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On the Top Gear phenomenon, and the bits they left out

Posted on 5 July 2010 | 12:07am

As readers of my diaries know – keep on plugging son, keep on plugging, because it helps flog books and winds up the ones who would never buy one – Fiona and I enjoy (or at least endure) a good row every now and then.

The latest – a mild version it must be said, nothing like the ones we have over Labour policy, Iraq, me being difficult to live with – concerns none other than Mr Jeremy Clarkson. She just cannot understand how I could bring myself to be civil(ish) to such a ‘nasty, sexist, racist, bigoted, right-wing oaf’ and furthermore bring myself to say that whether you like it or not, Top Gear is an amazing TV phenomenon and something of a great British success story.

I cannot claim to be a regular viewer, as it often clashes with Spanish football. But I was on a plane coming back from Kuwait a few months ago. Of the six screens in the row in front of me, four were tuned to old Top Gear shows. And they had about 900 channels to choose from! It is watched all over the world, and with a fanaticism by many, sufficient for there to be a waiting list of 300,000 people who would like the dubious honour of standing in an aircraft hangar for hours to watch Clarkson and pals record it. 

For those who missed it, I was on last night, at the suggestion of my publishers, who share my interest in plugging my diaries and thought it might help draw the attention of Prelude to Power to middle England petrolheads.

I am not a car person really. That may explain why they edited out our exchanges on my car history – multiple driving test failure, Citroen Dyane first car (we had a chat about gear levers in dashboards), current car Honda CR-V, or is it CV-R?, Clarkson surprised it was a 4 by 4, albeit one of the smaller ones.

The four failed driving tests – I think it was three, Fiona says five so I have split the difference – led to Clarkson saying if you failed at anything four times, you should give it up … ‘Like England’s footballers,’ I quipped, and the audience rather liked that one. Alas, like our discussion on how the England footballers might rebuild their reputation, it was edited out. Lots of editing out went on, as I tweeted last night.

It was funny to see all the angry tweets in response to my succession of tweets last night about the bits that were cut. But these were outnumbered by the tweets which seemed to enjoy the craic, as we say in my adopted national identity character association country, Ireland. I kept being tweeted to the effect that I was trending – which has not happened since Adam Boulton lost the plot – but I couldn’t see where, until I realised I was trending under a mis-spelt name, namely Alistair. This is another first, and grist to my mill when I resume the row with Fiona that Top Gear is an extraordinary phenomenon.

There was an interesting divide too between those who seemed to think I was seriously angry at being edited down – I wasn’t – and those who thought I was just carrying on the banter that is what makes the programme what it is, and at which Clarkson is very good.

I wish I had tape recorded the interview now, like Tony Benn, my fellow diarist, does whenever he is speaking to the media. I’m sure I have forgotten loads of other bits that were cut.

I can recall the afore-mentioned Adam Boulton coming up a couple of times. There was also my challenge to Clarkson over his labelling Gordon Brown a one-eyed Scottish idiot, and his kind of apology, which somehow he related to Wayne Rooney, whom he had insulted – to considerable applause though not from me – earlier in the show.

We had a chat about global warming. He expressed incredulity that I believed in it and suggested it was currently hot because it was July. More laughter – they love him. I pointed out Julys were hotter than they used to be, and it was not exactly normal to have flash floods in the south of France at this time of the year and maybe they were linked. I said even on his own show there had been the suggestion that electric cars might be the future. He nodded, so I knew straight away that bit wouldn’t get in.

So what else — well there was the gay rights bit. I cannot remember how the subject of homosexuality came up, but I said at one point that he wasn’t very sound on gay rights … Oh yes I am, he said, adding, to more laughter from the largely adoring (of him) crowd ‘I demand the right not to be bummed.’

I had the immediate thought that this was unlikely to be broadcast at 8pm on a Sunday, with Songs of Praise still ringing in some ears, but nonetheless chipped in that I suspected he was worried that he might like it. He seemed to enjoy that, and recalled his public school education, though without any detail.

