walkit.com debate: Top Gear – the Marmite of TV programming?


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walkit.com debate: Top Gear - the Marmite of TV programming?

Posted 7 July 2009 07:52 by martin

Do you watch Top Gear?

We hope some of you do.  If there wasn't a bit in the middle of a Venn diagram where walkit.com users intersect with Top Gear viewers I think we'd have a problem on our hands.

Obviously to some, BBC2's very own Boggis, Bunce and Bean are the devil(s) incarnate, while to others they're TV gold.  I oscillate precariously between those two poles, keeping closer to the former, but making dangerous recces towards the latter.

Can you watch this without laughing?

But there we go, fallen straight into the trap!  Giving Top Gear the oxygen of publicity – certainly the last thing it needs, and to some, the last thing it deserves.

But is Top Gear little more than harmless fun, recounting the jolly japes of middle-aged pranksters with louche [just checked: defn = shady, sinister, shifty or disreputable] hair as they humorously, and sometimes ironically, help us understand modern-day car culture? Or is it more ominous, maintaining or boosting the predominance of that car culture in quite an insidious way and therefore hampering the efforts of those (including politicians) who want to 'recalibrate' our relationship with the car, especially in city centres?


Maybe the most unnerving thing about Top Gear is its hybrid format. If you look at the BBC listings you won't find it under Sport/Motorsport, or Entertainment/Variety Shows, or Comedy/Satire, or Drama/Fantasy.   No, it is listed as Factual/Cars & Motors. Got that? Top Gear is fact.

So the recent episode where the boys pretend to be 17-year-olds, and go around a track trying to crash into as many bicycles, shopping trolleys and bus shelters as possible is … fact. And going to the desert to race two cars that 99.999% of us couldn't possibly ever afford to own, at speeds that would be illegal on 99.999% of the UK's tarmac is … fact. Not entertainment. Or comedy. It's factual.

So what's this got to do with walkit.com and its users? Not a lot maybe. While we may be able to whip up quite a debate about wheelie shopping trolleys, perhaps you're all intensely relaxed about Top Gear?

What's the best policy:

Ignore it? (we've failed on that score)
Denigrate it?
Ridicule it?
Enjoy it?

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  1. M says:

    July 8th, 2009 at 1:18 pm (#)

    Top Gear is more than a programme, it’s a brand and however much you love/hate the tight-trousered Clarkson, he isn’t going to go away. Let’s not forget he’s got a column in the Times, written numerous popular books and I’m sure there’s even a Clarkson doll somewhere (yuk). Those cheeky Top Gear lads just love to be controversial and that’s the gist of today’s modern media – if you want facts, go to What Car, if you want “show business” watch TG. How dangerous is he? Not very, is my view. His bigoted comments are purposefully controversial (lorry drivers murdering prostitutes etc) but that’s why people watch/listen/read him. Yes he’s a climate change denier – but that’s because it suits his business aka controversy, muscle cars you’ll never own and crazy stunts! JC is another Russell Brand – just with less talent.

  2. Dave says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 2:57 pm (#)

    It's entertainment. It may be listed under factual on the BBC site, but that's the fault of the BBC, not Top Gear.

    If you want factual, have a look at Fifth Gear on Five, although even they are trying to mimic JC et al.

    I love it. I'll never be able to afford many of the cars they feature, but what they are really doing is living our dreams. Hands up who honestly wouldn't love to drive a car across the desert with a bunch of our mates, or get to play in the most fabulous exotica.

  3. Ann says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 3:01 pm (#)

    I enjoy Top Gear. I think the Clarkson kids are right about cars – cars are toys. Fact.

    The people who are wrong are the traffic engineers who have designed a transport infrastructure on the false premise that cars are a suitable mode of mass transport. Huge mistake.


  4. K M says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 3:22 pm (#)

    Top Gear should be out dated by now. There is only so much of the same topics being 'giggled' over that should make it onto TV! Light relief is great and not everything on TV has to have a scientific, meaningful theme, but at least let it roll with the times!

