WITH Jeremy Clarkson gone and the search for the new James Bond unresolved, where’s a man to find a hero, asks Aidan Smith
You know something’s up with men when, within days of each other, two books arrive in the office proclaiming in their titles that’s it’s time for us to Man Up. Rebecca Asher’s Man Up is subtitled: “Boys, Men and Breaking the Male Rules”, while Jack Urwin hopes his study can be a guide to “Surviving Modern Masculinity”.
So where can men turn at this critical juncture? Who will be our role models, our heroes? Can James Bond and Jeremy Clarkson really be the only contenders? Imagine, if you can, a Frankenstein monster of them both: Bond’s casual sexism and Clarkson’s casual racism, wrapped up in the latter’s billowing distressed leather blouson with enough room for Bond’s Walther PPK and, possibly, his Aston Martin.
Only if you live in a cave can you be unaware that a new Bond is being sought for the next 007 movie. Only if you’re renting Osama bin Laden’s cave can you be unaware that Top Gear has just returned with a new Clarkson. No other “stories” recently have generated as much heat as these two. These are the men everyone’s been talking about so it follows that they must be The Men.
Hang on, though, shouldn’t we be debating Chris Evans’ suitability for men-mentoring given that Top Gear is now his show? Technically, yes. But his debut on Sunday was so Clarkson-esque – and so not the full bodyshop refit we’d been promised – that the BBC obviously wants us to half-close our eyes and imagine the bold Jeremy is still in charge, only now there’s presumably less risk of the producer being punched or Mexicans being offended.
TV always gets in a tizz when a star moves on, and especially when that star has generated lots of foreign sales. When Mark McManus died STV weren’t about to kill off Taggart. Another actor joined and the show retained the name, even though there was no-one called Taggart anymore. Maybe this was deemed acceptable because STV reckoned Taggart had become a byword for a very Scottish kind of lemon-sooking lugubriousness, and I suppose it had. Plus, the continuity kept it selling round the world.
At least no one in the show tried to impersonate McManus after he’d solved his final “mhur-dhur” - that would have been ridiculous. But what’s Evans doing on Top Gear other than mimicking Clarkson? Maybe, before Clarkson returns with a new programme later in the year, Evans is trying to be a more inclusive version – inviting the staff of his local Indian restaurant to sit on a car bonnet was presumably a dig at his un-PC predecessor – but the whiff of Clarkson still hangs around this show, a highly resistible mix of Brut and Castrol GTX.
Call the BBC cynical: Top Gear makes the Corporation £50 million, a sum it would miss. Either that or call Clarkson a god, a man’s man, the man all men want to be at least some of the time. I’m sure all men reckon they have better dress-sense than Clarkson but they’d love the chance to drive fast like him and say outrageous things and not give two hoots. Indeed, confronted by an owl sanctuary, they’d hope to have the balls to roar straight through.
On the other hand, call me a Green-supporting, Guardian-reading metrosexual if you like but I am in fact none of these things. Cars don’t excite me and chat about cars _ even accompanied by film of cars exploding or being trashed – doesn’t amuse me and I couldn’t care less about what a better car would do for my image. Always happy to nick a line from Martin Amis, I view cars as A-to-B devices and would be content with a Ford Fiasco, in need of semi-regular TLC from the Garage of Thieves. I’ll also admit to being a speed-wimp; nothing over 70 for your correspondent.
There was a time when I loved cars but I was seven. My father, who adored cars and was always changing his, once drove me to school in a Formula 2 racer and in the playground 15 games of football simultaneously juddered to a standstill. Around the same time I briefly owned a Dinky model of Bond’s Aston Martin but buried it in the garden and couldn’t remember where.
Briefly, I loved 007 too. At our local flea-pit, the Tudor, my friend Keith Taylor and I hid under our the seats to sneak a second viewing of Dr No. We were going to stay for a third but got hungry and went home for tea, although obviously we waited until Ursula Andress had emerged from the ocean, flashing her giant conch shells. (What did you think I was going to say there?)
The early Bonds were fun if you believed in reds under the bed, piranhas in the bathtub and bowler hats and gold paint being able to kill you - all the more so if you belonged to the same town as the original 007 and so could raise a Kia-Ora with pride to the ex-milkman taking a Fountainbridge accent into the most beautiful and dangerous locations on the planet.
But now? I’m afraid I’ve tired of the oversexed undercover agent, overdoing the understatement. He can’t get away with being lascivious, callous, double entendre-laden and smugly complacent about Britain’s place in the world anymore - and if he can’t do these things what’s the point of him? Daniel Craig has been the best of the recent Bonds but now he’s tired of the role and Tom Hiddleston is reportedly a serious contender.
Crikey, I hope it’s not him. It’s remarks of Hiddleston’s like this one quoting Kenneth Branagh – “Ken says I can’t turn off my intelligence” – that make me glad I no longer have to interview actors for a living. The other day Gillian Anderson teasingly tweeted: “It’s Bond – Jane Bond.” I’d give the gig to her – that’s if Clarkson doesn’t fancy it.