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?
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