The king is dead. There was a funereal element to Sunday’s last ever Top Gear (I refuse to recognise what will inevitably be a profoundly inferior successor) right up until the closing credits, played in sombre, self-indulgent silence.
The whole thing was a strange affair. The studio, normally packed to the gunnels with enthusiastic, gurning sycophants, was empty. Empty, at any rate, save for James May in an ill-advised jacket that Doctor Who circa Sylvester McCoy would’ve worn, and Richard May sporting a goatee that screamed midlife crisis. This has clearly been hard on them.
The place had the feel of an empty nightclub – albeit a nightclub that’s normally full of people in Pringle sweaters talking about torque. Talking the torque, (but can they walk the worque?). I don’t even know what that means.
Anyway, the angst-ridden pair were joined in the studio by the usual Top Gear ephemera – scoreboards, flash cars – and, in a nice touch, they had installed a large model elephant in the room, which they did not refer to. The show was basically two of the films they had already shot for the ill-fated series. It seemed a shame to let them go to waste, a bit like when you eat the leftover lemon chicken out of the takeaway Tupperware for breakfast.
The first film was a fairly dull affair about cheap classic cars. Clarkson did a lot of theatrical grumbling for the cameras about how unhappy he was, which I happen to know was untrue because, in reality, he is a man who has never, ever been grumpy or lost his temper about anyth… Oh.
The next film was much better. The three amigos each had to buy an old SUV for under £250 and then complete all sorts of challenges in it. There were the usual Top Gear tropes in evidence. They destroyed a load of caravans (being a caravan on Top Gear is like being an extra beamed down to a planet on Star Trek). They tried to drive across a river. Has there ever been a Top Gear challenge which hasn’t involved crossing a river? They rebuilt their vehicles with gloriously pointless additions. And then they had a ludicrously contrived race, which was fake and predictable and still managed to be superbly entertaining.
At one point, during the race, Clarkson commented “I hate working on Top Gear.” It was bitterly ironic, and a brave and mischievous decision to include it in the final film.
But it was another quote that summed up the situation. About to submit their SUVs to a test that might destroy them, Clarkson lamented: “Working on this programme is like doing a jigsaw. You spend ages and ages and ages doing something, you go ‘Yes, that’s brilliant, now I’m going to smash it up and put it in a box’.”
It was indeed brilliant, Jeremy. And you smashed it up, piece by ridiculous, irreverent, irreplaceable piece.
Top Gear, Sunday, June 28, 8pm, BBC Two