It's time to trade in Top Gear
Keith WR Jones thinks Top Gear has had its day and is overdue for the chop.
The Top Gear formula has been a big success for the BBC and a huge hit with fans but the trick for any successful TV series is knowing when enough is enough. Keith WR Jones thinks the time is now…
Christmas 2011 and my Twitter timeline was awash with moaning messages: not about unfancied yuletide gifts nor the lack of a bidding frenzy as said presents were immediately listed on eBay. No, the mass critique in sub-140 characters, where venom was spat and dismay became infectious, was about Top Gear’s Indian special.
As the 10th year of the ‘new format’ approaches, should we rejoice at the prospect of the most popular car show on television returning to our screens or hope this long-in-the-tooth model is about to be replaced?
"The show’s format is not only too tired but also far too obvious"
There’s an uneasy irony that a car-focused programme doesn’t follow the lead of the industry that gleefully supplies it with shiny new metal and a copious backup of fresh rubber, by keeping its product fresh and ahead of the competition. If Top Gear was given a mid-life facelift it must have been from the BMW school of restyle subtlety because it's very hard to spot.
The show’s format is not only too tired but also far too obvious with a series of gags that are set up with all the surprise and punch of Bruce Forsyth struggling to read an autocue. The lack of comedic sophistication from a talented group of writers is disappointing – quips about lorry drivers and Mexicans smack of outmoded 1970s sitcoms rather than contemporary broadcasting. Leave the cheap laughs to Dom Joly’s latest output.
Without diminishing the importance of Hammond and May, and the behind-the-scenes musings of Richard Porter and Andy Wilman, there’s a growing number of latter-day Mary Whitehouses waiting at home for Jeremy Clarkson’s every appearance, complaint letter already drafted and ready for the latest outrage to be duly inserted.
"Every motoring great’s appeal eventually wanes away."
Do comments about rounding up striking public sector workers attract more people to the Top Gear brand than uneasy scenes of a middle-aged man slavering over a young, bisexual actress talking about her lap in a Kia? I’d suggest both counter the ‘any publicity’s good publicity’ mantra.
The powers that be at Top Gear need to decide whether it’s going to be an entertainment show with cars making guest appearances, or a motoring programme that engages its viewers with insightful, sharp comment and droll humour. Cast your mind back to that earlier series in which a Bentley Arnage was hooned around the test track, lolloping through the bends – infinitely funnier than the front of a classic Mini being ‘accidentally’ ripped off in a towing incident high up in mountainous India.
Every motoring great’s appeal eventually wanes away. Let’s enjoy the classics on Dave but offer us TV licence-fee payers something that’s cutting edge and that recaptures the joy and freedom of motoring. If the next series doesn’t evoke the sophistication of the much-loved Vietnam special, it’ll be time to trade Top Gear in for a new model.
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Which of these endangered 1970s and 80s cars would you be saddest to see become extinct?
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- Austin Allegro
- Austin Maxi
- Austin Montego
- Austin Princess
- Hillman Avenger
- Morris Marina
- Morris Ital
- Vauxhall Viva