Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Top Gear just keeps motoring along

Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond from Top Gear
Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond from Top Gear

A s Stormont teeters, Peter Robinson pulls faces and Northern Irish society is on the brink, most of us it seems are watching Top Gear (BBC2). As far removed from ugly reality as pornography is from marriage guidance counselling, Clarkson and Co keep pootling along in their ludicrously souped-up vehicle impervious to whim, fashion or regime change.

How do I know this? Well, 21 series in it's still more popular than either cars or Jeremy Clarkson are separately, it's a consistent ratings winner, and I still occasionally have people who don't know me very well inviting me over to watch the bloody thing after the pub, as they "managed to record it" that evening.

To which I politely decline, mumble something about remembering my father has passed away and hurriedly exit left.

Why am I mentioning Top Gear at all? Especially having thought even less about it over the years than I do, for example, the Biafran War?

Well, it's the TV elephant in the room. Only it's not just in the room, it's jet-roller-blading on the ceiling, exclaiming "bosh!" every so often. Everything about it shouldn't work. Smug, privileged, middle-aged white men doing the equivalent of flicking their towels at each other.

The kind of chaps who'd bet their bottom gold sovereign that an OTR is that thrilling little minx of a two-seater that Hammie put through its paces way back in series 15. But my God, come the nuclear holocaust, you can be sure there'd still be a camera rolling in Top Gear studios as they presented "star in a reasonably priced genetically mutated cockroach".

So, this week, even though I've always been dimly and uncomfortably aware that it existed, I happened to actually have it on the screen for the first time since my 20s. Purely by accident, you understand.

And I realised with a combination of admiration and horror that it's exactly the same programme that I'd last sneered at all those years ago. And that's because Top Gear – and presumably people who love Top Gear – are afraid of change.

They're placated instead by three posh English blokes hurling insults, and having Jack Whitehall  gigglingly admit that he can't drive (fancy that!), and describing cars as being "like a teenager left alone with the internet". And who can blame them?

In planet TG, Americans are fat, health and safety is for girls, rules of the road are made to be broken and doing so can earn the miscreant a nice frothing pint of Clarkson old peculiar. Oh yes, and a car with a nice sounding exhaust is made entirely out of Otis Redding. On paper it's daft, reactionary nonsense, like Boris Johnson editing Autotrader might be like.

And yet it's watched by millions who are neither daft nor reactionary, rather they want reassuring consistency in a world of fearful uncertainty.

It's remarkable in its own right though, that Top Gear motors on, unstoppable, fuelled on a hi-octane combo of fear and rancid testosterone.

As if to prove my point, after last Sunday night's show the continuity announcer began "watching events unfold in Thailand ... ", and before the real world threatened to kick through into the living room, she added reassuringly: "it's Sun, Sex And Suspicious parents now on BBC Three."

Bad grub least of our worries in struggling hospitals, James

What do you do when thick-tongued mockney kitchen crawler Jamie Oliver has bagged the sexiest culinary campaign with school dinners?

Well, you go for hospital food, don't you? And that's exactly what TV chef James Martin (right) has done in the unsurprisingly named Operation Hospital Food With James Martin (BBC1). His week's serving had him fretting over, well, tepid and unsurprisingly turgid-looking hospital dinners – and lack of beds, staff and depleted resources be damned.

"Over The Last Decade £50 million has been spent trying to improve the quality of our hospital food," he intoned in ominous voiceover, adding: "I've been working with NHS kitchens to prove patients can have tasty, nutritious food without it costing any more money." Which must have been music to trust managers' ears, if not actual medical staff. The most contractually obligatory/moving moment of all was the "I'm massively passionate about food in hospitals" line. But it wasn't all doom and gloom, as JM confessed: "One of the most exciting things for me is going to a cook-chill unit." Next week James finds out whether cooking chilled food is as reprehensible as the slow carving up of the health service.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the bowels of development hell, Ainsley Harriot is mulling over his idea for cooking in prison.

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Capricorn:

Your dry humour will be very popular. It's always difficult bringing a large group of people together. Everybody feels like they are walking on eggshells. After cracking a few jokes, you'll put the group at ease. Resist the temptation to make fun of relatives, especially the more sensitive members of the group. Nobody likes feeling singled out. Watching a light hearted comedy can also be a great way to generate a festive atmosphere. This is a time when people can put their differences aside.More