Top Gear, Light Entertainment Or Blind Deception?

One of the BBC’s most popular TV programmes has come under fire once again, I am of course talking about Top Gear.

Top Gear, and the presenters, over the past few years have gotten into deep trouble with various pranks and stunts.

The three presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May not only make the show more fun to watch, by making fun of of their co-presenters weight, height and (lack of) style, but also occasionally walk into the wind with regards to what is, and is not OFCOM approved behaviour.

In 2007 we had the presenters smoking on set, in 2010 there was anger over a ‘special needs’ joke, in 2011 the Mexican ambassador was angered over statements made that Mexicans were ‘lazy, feckless, flatulent [and] overweight’, and in 2012 presenters were tweeting during Remembrance Day Silence.

This aside, there has been much debate as to whether or not Top Gear remains a factual TV programme, or has it become more entertainment based? The USA decided that its most certainly entertainment, as in 2008 (for series 12, episode 2) it declared that the Top Gear presenters only had visas to enter the country to produce a factual programme, not an entertainment one, causing the presenters to take the factual tone to such an extreme that it was considered to be entertainment. In the new series, recent episodes seem to have followed this entertainment based trend.

Take for example last weeks show that was aired on 21st July 2013. It involved the team building a van that hovered on the water, under the pretext that when flooding or global warming hits, only hovercraft will be able to transport people to the local shops to get a pint of milk, entertaining perhaps, but factually useless.

Having watched the programme I can say that it was entertaining, and to some extent one of the best of the new series. I laughed several times, including at the points where the fans blew away dinners who were eating at a riverside restaurant, and when the van collided with those who were travelling along the river. The entertainment factor was that the hovervan was out of control, and that once again a new vehicle had been created that was totally unpractical to the applications which it had been designed for.

After watching the programme I thought about it some more. In the past Top Gear have destroyed everything from bridges, caravans, houses, you name it they have probably broken it, and each time their stunts have got more and more extreme. This therefore meant one of two things. Firstly either the programme is un-staged and those poor unfortunate people who come into contact with the presenters during filming are reimbursed right out of the licence fee payers pocket, or they get insurance to sort it out.

If it were the first, there would have been uproar, as why should the TV licence be going towards ‘accidents’ that keep reoccurring? If it were the latter, then the after the 10th series at least, the insurance premiums would have been excessive to the point where they wouldn’t have been practical to take out, and the show would have either ended, or been toned down.

There is of course a third option, that it was in fact staged, something which has always been in the back of my mind, but never really proved, that was until this week.

With all the damage that was done, the seeds of doubt as to whether it was real were sown.

With all the damage that was done, the seeds of doubt as to whether it was real were sown.

The Daily Mail today revealed how the last programmes stunts were in fact all staged. Actors were hired to eat in the restaurant that was later destroyed, hired actors that walked the river bank and were drenched, and hired actors who were in boats and knocked into the water, in turn destroying any entertainment value that I believe the programme had.

It has been a long, long time since I have watched Top Gear to get sound car advice. For one the cars which are tested are usually cost six figure sums to purchase, and for another are usually tested to such extremes such as polar temperatures, which would never occur in the UK.

What I do watch Top Gear for is the challenges and entertainment, to see the presenters take cars and travel to beautiful parts of the world, test some really cool cars that I can only dream of owning, and to make fun and alienate one another in the process.

If all of this is staged its no longer entertainment, its just one step away from being a version of Coronation Street for petrol heads.

I feel cheated, should the BBC, (and therefore the licence fee payers) be paying for actors to partake in these elaborate scenes, and should they be paying for the presenters to lark around as they do? I’m not so sure.