My problem, as a bloke, with Top Gear, number plates and laddish silliness

I can’t see what the fuss is over Top Gear’s provocative Porsche number plate – you know, the one that got Jeremy Clarkson and the rest hustled out of Argentina before the wrath of a mob.

Aha - Clarkson's book on display in Whitcoulls, Wellington. My book directly behind his...
Aha – Clarkson’s book on display in Whitcoulls, Wellington. My book directly behind his (and in front of Julia Gillard’s).

Allegedly it was an off-colour reference to the British victory in the Falklands War of 1982. Personally I figure Clarkson’s protestations of innocence are correct. I mean, apart from anything else, wringing the meaning out of those letters demanded a fair amount of subtle thinking, and Top Gear isn’t exactly subtle. It’s a show about ‘Brit lads’ being ‘laddish’ with lad’s toys on a big budget with the help of a slick production team, some very fast sports cars and a good deal of British public school potty humour. This is the show, after all, who claim their engineering workshop is in Penistone. And who did have an intended ‘substitute’ plate for the Porsche reading ‘Be11end’.

Surprisingly, Top Gear didn’t make a point of visiting Urenui when the show came here. Depending how you translate it, the name is Te Reo Maori for ‘Great Courage’ or ‘Big Penis’. Instead Clarkson damaged one Toyota Corolla on a narrow bridge and drove another up Ninety Mile Beach. Not uber-fast, either. Once, the beach was the racing track where Norman ‘Wizard’ Smith went for 300 mph in an aero-engined streamliner in 1931, just in case anybody thought the Land Speed Record was exclusive to people named Campbell (Smith missed). But today it’s legally a public road, with a speed limit. (OK, so Clarkson’s Corolla wasn’t thrashed, it just got salt and sand sprayed through engine and running gear. I hope I never end up owning that one.)

You laugh at the British silliness. You think, ‘gee, I wish I had the chance to drive that’, that you could drive like The Stig, and that you too could play conkers with caravans. Or turn a Robin Reliant into a space shuttle. But to me, these days, Top Gear seems rather tired. Formula. There are, I suspect, limits as to how long a band of middle-aged men can cavort through our Sunday evening TV being big-budget yobbos.

Still, I can’t complain. My latest book ended up stacked, cover out, behind Clarkson’s the other day – and one can but hope that the reflected fame was, well, reflected in the sales…

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

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6 thoughts on “My problem, as a bloke, with Top Gear, number plates and laddish silliness

  1. I’m sure anyone with a grain of knowledge will be aware of your expertise in researching your subjects and the position of the book will not be an issue. I know myself when I enter my local book store, I look for the specific writer, if not found, I order it.


    1. There’s that. And people do. I get approached fairly often – my books aren’t sold direct by me but I can at least point interested people to where the publisher is retailing them. That said, there is still a proportion of discovery purchase and that’s where displays like this one cime in handy.


  2. Most of the fuss about Top Gear in Argentina was, I suspect, fully planned and organised by the production team for the priceless worldwide publicity. The BBC knows which side its bread is buttered. It’s much like the choreographed spats on ‘reality’ shows where the participants are really B-grade actors.


  3. Sometimes the Top Gear team get it wrong, but most of the time the outrage is felt by people who feel somehow obliged to be outraged. The Argentine number plates being one example. (The accusations that other number plates had references to the number of Argentine and British dead was borderline von Daneken territory.)

    But you’re right to suggest the programme is looking stale. Star in a reasonably priced car has outlasted its appeal and the challenges are too choreographed these days. It’s not beyond the wit of the presenters and producers to introduce new elements.


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