A lot of the other family-viewing type shows on offer when the kids were younger, I found pretty depressing. Talent show contests like ‘X Factor’ and ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ seemed crueler – homing in at times on people with mental health problems and encouraging the audience to mock them. Soaps could be grim and the News is often bad.
But Top Gear made us all smile. I am not interested in cars – the best thing about owning a kayak is that I can find the car in a supermarket carpark with it on the roof. But I enjoyed the stunts of dropping caravans from cranes to see which survived; those whacky races across deserts and mountains. It seemed to me that the biggest butt of Jeremy Clarkson’s jokes was the man himself; he generally ended up losing the race or appearing as a flustered, red-faced buffoon. The character he inhabited on the show was a clown. His co-presenters, James May and Richard Hammond adopted contrasting personas; the avuncular, slightly nerdy one; the boyish risk-taker: Athos and Aramis to Clarkson’s Porthos, in their homage to the Three Musketeers. At it’s best, the show had a joie de vivre and a cheerful silliness which raised the spirits.
Over the years, Clarkson’s blustering banter crossed the line of what was acceptable on many occasions.
But I am not prepared to join in the chorus banding him a racist. His rudeness was generalised: “What matters to lorry drivers? Murdering prostitutes”. Of course that’s not true, it’s a joke in bad taste and part of his schtick. Latterly, Clarkson had begun to seem more and more a caricature of himself. Before long, it was obvious he was going to go too far.
Now he has. He has been suspended over allegations of punching a colleague.
Clarkson’s exit probably signals a moment to end the show. It’s been going on long enough. The programme should go out in top gear; crash over a cliff. It should die a cowboy’s death: in a hail of bullets with its boots on, rather than limping on for years, sliding down the ratings until it’s cancelled for lack of interest.
As for Clarkson himself – he claims to be 54 but he could pass for a decade older. A period of time in a Yorkshire Ashram, doing naked yoga, hugging trees and drinking goats’ milk infused with seaweed would do him nothing but good.