Euan McColm: Top Gear’s absence is no loss for me

Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are set to pop up on Amazon Prime television. Picture: BBC
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are set to pop up on Amazon Prime television. Picture: BBC
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Return of Clarkson and co on Amazon should signal male fixation with the infernal combustion engine has run its course, writes Euan McColm

There was never any doubt that Jeremy Clarkson and his tiresome sidekicks Richard Hammond and James May would reappear on TV. The only uncertainty was over where they’d pitch up.

Kraftwerk's Autobahn fuelled adolescent dreams of Mercedes bender. Picture: Tony Marsh

Kraftwerk's Autobahn fuelled adolescent dreams of Mercedes bender. Picture: Tony Marsh

Speculation had them taking the Top Gear format – or an approximation thereof – to ITV or Sky but yesterday we learned that the trio had signed a deal to make three series for the Amazon Prime television streaming service.

Not content with putting countless, characterful independent bookshops out of business, Amazon has given a lifeline to the men behind a TV show that reeks of boorish masculinity and guffaws with 19th-hole banter. Thanks, Amazon. Thanks a bloody lot.

Clarkson’s BBC career came to an end after he had a pitiful tantrum over the lack of a steak for his dinner and assaulted a producer working on Top Gear, the show for “petrolheads” which, thanks to remarkable overseas sales, is one of the BBC’s biggest money-spinners.

You will recall, I’m sure, that hundreds of thousands of fans (or idiots, depending on your take on things) signed a petition demanding the BBC retain Clarkson’s services but, in the end, he was sacked on the basis that you can’t really go to work and punch colleagues without consequences (though I’ve had a couple of news editors who sailed close to the wind).

So, there will be much rejoicing among Clarkson’s many fans at news of his return to our screens. I’m less thrilled.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve no antipathy towards the presenter. He’s a fellow hack and his shtick is hugely successful. Fair play to him for that, I say.

It’s not Clarkson with whom I have the problem. It’s cars. Or, more specifically, the male obsession with them.

Cars stand, alongside football, as reminders that I cannot be trusted to stand in a pub in male company for more than ten minutes without appearing completely inadequate.

Just as my eyes glaze over at talk of cup finals, so my heart sinks at the question “what are you driving, these days?”

I have managed to reach the age of 45 without ever owning a car. Even as middle-age clutches me, trips to Ikea and weekends away are only possible thanks to the indulgence of my patient mother, who will lend her car as if helping out a teenager.

I did once consider buying a car. I’d recently been to see Kraftwerk in concert when I saw advertised for sale a 1970s’ Mercedes. I couldn’t tell you the model but it was blue, with matching hubcaps. Naturally, I fantasised about late-night motorway journeys in this magnificent machine, with Autobahn pulsing out of the stereo. I might have had no particular place to go but, boy, would I have travelled in style.

It was probably for the best that the bank knocked back my loan application. It would have cost a fortune to run the thing and I almost crashed it during the test drive, mistaking the brake pedal on this automatic for the non-existent clutch.

When I turned 17, like all of my pals, I applied for my provisional driving licence. Unlike them, I then did nothing with it.

My mates raced through lessons and became the proud owners of rusty old Escorts and Fiestas. I was happy to sit in the back (relegated there because of my “wee legs”) and be driven rather than taking the wheel.

At the age of 24, thanks to the indulgent sponsorship of my then employers, I finally sat my test, passing first time (“not with flying colours,” said the examiner, “but I don’t think you’ll kill anyone”).

Over the past 21 years, I’ve depended on family members or employers for access to cars. I have not, as my examiner predicted, killed anyone. Yet. Though I have written off two company cars in accidents that were entirely the fault of drivers who happened to be in the way.

Announcing the deal with Amazon yesterday, Clarkson said he felt like he’d climbed out of a biplane and into spaceship while Hammond “joked” he’d already been to the Amazon and been bitten by a bullet ant. Surely the promise of this sort of crackling wit will have car lovers (and fans of good old-fashioned British banter) signing up to watch the trio’s as-yet-unnamed show in droves?

I will remain snootily above all this nonsense. The only things that matters to me about a car is that it is safe, reliable, and owned by someone prepared to lend it to me so that I can pick up Billy bookcases.

I harbour no fantasies of driving a Porsche or Ferrari. I don’t dream of taking a corner at Brand’s Hatch or being able to perform a doughnut in an abandoned car park.

And, frankly, I think less of men who do.

I have a mate who’s done very well for himself and last year his accountant called to suggest he spend a bit of cash. He’d never owned a fancy car and decided that perhaps the time had come to do something about that.

My pal spent an eye-watering amount on a huge Jaguar saloon, with chamois-soft leather seats and a top-of-the-range stereo system. This thing is such a monster that it won’t fit in a regular parking space.

My chum drove through from Edinburgh to meet me in Glasgow, recently, and I have to concede I was quite taken with the new motor. It is, without doubt, a beautifully designed bit of machinery. But despite the aesthetic appeal of the car, what impressed me even more was my pal’s complete indifference to it. A full year after taking delivery of the thing, he’d clocked up fewer than 2,000 miles on the clock.

Like all sensible people, my chum knows only idiots really care about cars.