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Reaction Media Review Column 27: Top Gear & Pointless Celebrities

This article first appeared on Response.

Top Gear, BBC1

The new Top Gear range is a revelation. It has returned to its roots and a few more. I never could understand why the country’s main auto show was hidden on BBC2, but now, after a few decades, it has finally been promoted to its rightful place on BBC1 Sunday night programming.

I’m an avowed petrol head (and proud). No one will be able to find me guilty of driving. I don’t spend money like water on luxury, but I like driving a nice car. And I like it when beautiful cars are tested to their limits, even if I never put my foot on the ground, as one of the moderators did in an Audi RS6 this week. Ah yes. Audis. I’m addicted to Vorsprung durch Technik. Over the years I’ve had an original Quattro, two Quattro coupes, two convertibles, an A4, an A4 station wagon, two A6 station wagons, and I currently drive a black Q7 – the ultimate SUV. I defy anyone to find a better car on the market. I looked at a BMW X5 a few years ago, but I felt like I was giving away Audi. I’m very loyal to the brand … but I digress.

Top gear in the heyday of Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond was a must have. Yeah, it was blokey. Yes, it was outrageous at times, but you always felt like you learned something new along the way. Over the years it switched from a show with new car models to a stunt show. If you need proof of that, check out the new incarnation on Amazon Prime.

When Clarkson, May, and Hammond left the BBC, the show went through some awkward years with presenters who didn’t fit. Friends’ Chris Evans and Joey were related to John Major after Margaret Thatcher. The buzz just wasn’t there anymore. I was one of hundreds of thousands who no longer bothered to set up my Sky +.

And then things changed. The political correctness was lost, three new moderators were added, who recreated the young goings-on of the original presentation team. Andrew Flintoff, Paddy McGuinness and Chris Harris revived the endangered show. Yes they are stupid, yes it is full of manly jokes, yes it has its politically incorrect moments but why not? Given that half of all motorists are women, I admit it’s strange that there are hardly any women on the show. This can be an incorrect calculation by the manufacturer. But all in all, the program becomes visible again.

Personally, I would prefer to have a bit more content showcasing new cars like Tiff Needell used to do, especially given that Chris Harris is a professional auto journalist. But that’s a bit of an argument about what has now become an integral part of my weekly television again.

Pointless Celebrities, BBC1

OK, I’ll be completely honest. Would I write about pointless celebrities if I wasn’t there this weekend (5:25 p.m., BBC1, Saturday as you ask, or on the iPlayer if you miss it)? No, you are right, probably not. But don’t miss an opportunity for a free plug is my motto.

I teamed up with my For the Many podcast partner, Jacqui Smith, who is on a one-woman mission to take on the BBC1 Saturday night schedule since she’s on Strictly Come Dancing right after that. The episode was taped in early January and I started to wonder if they would ever show it.

It’s a very strange experience to record a game show. It was my first time doing something like this, so I figured I’d get dressed for the occasion and put on my purple fringed Edinburgh suit. We arrived in Elstree on a wet winter afternoon and were shown into our less than palatial changing rooms. However, they had our names on the door to make us feel like celebrities. They record several episodes daily, so Gyles Brandreth, who had recorded a previous one, stopped by for a chat. This is what a real celebrity looks like.

And then it was our turn. I was aware that at some point they expected you to say something really funny, which of course means you don’t. At least I don’t think so. I remember thinking Jacqui was way better than me, but I can’t say much more about how it went. Our main goal wasn’t to go to the first round, which would have been very humbling. I think I better stop there.

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