  5. John says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 3:24 pm (#)

    I must admit I find Clarkson to be a total pain in the backside mostly BUT oh my god when he hits my funny bone I can be helpless with laughter so I watch it every week (and have even been known to watch it on Dave). I quite like Hammond but when he and JC interact I can't help thinking about the old Spitting Image David Owen and Tony Blair puppets where a tiny Tony Blair was always trying to play up to Owen (was it Owen?). May is excellent value and very much seems to be his own man – anyone see his program on Space a couple of weeks ago?

    @1 – I disagree – JC is streets ahead of Brand but you're right with the rest it is entertainment. Clarkson can be controversial but to be honest there are far too many people looking to be offended these days about the slightest thing. I hope it runs and runs.

  6. Libby says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 3:43 pm (#)

    I loathe it and object to licence payers money being used to pay for it!

  7. John Davison says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 3:51 pm (#)

    There a very few eccentrics left on British TV, so we should treat Jeremy as an endangered species. The BBC is clearly misguided to portray the show as factual and should revive the “Going Places” programme on Radio 4 or another channel to cover the many less-polluting alternative ways of getting around. Some libraries and bookshops do seem to think that men are ONLY interested in books about motoring – a sexist attitude that I do find offensive.

    On radio how do you spot a reference to the Kia Soul? The stress is on the first syllable. If we're watching television and the second syllable is stressed, then we immediately think of Jeremy!

  8. Chris says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 4:15 pm (#)

    I don't have TV, but the times I've seen Clarkson, he's been like a caricature of an opinionated, environmentally irresponsible, juvenile prat. And he wanted a footpath closed as it was too near his home – so move, Jeremy!!

  9. Mike Frost says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 4:21 pm (#)

    The format of Top Gear has been a huge hit for the BBC – with licensed versions being produced in the US, Germany and Australia.
    I think the show is fantastic.
    People in my office (male and female), who would never think of watching Fifth Gear, tune in every week or record it to watch when they can.
    Yes, Clarkson is opinionated – but so what. The programme is pure entertainment, and good entertainment at that!!!!

  10. Marketing Content says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 4:21 pm (#)

    We think the guys at Top Gear do a great job and that they are really funny but we do wish they'd do a few reviews of normal cars. They could still do that and be amusing at the same time. Sports cars are fine once or twice a series but not every show; a £30,000 car is aspirational for most people, anything more than that is just tiresome. Still all in all it's a brilliant show and the Stig is a legend (and definitely not Michael Schumacher!)

  11. Barbara says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 6:21 pm (#)

    Clarkson is very amusing, very politically incorrect and because he doesn't generally take himself too seriously maybe we don't need to either. Unless, that is, we suspect that Clarkson clones are influencing transport policy, and giving support and comfort to the sort of motorists who think that running down and maiming cyclists is every redblooded Briton's birthright. Then we should worry. Hmmmm……..

  12. A says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 7:15 pm (#)

    Loathe it. It's puerile and offensive on so many levels (pro-capitalist, sexist, bigoted etc) and is a lazy form of entertainment, just playing for cheap laughs. Like Libby I resent paying for it in my licence fee.

    John (comment 5 above) says “there are far too many people looking to be offended these days about the slightest thing”.

    That may be so but that doesn't make jokes about killing prostitutes acceptable or funny.

  13. kt says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 7:28 pm (#)

    jeremy is a complete condescending twat and the whole programme is for little boys that have never grown up! plus in the credit crunch, i can think of better ways of spending money than on a four wheel machine!

  14. Gav says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 7:47 pm (#)

    Lets face it, most (all?) men are jealous of the guys on Top Gear as we all want to live a little and not have to watch if we go 1 mile over the speed limit.

    and the ladies juts love watching the men be men (or is that boys)

  15. Parsleypine says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 8:28 pm (#)

    I predict that, in a few years time, the next generation will look at clips of Top Gear with incredulity and disgust at the lack of awareness for what we, even now, know is about to hit us and future generations re climate change and peak oil.

    I used to find Clarkson very funny, but he went way too far when he wrote this article http://tinyurl.com/npygam . I haven't bought that newspaper since.

