Listening to the ATP guys discussing the ‘new’ BBC Top Gear, and noting the criticism on the Twitter and on Radio 4’s Media Show this week, I couldn’t help thinking, yes, but it stopped being any good a long time ago, didn’t it?
I was a young fan of the old, boring Top Gear, the one presented by William Woollard back in the day. The Clarkson Top Gear had its moments, when its budget was high and the stunts were a new thing, but then it quickly became a low-rent version of itself, growing ever more strident in its editorialising in an attempt to occlude the missing budget.
The thing about Clarkson’s Top Gear was it gave you three different types of Conservatism. There was James May, Telegraph columnist, a kind of traditional ‘one nation’ Conservative. There was Clarkson, libertarian neo-liberal, the quintessential representative of the Nasty Party. And there was Hammond, the local radio DJ who can’t believe his luck: the very image of a working class Tory.
All new Top Gear does is reveal the underlying staleness of the format. Chris Evans awkwardly trying to create camaraderie with Joey from Friends made everybody cringe, of course. Because if you’d thought about it for a second, the idea of the warm and fuzzy Ken Clarke-like James May bantering with the Trump-like Clarkson was similarly awkward.
Men talking about cars, like men talking about Golf, is simply their way of passing time before they die. Top Gear’s place on the Sunday schedule was to stave off that sinking feeling, that non-orgasmic la petite mort, you get when you remember it’s Monday tomorrow.