Our political exchanges included my defence of politics in general, an exchange over how Gordon dealt with Bigotgate so-called, more exchanges on smiling than the ones they showed, and my quizzing him re his own politics, including asking if he voted UKIP or BNP. He seemed more upset by the thought of the former than the latter, pointing out that The Sun whacked him every now and then for his pro-European views. I castigated myself for my poor research on that, but later realised he did not come back on me about the BNP.

By the way I think they edited the whole thing perfectly fairly. They did not include the worst of my driving. Poor old Stig, or ‘The’, as I like to call him, had to have the patience of a saint to coach me in taking those last two bends, but I was pleased with my overall performance. (Oh, another cut has just come back to me … I revealed that being a sneaky sort, I had been enjoying expert coaching in fast driving, for which many thanks to Nick Fry, Simon Bench, and my patient teachers Ollie and Austin at the World of Mercedes-Benz down in Brooklands, near Weybridge.)

As the interview went on, I could tell it was way longer than the time slot they allocate to these chats.What’s more, whilst clearly my favourite colours are of seminal importance, I totally understand why my favourite dog breed (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel because we have one, Molly, who is really upset to have been edited out) and favourite Girls Aloud singer (Cheryl because she is the only one I have heard of) are not. I can also see why the fact that our mothers live near each other, and are nice down to earth people, and my mum plays bridge with William Hague’s aunt, was deemed less interesting than the bit where Clarkson made Gordon look like a light bulb.

And all things considered, having done my lap faster than Nick Robinson did his the week before, I am grateful they edited out the bit where I said I was now entitled to hit him. That was me just getting carried away, in the boys’ banter zone, after going faster than I thought I would.

Anyway, enough of this rambling. Top Gear is a phenomenon. I am glad I went on it. I think Clarkson has many obnoxious views but he has a charm that takes him a long way. And I think they should respond to the clamour – well, a few tweets and Facebok messages – to put the whole interview on their website and/or mine. This requires a campaign, and I am too busy to launch it. Oh, I just did.

Apologies for not responding to all the messages following the programme, but there came a point where I would have been at it all night, like – it sounds to me – Clarkson was at his public school. 

And the reason I was tweeting so wildly (other than because I was enjoying it) is because I am speaking at a conference on ICT today and one of the points I want to make is that twitter has changed the way in which people consume, respond to and shape media.

Whereas once the interview was all the mattered, now what gets said during and around it can have an impact too. And somehow, I intend to apply that to a discussion of the use of ICT in education in Gateshead in a few hours time.

In the meantime, I promise to Clarkson that I won’t divulge everything he said as we prepared to go into the hangar on the airfield. Even in the ‘life is on the record’ world of TV and twitterland, there have to be secrets, eh Jezza? May I call you Jezza?

*** Buy Prelude to Power here at Amazon.

  • cyberdoyle

    Great show, well done for holding your own with Jezza.
    If you are talking ICT in Edu in Gateshead please remember that many children can’t access the internet at home because they live too far away from an exchange. Its called the final third, cos a third of the country has BT market failure. just sayin.

  • Tim

    I thoroughly enjoyed Top Gear last night, but I always do. The thing with Clarkson is that he may have some right wing opinions, but he’s so obviously twisting people’s tits most of the time and playing up to the media character he’s built up, unlike someone such as Richard Littlejohn. With Littlejohn I get the feeling he’s toning it down for print…

    As for Twitter, I think you’re being generous to say it has changed the way “people consume, respond to and shape media”. It might have changed it for a substantial minority of people who think it’s the best thing since sliced bread, but for most of us I suspect it is totally irrelevant. I want to throw petrol bombs at my tv whenever David Dimbleby (for example) mentions Twitter on Question Time, or even texting in comments.

    Why does everybody have to have the right to express their opinion about everything these days? He says, commenting on someone’s blog…

    Incidentally, good to have you back after whatever server fault made you disappear for a few days.

