I like Top Gear. There, I’ve said it.
And as of today I might have to say I liked Top Gear, because Jeremy Clarkson has been informed that his contract, which expires this month, won't be renewed. Even though the show is set to continue - albeit not until 2016 - without Clarkson it surely won't be the same.
Now, I expect the comments section below to fill with derision from car enthusiasts on two fronts. Firstly, plenty of people will say that if you hit someone at work, you deserve to get sacked. And, secondly, they will say that they stopped watching Top Gear long ago, because they can’t stand watching a) a show about cars that has become an entertainment show that happens to feature cars, b) a once great show that has run out of imagination and c) a show whose host(s) appear to have become so rich that they expect to live in a very different reality to the people that have made them so rich.
Perhaps there is an element of truth in each of those statements. It's true, you can't go around hitting people and expect to get away with it, although I'd question what good comes of this outcome in the cold light of day. And, Lord knows, when yet another Stig-shaped bubble bath fills my Christmas stocking each year I’m first in line to curse the show for providing an outlet for unimaginative aunties’ and uncles’ gift ideas. But I can’t help myself: I like Top Gear, and I hope today’s announcement doesn’t spell the end of what I like.
First and foremost, I like the fact that Top Gear makes me laugh. Better still, it makes my seven-year old son laugh. There are, I’m sure, more wholesome bonding experiences for a father and son - and plenty that don’t require a deft finger hovering over the fast forward button at all times - but here’s a show that appeals to both of us on all sorts of different levels that Noddy and Peter Rabbit just don't reach.
I like the fact there are three extra members of our household, discussed and described as Jeremy, James and Richard as though they have just popped out of the room, but will surely be back soon. I’ve never met them, and nor has anyone in my family. Frankly, I’m not sure I’d want to, because the blokes we talk about so familiarly are well-loved as we imagine them, stupid, exaggerated personalities and all. That doesn’t happen by chance; it’s one of the many, many skills of the people who make the show.
Another one of those skills, I suspect, is that they all work extremely hard - as do the team behind them. I’m a great admirer of good, old fashioned hard graft, and I know enough to state that you can’t make a show as consistently good as Top Gear - same old recurring jokes or otherwise - without burning the midnight oil. The few people I’ve met who work for the Top Gear brand in some shape or form are, without fail, brilliantly talented. Combining talent and hard graft so successfully for so long is nothing short of admirable. Applying those principles to everything associated with the show - from live performances to websites and print magazines - requires a depth of talent that is scarcely imaginable. Yet it happens.
But then I also like the fact that, from time to time, they screw up. The most recent example was the dissection of modern day Peugeot, which probably looked hilarious as a script, but which came across as a naive, crass and very, very stupid way of making a point. But then it was so badly done, that there was a certain irony about it all: if you’re going to call an entire car company out for being relentlessly rubbish, you need to be at the top of your game. On this occasion, they weren’t. In failure came a certain satisfaction in knowing these guys are human too..
I say ‘too’ because (and please excuse the egotistical part of this) Top Gear also has a habit for calling out Autocar for what it perceives as errors of judgement. I may have missed a few, but in recent history we’ve been lampooned in both of the past two Christmas DVDs, once for saying the Alfa 4C was hard to drift and once for a reason I forget, and taken to task over the effects of electronically assisted steering on Porsche 911s. I might well argue they got it wrong, but frankly I’m too flattered by the fact they care. People have different opinions, and the world is a better place for them being out in the open.
Even then, we’ve also had our moments of togetherness, none more so than the day the Stig visited the office and handed over the keys to the Hammerhead Eagle i-Thrust electric car for a the full road test treatment. It was fun… although I remember the editor of the time receiving a sack load of mail from people demanding their money back for the eight pages of road test we gave over to it.
That’s the problem, of course. Serious car fans find it hard to admit they like Top Gear for all sorts of reasons. But I reckon that’s narrow minded. Top Gear puts the subject we adore on mainstream television, and serves it up to tens of millions of people worldwide. It is fronted by (and presumably worked on across the board) by people who appear to care passionately about cars and the companies that make them. Yes, they do celebrity too, but they do it with a Vauxhall Astra. Nobody else could get away with that. And as well as the ability to entertain, they have never lost the courage of their convictions, which can’t be easy when everything you do is put under the microscope.
It remains to be seen if today’s news is good, bad or indifferent for the show or the people that make and present it. There are examples of the BBC parting company with supposedly brilliantly talented people (think Jonathan Ross) and being all the better for it (thank you, Graham Norton).
But if it changes one iota of what we had with Top Gear, I fear that it can only be bad news.