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Why I reckon motoring TV is about to change

NEVER has the sale of a secondhand tent seemed quite so emotional.

If you haven’t watched the last episode of The Grand Tour yet(and you don’t mind forking out for Amazon Prime) then you might want to put your copy of The Champion down for an hour, watch it and then come back, because it’s really worth catching up with. In a nutshell, the motoring telly giant that was the Clarkson/Hammond/May trio came to an end – except it sort of didn’t.

After an extended piece bemoaning the Ford Mondeo’s steady slide from the top of the car sales charts a genuinely emotional Jeremy announced that there would be no shows involving him taking the mickey out of the latest motors alongside his two mates in front of a studio audience, either for The Grand Tour or back on Top Gear. An extended montage of what they’d been up to on both shows followed – including everything from Richard Hammond’s many crashes to the Reliant Robin space shuttle – duly followed, giving the trio’s work the sort of send off a certain incident involving cold meat and a late night at a hotel a couple of years ago denied them.

The only snag is that it was all much ado about nothing, because the three of them then went on to say they are going to carry on working together on The Grand Tour, albeit in a new format that focuses solely on their big globe-trotting adventures. Read between the lines, though, and I reckon that there’s a wider truth; that the studio-based school of motoring telly they pioneered is finally on the way out.

I’ve written before that a lot of Top Gear now feels tired trying to hang on to elements popularised more than 15 years ago and that I’ve already predicted the next series, fronted by two celebs who aren’t practised motoring writers, is going to be awful. Which is a shame, because the one that’s just finished was one of the best yet, and that includes comparing it to ones presented by the old trio.

But in a streaming-obsessed world where you can watch everything on demand simply rocking up in an old aircraft hanger and then packing in an audience around a few strategically-parked supercars just seems a bit, well, a bit old hat now. I’ll happily predict that Top Gear will eventually follow suit and go for a rethink in a few years’ time, and might even be parked up altogether.

Saying that about a car show that I’ve grown up with, from crackly early Nineties episodes of a fuzzy-haired Clarkson moaning about mid-sized Vauxhalls to Chris Harris doing balletic mid-corner routines in McLarens, is a bitter pill to swallow, but I also loved Top of the Pops and Tomorrow’s World, and the world moved on from both of those too. Personally, my own prediction is that the massive motoring juggernauts that are Top Gear and The Grand Tour won’t be replaced by something equally big but several slicker, smaller shows, covering exactly what you want, when you want. Petrolhead paradise on demand. My vote’s with a show packed with old TVRs and Morgans.

I could be completely wrong of course. Maybe no-one wants to buy a secondhand tent and, stuck with it, they’ll have a rethink of the rethink…

The new Top Gear presenters? I’d rather have Chris Evans

Chris Evans fronted Top Gear for a single season but was already known for organising the CarFest shows 2.jpg

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.

Top Gear vs Grand Tour isn’t the TV battle you might think

CarFest is proof enough that Chris Evans really is a petrolheadAFTER what feels like an eternity one of the biggest battles in motoring is about to get underway. Or at least that’s what the tabloids want you to think.

In the ginger – sorry, red – corner there’s the new series of Top Gear. Chris Evans has stuck to his vow to resuscitate it post-fracas by the end of May 2016 – but only just, because the new series finally hits our screens on 29 May. Their contender in the increasingly grey-haired corner is the old Top Gear trio, only with a reportedly much bigger budget and a cyberspace colossus backing them.

The script every other newspaper report, motoring website and Facebook commenter want you to read is that Chris’ capers will crash and burn to either horrifically low ratings or the entire team falling out and vowing never to work with each other again by the end of the first series. In the meantime Clarkson’s new show will roll up, convert every TV viewer into an internet evangelist and that’ll be the end of the car show I grew up with.

All of which is utter nonsense, of course.

Top Gear vs (the rather oddly named) Grand Tour just isn’t going to happen, and I haven’t heard a single car nut tell me they’re going to watch one over the other. They’ll watch Chris Evans and Jeremy Clarkson, mainly because one’s on a TV show starting next week and the other’s fronting an online collection of films which is unlikely to start until much later in the year. I can’t be the only one wanting both to succeed, because it means for the first time we’ve got two big budget motoring shows to sit back and enjoy.

Both are fronted by blokes with charisma and a genuine, heartfelt passion for classic cars – if you’ve ever been to one of Chris’ CarFest shows and watched him wandering around gawping at the supercars, you’ll know he’s still one of ‘us’ no matter how much he admits to being overpaid by. Jeremy, Richard and James (who incidentally are publicly rooting for Top Gear’s success) are meanwhile free to do even more of the big, spectacular car adventures they did so well before someone threw a plate of cold meat in the works. I’m keeping an open mind on both, and so should everyone else.

The only thing we’re missing now is a third way for people who want an intelligent, no-nonsense car show with proper reviews about things you might actually buy. Come on Channel 4, bring back Driven