  • Rubymalvolio

    I think the issue is you both represent different sides of the political spectrum. The more tribal people on both sides were always going to be upset seeing you and Clarkson getting on. I remember when many in the Labour party were very upset that Blair got on so well with Bush. He (Clarkson) isn’t as bad as the left make out, he is a clever bloke and enjoys winding up people on the up and they fall for it. Just as people on the left gave a big cheer when you were winding up that fat sweaty slug on sky. Feel free to DM me on twitter telling me who the Stig is! 🙂

  • simon osborne

    Wolf Hall

    I shouldn’t bother. I myself just finished it. Nothing happens – it manages to focus on the most boring part of Cromwell’s life and stops just before it gets conceivably interesting. Precious holiday time should not be spent trying to get anything out of ‘literature’. Hope this saves your time on hols.


  • Robert Jackson

    Doesn’t your statement that your mother and Clarkson’s mother live near each other and are nice to earth people and that your mom plays bridge with William Hague’s aunt amount to an admission that you, Clarkson and William Hague are all aliens?


    Don’t worry – still on first cup of decaff tea.

  • Paddy Briggs

    I can understand why you went on the programme. But Clarkson is a foul individual and deeply dangerous. I think that Fiona is right!

  • macuser_e7

    Your remark about Clarkson not coming back to you on voting for the BNP is snide and unnecessary. I suspect the reason is that it’s simply too stupid a suggestion to merit a response.

  • Dave

    Tim, you need to admit that the waters around you have grown.

    The social networking phenomenon that is Twitter has recently saved my legal bacon through an emotional Twitter appeal. Without wanting to go in sub judice facts, I was completely overwhelmed by the response of a community of strangers all willing to put a little effort in to help me battle a shocking injustice. The result of which is potentially life changing, and is something that simply would not have been possible a few years. It is a remarkable tool of engagement if used the right way.

    Get out of the old road if you can’t lend a hand.


  • Fiatpanda

    Jeremy Clarkson, dangerous? Ha ha ha ha ha!

  • Jacquie R

    Mmm. Clarkson and Campbell may be worlds apart politically but ….

    Good to have the blog back and I hope the redesign and holidays won’t make it too irregular. This is my favourite political blog (insightful, passionate, humorous,irreverent,annoying, brilliant,rubbishy, beautifully designed with clarity and class) and I have missed AC’s postings and also those of fellow commentators. Yes, even you, S Chapman!

    I’d like to sneak in a reference to a very important article by Phillip Inman in today’s Guardian. He explains how private speculation to fuel the property boom, rather than public profligacy, was the cause of the current spending crisis.

    The arguments and statistics make perfect sense and have convinced me that we should not be apologetic for Labour’s high public spending. What got us into this mess was what we all realised when Northern Rock collapsed – lack of control of commercial lending.

  • ravinder

    bought the diaries from dublin airport and enjoying them immensely. well done ac. rt

  • sarah

    Jackie R
    Last time I commented on here after you I was accused of being somewhat “giddy” by a bloke called Phil. Well, it’s been a few years since I was called that….
    On other less giddy subjects, I’ve now spoken to my first colleague – a wonderful TA – who has lost her job. I am still waiting to find out about my role – I’m a part time supply teacher/1-1 tutor, which has up until now suited brilliantly as we have four primary school age kids. In The Guardian today was Yvette Cooper’s findings that women are going to be much harder hit by this “fair” budget than men. And with the number of women working PT in the public sector, I worry greatly that so much that has been achieved in helping women and families find that precarious work /life balance is about to be ruthlesly trashed.
    I’m sure it’s going to be fine for those that can afford nannies though.

  • Jayke1981

    Loved AC’s stint on Top Gear. I don’t have Prelude to Power yet.. I’m still reading the Tony Blair diaries…Perfect Toilet reading(!) I’m jesting. AC’s Diaries are a thoroughly good read!

  • Graham Jones

    Jacquie R

    Totally agree, it was private sector cowboys writing cheques they couldn’t cash. It was then down to the Labour government to bail them out. The tories are making sure, that the low to middle income earners, will be the ones to pick up the tab.

