Should ‘Top Gear’ have stayed at home?

Posted on January 23rd, 2012 by Rob Marshall

Even though December seems such a long time ago now, I find myself dedicating my first GEM Motoring Assist blog of the year to one of the biggest let-downs of my Christmas.

Although festive television’s tastiest morsel for my parents used to be the Morecambe And Wise Show, I would have thought things might have moved on a bit from the 1970s. Yet, as I found myself trawling through the listings, wondering whether the schedulers actually watch the goggle-box during the holidays, only a few programmes featured on my list as vaguely watchable.

Yet, for many typical petrol-heads (including me), the BBC’s Top Gear Christmas Special ranks as the only car show that can be viewed with the family, without fear of being mocked personally by our nearest-and-dearest as a ‘dreadful car bore’. Yes, the show is scripted. Yes, it focuses a little too much on its ‘three stooges’. Yes, it is set-up. It has to be, as why else would the show be the success it is? The ‘Top Gear’ brand is a huge cash-cow for the BBC. Without it, we all might be suffering heftier TV licence price rises. My goodness, am I suggesting that Top Gear is good for our impoverished nation? I blame the Christmas excesses…

Even though I watch the show, I am not really a devotee. While I revel in the spectacularly high production values and admire the amusing scripts, many of which are penned by the same witty professional that crafts this website, I found 2011’s Top Gear India Special rather disappointing. Apart from tolerating the pointless destruction of three rare and desirable motor cars (although the fate of the obviously once-cherished Austin Allegro was not revealed), good old Auntie was asking a little too much to stretch the tired old format to 90 minutes. It appears that I am not alone in feeling cheated as the end credits (and a passing lawnmower) rolled by. Even the show’s independent fan site admits that not only have things slipped but the show also did not live up to the hype:

“We were told to expect a 1,300 mile journey across India, but due to the way the show was edited, it felt more like 100 miles. Instead of seeing more of this amazing country, we had to sit and suffer through the boys ‘revolutionising’ the Dabbawala lunch delivery system in Bombay, their utterly stupid party in Delhi – and why did they decide to get on the train? Who organises a road trip across a foreign country and then loads their vehicle onto a train?” (‘news’ – 03.01.12)

Should ‘Top Gear’ have stayed at home?Yet, a positive result of the let-down is its fuelling of the brand by viewers’ comments reverberating around the Internet, including the very mixed feedback on the official website to a Facebook page, established with the aim of bringing one of the cars back to the UK. It appears that, maybe, the BBC should have followed David Cameron’s advice to the presenters to “Stay away from India”. Yet, Richard Hammond, in his insightful interview with the Radio Times at the end of December, admitted several discoveries that were not communicated on television as effectively as they could have been; the warmth of the people, the emotional ties felt with the country and, above all, the sheer danger of everyday life on Indian roads.

Still, I only hope that the new series, billed for transmission later this year, will focus less on staged capers and more on the very thing that should bind the three presenters together – their (and their viewers’) association with motor cars.