PADDY McGuinness and Freddie Flintoff presenting Top Gear? Yeah, right.
The fact that I initially responded to this week’s big news – admittedly delivered secondhand by a mate rather than through any vaguely official news source – as someone taking the mick pretty much sums up what I made of the situation.
Yet there it was on the programme’s official website, complete with a photo of the pair posing with Chris Harris and a freshly polished Porsche 911. Obviously, it was some elaborate publicity stunt by the Beeb, and there’d be a hyperlink somewhere directing me to that ancient internet meme with that shot of Leonardo DeCaprio from The Great Gatsby, winking smugly at you as he clinks a glass of Martini. ‘ONLY JOKING!’, it’d scream in enormous white lettering, and we’d all have a good giggle.
Except it didn’t. I’m sure that Paddy and Freddie are both entertaining blokes who’d buy you a pint if you bumped into them a pub and asked them nicely enough, but that shouldn’t be nearly enough to land them the biggest gig in petrolhead-dom. I can only assume that the Take Me Out star has an innate knowledge of lift-off oversteer and the ability to make variable valve timing sound interesting, because Britain’s biggest motoring brand is about to take a massive hit on its credibility if he doesn’t.
It matters because, for all its form for deliberately setting caravans on fire and cartoonish mystery racing driving drivers, Top Gear is still a respected name with clout with the people who make cars, people who work with them and yes, you, the people who buy them. It’s no longer be the place to go if you want to know if the current Astra’s any good but it can still do authoritative as much as entertaining – and that’s because the people fronting it had genuine credibility.
In its mid-Noughties heyday it was fronted by a bloke from Performance Car, a chap who used to present Men & Motors and someone who once got fired from Autocar – yep, that’s Clarkson, Hammond and May. You might have found Chris Evans annoying in his single series at the helm but he’s a classic collector who founded and organised his own car show, and Chris Harris has been writing for evo and putting together YouTube clips on cars seemingly since time immemorial. Even Matt LeBlanc has spent an eternity collecting cars and hanging around F1 races.
So I worry that putting two presenters who are massively popular but don’t appear to have any motoring background – even the best thing the official Top Gear statement could reassure us with is that McGuinness is “a massive fan” of the show – is a step entirely in the wrong direction. The next season is the last with the current LeBlanc-led presenting trio, but with Paddy and Freddie taking over and the excellent Rory Reid demoted back to the Extra Gear spinoff, Chris Harris will have a lot of work to do to convince people it’ll still be a show that deserves to be taken seriously.
Me watching it? Yeah, right.