Speeding demons 

26 September 2006 tbs.pm/234

An incident that only occurred in the mind of a Daily Mail journalist provides a Transdiffusion writer the opportunity of venting his spleen. Again.

As a professed fan of the BBC, I never like having to criticize them. The good works they do in making television an art are harder to undo than most critics would hope – the occasional mistake being just that, an occasional mistake, and thus easy to compare to the munificent, but so, so, SO easily forgotten mistakes of the dumb, boring, idiotic commercial rivals.

Lately, however, the BBC has had to face the consequences of a mistake. Whilst mistakes in news and current affairs happen (if they didn’t, the department isn’t doing its job), mistakes in light entertainment are harder to justify. And – as a reminder to broadcasters everywhere – programmes that claim to be factual but are actually light entertainment are, in fact, light entertainment. The juggling of the figures fools everyone except the consumer. All broadcasters please copy.

A popular television presenter was severely injured – brain damaged, in fact – whilst filming for a top-rated BBC-2 programme. Now, these things happen, and, at the time of writing, Richard Hammond is making a good recovery for which we are all grateful.

However, Hammond is a presenter of Top Gear. And this programme, once the home of Noel Edmonds and groups of earnest people talking about better petrol mileage, is now the home of the Morlocks: a race of underground people who care nothing for the world above them. As such, once they could be ignored. But now they represent something sinister – a group of people who would condemn us all to death.

Top Gear is the home of British petrolheads. These people are determined to kill us all, one way or another. Cars equal emissions and emissions equal global warming. If that is too slow for you to care about, then speed might worry you. Speed equals death. There is no question. If you or your children are hit by a car at 40MPH, you will die, as a rule. If the same car (assuming it isn’t a violent affront like a 4×4) hits you at 20MPH, then you’ll be sorry, but, crucially, you’ll be alive to be sorry. On average.

Top Gear, with the world’s ultimate petrolhead, Clarkson, at the fore, is the prime exponent of speed for speed stakes. And it makes entertaining television, there’s no denying it.

But it also contributes to this strange – no, not strange, “stupid and reckless” are better words – culture on British roads that suggests that the motorist is hard-done-by and ill-served. I mean, imagine it, the 1984-style government even erects cameras to enable the punishment of drivers who speed past schools at 50MPH! The scandal of it! How dare they!

All these drivers want is to get home a few seconds earlier, and here’s the government (or worse: the local council) trying to give them points and a fine just because they might kill a child or two on their way! Why, but we’re just waiting for the people to rise up and overthrow the government because of this, then we can all get home half a minute earlier and, if we’re lucky, mow down a child or two on the way. If they were thinner, they would have run for it, after all. But they’re not thin, partially because Mummy is running Jocasta and Jacob to school in a 4×4 because it’s too dangerous to let them walk 500 yards because of all the speeding drivers who have to be 30 seconds early for work…

Uck. It’s such a circular disease. Daddy watches Top Gear because he enjoys the stunts. He is also sold on a global-timebomb car because Clarkson thinks it’s cool. Then Mummy wants a global timebomb of her own, because she fears Jocasta and Jacob will be run down and killed in the 20 paces between the front door and their primary school… by Daddy, it seems.

And Top Gear encourages this. Promotes it. Requires it. It’s ALL GOOD.

Until a presenter, foolishly trying to prove the safety of stupid speeds in stupid cars, is stupidly mashed to stupid bits (that the NHS then collected up and repaired on behalf of all of us).

I’m sorry. I genuinely regret the injuries to Richard Hammond. I genuinely appreciate the donations to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance his fans have made. I genuinely feel for Mindy and their kids. I genuinely want him to return to full health and our screens because, if nothing else, he is a very good television presenter.

But I’m also sure that I genuinely want Top Gear to exit our screens. Its time has clearly come.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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