Saturday, October 01, 2005

Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear

I am stealing this subject from Auto Prophet but since I now live in Britain I thought that an entry about the show Top Gear and how Brits view cars in general might be interesting.

Top Gear is probably one of the most popular, if not the most popular show in the UK. Pretty amazing right? A show about cars is the highest rated show. It comes on at the coveted 8pm Sunday night timeslot on BBC One.

Jeremy Clarkson started out as a writer and he has graduated to being a TV host. He still writes for Top Gear magazine which is owned by BBC, and for the Times. He speaks almost exactly as he writes.

The Top Gear show isn't really just about cars it's also about how normal everyday guys would interact with the cars. They love to take American cars, and rip on them. I saw an episode where Clarkson showed of a Ford F-150 Lightning and proceeded to describe it in vicious degrading terms. He was actually lying on the show about the truck as the model he was showing off was not the current F-150 which I think is a huge improvement over the last generation, especially in interior quality. But it was a chance for the Brits to rib us for being American, and Clarkson took it.

Top Gear is also a talk show of sorts where a guest is invited on, usually a male, and usually some British character actor that most Americans would only be vaguely familiar with. They then have that guest race a car of their choosing (usually a 4-banger) around a track, and then they see how fast that actor's race times were in comparison with other previous guests. It's all in good fun.

There's also the rapport Clarkson has with his two other hosts, whose names I forget. They rib each other mercilessly, which is a British cultural habit.

Clarkson represents an aspect of the British press that occurs no matter what the medium is or what the subject is. Newspapers traditionally are highly critical in their reporting, no matter what the industry is. I work in the IT PR biz, and we deal with the media. Even the IT media over here is critical of product releases. In America the media is hardly ever critical and frequently apologetic if not utterly complacent. Industry specific guides in America are basically PR re-releases as they never utter a word of criticism. Look at how the LA Times dealt with Dan Neil's correctly critical comments of GM. He almost lost his job. In Britain for GM to do such a thing would have been PR suicide. Companies who do business in the UK for the first time are often shocked at how mean the press can be. But it is part of the culture and the result is often a more clear critical look at a subject. Clarkson's criticisms are frequently correct. American interiors generally are crap. I've heard that Top Gear is now being shown on cable in the states. I recommend to all my American readers to watch it for good criticism and an insight into the British character.

Great post but one wee correction. All the guests drive the same car - that part of the show is called "A Star in a Reasonably-priced Car". The inexpensive car in question is always a Suzuki Liana saloon (sedan) - which is slow, ugly, and tall with very small wheels.
According to Suzuki, all the stars have used the very same car. Suzuki says it has needed only clutches, brakes etc replacing, but it looked a lot like David Soul (driving with a stick-on Starsky & Hutch stripe) didn't know how to use a stick-shift and mashed the gearbox into iron filings, so that's probably been replaced as well.
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