’s bul­ly­ing ar­gu­ments, which all used to con­cern sub­jects that I could in­stantly re­late to. I once got to talk to JC af­ter one of the Top Gear Live shows, and was im­me­di­ately im­pressed by his off-cam­era per­son­al­ity. We banged on about cars like two en­thu­si­asts talk­ing in a pub, and he apol­o­gised for not hav­ing more time avail­able so that the con­ver­sa­tion could con­tinue (it was about 2am by then).

The young Clark­son cer­tainly made an im­pres­sion on Clive James, the mul­ti­tal­ented Aus­tralian-born racon­teur who gave JC his first break in TV.

“He was that rarest thing in Eng­land, the ar­tic­u­late bloke. He was too big, too burly and he was full of blus­ter, but he could write it and say it. I was very proud that he made his first cou­ple of se­ries un­der our logo ( Watch­maker, a TV pro­duc­tion com­pany owned by James and Richard Drewett).”

“Thus the Watch­maker of­fice be­came the launch­ing pad for a globe­girdling ca­reer that left mine look­ing the size of a game of mar­bles, a clear case of tele­vi­sion as a new kind of British Em­pire. I didn’t re­sent his suc­cess and I still watch his pro­grammes with a pro­fes­sional ad­mi­ra­tion for how he can pack so much into a para­graph, al­though few of his opin­ions are con­gru­ent with my own.”

There’s no doubt that the com­ing BBC vs. Ama­zon mo­tor­ing show bat­tle will be an ab­so­lute spec­ta­cle from both me­dia chan­nels. But be­hind all the ex­plo­sions, skids, crashes, and spews it’s my wish that the hu­mour will be real rather than con­trived. Let’s hope that the trio of for­mer pre­sen­ters can re­cap­ture what once made them ex­cel­lent view­ing, and that the BBC can come up with a re­place­ment show that is as com­pelling to watch. Other­wise, that well-re­ported punch and ev­ery­thing that has taken place since will have all been for nought.

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