    I have to admit I’m a closet Top Gear viewer. I’m not a Clarkson fan, and at polar opposites to him on politics, but Top Gear is an indulgent and irreverent programme where anything goes. I wouldn’t want to go and stand with that lot in the hanger though, just in case they pulled out the banjos and white hoods.

    I’ve been really impressed with the Labour leadership candidates, they have stepped up to the plate in taking on the tories. Ed Balls has been unrelentless on attacking the cuts, and it’s clear he is a skilled economist, though he has been dealt a bit of a curse today, with George Galloway endorsing him. George is a colourful character, adn was a brilliant parliamentarian, but it’s not an endorsement to covet when running for Labour leader.

    The only one who has been disappointing has been Dianne Abbott. I was hoping she would bring some new thinking to the debate, but she has concentrated on attacking her opponents too much.

    Whoever wins, will have a ready made team around them, and won’t need to go searching under rocks for a cabinet, like the tories. This will be a big advantage, and it is important that all candidates work together during the debate to devise a clear strategy now, that they can implement immediately. Forward planning is critical, and they must cover all bases for the future.

  • Janete

    I agree with Fiona re Top Gear. Clarkson is unpleasant and offensive. Not sure I liked the Ben Sherman jacket either. My husband has just bought one and it makes him look like a football hooligan.

    Glad the blog is back though – I’ve missed it.

  • Tricky Dickie

    Clarkson is an oaffff! but lovable and harmless as no-one would ever make him PM so dont worry we are all safe to enjoy his non PC progs without fear of being contaminated.

    Reminds me of my Gran who hated Benny Hill for his smutt and sexist jokes. I remember her laughing so hard on many occasions her teeth shooting out across the (in her words) the Guest reception room.

    JC is, not unlike Boris, a lovable baffoon who you could never put your life on the line for but you would hope someone else would…if only to keep the silly sods on the TV.

  • bill sharples

    Clarkeson is and remains a secret guilty telly pleasure, despite his views he is very entertaining,the sort of chap you would invite to dinner and be very amused by and then when you hear he has crashed into the back of a stationary caravan and died laugh even louder!

  • GED timson

    Can’t you get the diaries onto kindle and/or iBooks?

  • Jane A

    A few thoughts on blog & comments.

    1. Wolf Hall. Do read.
    2. Driving test fails – I failed seven. Knocked a bloke off his bike once, in mid-test.
    3. Clarkson. His attempts to get on top of you (snort), AC, reminded me of a man sitting on a lit firework, knowing that every nervous wriggle only makes explosion more imminent.

  • James Lothair

    Wouldn’t surprise me if Clarkson voted BNP. He’s the sort of person who thinks he can justify it with some pseudo-intellectual reasoning. Your better half is right – he’s a complete jerk.

  • Jacquie R

    Someone I know has misconstrued my use of the expression “Mmm” in relation to Clarkson and Campbell. Lest people get the wrong idea, I actually meant it in the ponderous sense and should have said “Hmmm”.

  • Paddy Quinn




  • Richard

    Clarkson and you are a matched pair: you both thrive pon controversy, hold views for the hell of it, and are successful because you wind the public up, and are never dull……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. and it earns a good living. RESPECT.

  • James

    Even in the edited version Clarkson came off poorly. His jokes were painfully contrived and didn’t work (what’s so contradictory about going to Oxbridge and working for Labour?).

    Also, odd that Clarkson was trying to convey the impression that everybody now thinks that Labour’s last period in offence was unequivacably bad. I suspect that many in his audience voted for Tony Blair and don’t quite share his rigid right-wing views.

  • John t Baptist

    well done campbell, you’ve managed to get a load of fags crying into their pink hankies.

  • Alastair

    Irony of ironies, you getting worked up about them cutting bits out of your Top Gear interview. Is that because you think you have a monopoly on editing something in order to deceive millions?