Top Gear in the Northern Territory in 2014 (Season 22)

The End of The Beginning

Recently, a former boss of mine with more passion for what he does than almost anyone I’ve met, left an amazing job to take the “EXIT door into the unknown” as he puts it. When I heard the news I sent him this text:

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. Winston Churchill


The internet is awash today following the decision by the Director General of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to not renew the employment contract of Jeremy Clarkson, thus effectively killing off Top Gear.

In the past weeks I’ve seen tweet after tweet slide by containing words akin to “oaf” and “…about bloody time!”. My favourite so far has been a piece written by Fiona Smith from the Australian Financial Review titled: Sacking Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson is right, but kills the cash cow. Ms Smith’s piece is factually bang-on and very accurate but she completely misunderstands why Top Gear is the cash cow it is.

“You have Clarkson, who says the sort of things that many people think, but never say, the speed-freak fan boy of Hammond, and the more sedate and bordering-on-urbane James May, who represents all those nice middle-aged men in chinos who wistfully hang about classic car rallys.”

However, like most people writing about Jeremy, I suspect they, like the author of the aforementioned story have not watched much — if any — episodes of Top Gear. They certainly don’t know what James means when he talks about “the fizz”. So if any other writers out there read this missive before writing further about Jeremy or Top Gear today — please don’t write about the show like you’ve watched every episode of all 22 seasons.

The problem I have with all the articles and the vitriol that Jeremy has endured this past fortnight is that if the producer from the BBC had done his job correctly, he’d have had the kitchen at the hotel remain open ensuring his top talent — and cash cow — was adequately fed and watered. I imagine the CEO of any large company would ensure an underling would make provisions in the case of a late arrival to a venue for an investor presentation the following day. Was Jeremy really that out of line?

Top Gear is a business. A bloody successful one. It generates significant income for the BBC from the licensing of the hour long TV show, which on average only runs 14 episodes per year and pulls in 5.3m people in the UK — every Sunday night! They are numbers any television network executive would sell his mother for.

Beyond the TV show, there are the DVDs, SVOD specials, the magazines, the massively successful live shows, the fridge magnets, the clothing, and the presenters’ special interest spin-off shows such that would not be remotely entertained by the BBC if it were not for the three blokes from the UK living like 12 year-olds every week and drawing huge audiences.

And that’s the point of Top Gear — that boyish enthusiasm. Not the off-colour jokes (all of which I secretly laugh at), the insults, the double entendre, nor the achingly embarrassing moments where a script, a lawyer, and a health and safety bureaucrat collide and ruin it for everyone.

If it’s not already clear, I must disclose that I’m a huge car fan. Loved them all my life. Still do. If it’s got four wheels (or even two or three), I’ll have a go. Back to the story.

My in-laws were very lucky to have renowned Australian motoring writer Bill Tuckey move in next door when they lived in Merimbula many years ago. I was in heaven! Bill and I (and my father in-law) talked cars for many an evening there on Collins Street. The joy of talking about and sharing your passion with two other people who share that passion is one of life’s really valuable moments.

This is what watching Top Gear is all about. Not the boring stuff like fuel consumption or braking distances or boot space, rather the way a car can make you feel.

Watching Jeremy, Richard or James review a car that they genuinely love — or were really surprised by — is like being given an over-the-shoulder view to a young child learning to ride a bike or a teenager’s first kiss. Top Gear often mocked itself for being the worlds most watched factual programme. I think you could at times replace the word factual with emotional. There are consistent moments on Top Gear where you saw raw passion and love (and hatred) for cars and sitting on the other side of the world, I could relate to that.

James recently test drove the new Mercedes-AMG GT and made me think — I wonder if it’s really like that to drive because he it gave him the fizz? When Jeremy drove the BMW i8 recently and he had to pick between it and the new BMW M3 to drive back to London, he chose the i8 — genuinely surprising me (the viewer) and himself. And when Richard piloted a Series 1 Land Rover Defender up a dam wall I’m pretty sure he wet himself, however, he’d never have climbed behind the wheel if he didn’t love the car — he even had the remnants of a Series 1 “Landy” in his shed at home.

This is the point of Top Gear — it’s a show about passion, and people brimming with passion will occasionally explode. Sure beats being boring.


Update: March 26

I’ve updated this story to reflect the fact that @JeremyClarkson will not have his contract renewed by the BBC.

I am also taking this opportunity to call complete bullshit on an article written by @natrobe in Forbes today, for falling foul of the very point of my post. In this article Ms Robehmed quotes 5 incidents (or “gaffes”) of which 4 are completely subjective. The other, I think Jezza should take on the chin.

My favourite was this:

4. He Sets A Bad Example
In July 2008 Clarkson was reprimanded by BBC heads for drinking a gin and tonic while behind the wheel of a pick-up truck.

What the author failed to mention here is that anyone who watched this episode — Jeremy and James race a Toyota HiLux ute to the Magnetic North Pole against Richard on a sled being piloted by Matty McNair and pulled by a dozen or so dogs — could not help but smile when with GnTs in-hand, Jeremy and James rightly claim they are “sailing” as they were driving on a frozen body of water — not on a motorway.

Again, the very essence of Top Gear.