This article first appeared on Reaction.
Top Gear, BBC1
The new series of Top Gear is a revelation. It’s got back to its roots, and then some. I could never understand why the country’s premier car show was tucked away on BBC2, but now, after several decades it’s finally been promoted to its rightful place on the Sunday night BBC1 schedule.
I’m a self-confessed petrolhead (and proud). No one is going to succeed in making me feel guilty for driving a car. I don’t spend money like water on luxuries, but I do like driving a nice car. And I like to see nice cars being tested to the limit of their endurance, even if I would never put my foot to the floor like one of the presenters did in this week’s episode in an Audi RS6. Ah, yes. Audis. I have an addiction to Vorsprung Durch Technik. Over the years I’ve had an original Quattro, two Quattro Coupe’s, two Cabriolets, an A4, an A4 estate, two A6 estates and I currently drive a black Q7 – the ultimate in SUVs. I defy anyone to find a better car on the market. I did dabble with a BMW X5 a few years ago, but I felt I was betraying Audi. I am very brand loyal… but I digress.
Top Gear in the heyday of Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond was a must watch. Yes, it was blokey. Yes, it was at times outrageous, but you always felt you learnt something new along the way. Over the years it changed from a show showcasing new car models to something more akin to a stunt show. If you need proof of that, watch their new incarnation on Amazon Prime.
When Clarkson, May and Hammond left the BBC the show went through an uncomfortable few years, with presenters that didn’t fit. Chris Evans and Joey from Friends were akin to John Major following Margaret Thatcher. The buzz just wasn’t there any longer. I was one of hundreds of thousands who didn’t bother to set my Sky+ any longer.
And then, things changed. Out went the political correctness, in came three new presenters who recreated the lad-buzz of the original presenting team. Andrew Flintoff, Paddy McGuinness and Chris Harris have revived the endangered show. Yes, they’re laddish, yes, it’s full of manly bants, yes it has its politically incorrect moments, but why not? Given that half of all car drivers are women, I’ll admit it is odd that there’s barely a female to be seen on the show; this may be a mistaken calculation on the part of the producers. But all in all, the programme become watchable again.
Personally, I’d prefer a bit more content showcasing new cars in the way Tiff Needell used to do back in the day, especially given that Chris Harris is a professional automotive journalist. But that’s a minor quibble about what has now become a staple part of my weekly TV viewing again.
Pointless Celebrities, BBC1
OK, I’m going to be totally honest. Would I be writing about Pointless Celebrities if I weren’t appearing on it this weekend (5.25pm, BBC1, Saturday, since you’re asking, or on the iPlayer if you miss it)? No, you’re right, probably not. But never waste an opportunity for a gratuitous plug, is my motto.
I was teamed up with my For the Many Podcast partner, Jacqui Smith, who is on a one woman mission to take over the BBC1 Saturday night schedule, given she’s on Strictly Come Dancing straight afterwards. The episode was recorded in early January and I was beginning to wonder if they were ever going to show it.
It’s a very odd experience recording what is essentially a gameshow. It was the first time I’d done anything like it, so I thought I’d dress for the occasion and put on my Edinburgh Fringe crimson suit. We arrived at Elstree on a wet winter’s afternoon and were shown to our less than palatial dressing rooms. However, they did have our names on the door in a vain attempt to make us feel like celebrities. They record several episodes a day, so Gyles Brandreth, who had been recording a previous one popped in for a chat. Now that’s what a real celebrity looks like.
And then we were on. I was conscious that they expect you to say something really funny at some point, which of course means that you don’t. Or at least, I don’t think I did. I do remember thinking that Jacqui was doing far better than me, but I am not allowed to say much more about how it went. Our main objective was not to go out in the first round, which would have been very humiliating. I think I’d better stop there.