  16. Ian says:

    July 9th, 2009 at 8:35 pm (#)

    As a car lover I like to see cars tested and put through their paces, but Clarkson would spoil a game of marbles. He is so childish that I no longer find him the least bit funny. Some of their “challenges” in the last series could have been really interesting if done with even a touch of seriousness, but Clarkson reduces everything to his infantile level.(you can't even call him childish). Very few of us can even dream of owning some of the overpriced monsters they “test”. Even then he seems to revel in their ability to go sideways. Anyone who has tried going round a race track (even in a kart) knows that going sideways looses time. So the real tests are left to Tiff Needel in the real motoring programme.
    Unfortunately Top Gear, once my favourite car programme has past its sell by date. It isn't factual, nor a bit funny, so what is it? Put it out of it's misery and put it down humanely, before it drives us all mad. Or at least get the editors to lay the law down and get the programme back on track. A bit more realism and less of the stupid unnecessary fooling around by Clarkson and Hammond usually at James May's expense. In the real world their 'fun' would be regarded as bullying, shouldn't that kind of behaviour be discouraged rather than risk it influencing others to behave is similarly stupid ways?

  17. shaun says:

    July 10th, 2009 at 12:05 pm (#)

    whats there to debate? Its a good entertaining programme, with excellent 'one-upmanship' contests between the three of them.
    Why dont we waste our energy debating to remove all the rubbish on TV currently, like american idol, talent(less) shows and the cobweb ridden soaps that bore the sane to tears!
    Long Live Top Gear, Clarkson for PM.

  18. Gordon says:

    July 11th, 2009 at 12:12 am (#)

    Nothing wrong with Top Gear. If you don't like what you are watching then turn the channel over. If you don't like what you are listening to then switch off the radio and listen to your iPod. If you can't stand the heat…. is this too obvoius?

  19. clem says:

    July 11th, 2009 at 11:48 am (#)

    I know I shouldn't but I find Clarkson most unpleasant to watch and listen to.

  20. Steve says:

    July 11th, 2009 at 4:11 pm (#)

    The Top Gear presenters can says things that anywhere else would be edited out by the PC brigade. How they have survived the BBC editors, I don't know, but I'm so thankful they have. Many, many times I've watched and found myself thinking – thank goodness someone's got the guts to say what they say. And have you noticed (there's the grounds of another debate maybe) how humourless the greenies are? What a grey, boring, paranoid world we'd live in if they had their way.

    Guys, it's fun – remember what that is?

  21. Paul says:

    July 11th, 2009 at 9:00 pm (#)

    Rather a good programme, but ruined by Clarkson's bullying, as mentioned by Ian. Opinionated is just a polite way of saying what everyone realises- that Clarkson will not let his co-hosts perform. James May is a decent chap and I think he is the real star of the show. Though it's great to see some beautiful cars, Clarkson is clearly paid so much he probably doesn't realise that petrol now costs over £1/litre. They should be talking a lot more about that issue – particularly that there are useful websites enabling us to save on lower prices, also they should examine the relationship between oil prices and petrol prices, which no longer make sense. Prices for petrol are the same as a year ago but oil prices are halv those levels!

  22. Patricia says:

    July 11th, 2009 at 9:26 pm (#)

    I can't bear the sight of Jeremy Clarkson and there is nothing funny about his promotion of speed and disrepect for anyone not in a car.

  23. Rachel says:

    July 15th, 2009 at 12:40 pm (#)

    Top Gear well I love it! It is “factertainment”! It is good Sunday night viewing and I enjoy all the adventures they go on and dream about the cars they drive! Also if any of you have watched either JC's program on the VC or Brunell or recently James May's programs about going to the moon these guys are good presenters and capable of making interesting and factual documentaries in their own right. There are far worse programs on TV and we all have the choice and the finger power to push that button and switch off the TV!

  24. migratingfishswim says:

    July 15th, 2009 at 6:15 pm (#)

    i'm with libby.

    top gear is one of the reasons i no longer have a tv

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