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OPINION: Why Top Gear mattered

By Scott Newman, 14 Apr 2015 Features

OPINION: Why Top Gear mattered

The show may continue, but it won't be the same

Unsurprisingly, the motoring industry has exchanged plenty of words about the sacking of Jeremy Clarkson and the demise of Top Gear.

Oh, I know there has been no official announcement; quite the contrary, in fact, with producer Andy Wilman recently stating it was "back to work" for the TG crew.

However, while Top Gear may continue to exist - just as it has existed since 1989 - it's clear the current format everyone knows, and most of us love, is dead. No longer will it be Clarkson, Hammond and May 'cocking about in cars'.

Now, it's important that I declare my allegiance upfront - I'm an unashamed fan of Top Gear, and have been since I was first shown the program by friends in 2005.

We'd huddle around a mate's television on Sunday afternoons, watching abridged versions on some obscure pay tv channel, usually hungover.

From there I discovered the world of internet downloads; illegal, yes, but I suspect the BBC turned a blind eye as it didn't want to risk alienating its rapidly expanding fan base, and at the time there was no other way to watch it in Australia.

The show played a pivotal role in my education as a motoring journalist, and is certainly partially responsible for me being able to sit here and write this.

It might seem odd that a media outlet would devote column space to a rival, but while it's true the spin-off magazine occupies a similar space to MOTOR, the show itself has no rivals.

No matter how long they've been established or how many readers they have, no motoring media even approaches the power and influence of Top Gear.

Who else could convince Kia to write off a fleet of cars playing rugby? Or convince Renault that driving a Twingo into the sea was a good idea?

By way of example, if MOTOR's monthly magazine sales were one-tenth of one per cent of Top Gear's estimated 350 million viewership, we'd be very happy indeed.

Whether we want to admit it or not, every motoring publication owes Top Gear a huge debt. It single-handedly made liking cars if not cool, then at least socially acceptable; millions of people, who otherwise wouldn't have been able to tell a Pagani from a Peugeot, now have a passing interesting in automobiles.

And as we move into the digital realm, with an increasing focus on video, whether conciously or not, every outlet is measuring itself against the production and entertainment standards set by the immensely talented TG staff.

Of course, the bitter irony in all this is the man who played such a pivotal role in reviving the show and creating this juggernaut is also the one who has brought it crashing to its knees.

I have never met Jeremy Clarkson, but having spoken to a number of people who have, the general consensus is that he is arrogant and rude, though I have heard a couple of reports that he is charming and civil - as usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

That Clarkson should've been dismissed is indefensible; in this day and age, anyone who physically assaults a colleague would be instantly fired regardless of the industry they worked in.

According to some sources, all is not particularly well in Clarkson's personal life, but that is no excuse, many people go through hardship without flipping their lid.

Professionally, however, I will offer some words of defence. Having cultivated an image of a bumbling ignoramus for television, it's often forgotten that Clarkson is one of the world's finest motoring journalists.

Autocar editor-in-chief, Steve Cropley, once wrote in a column that in the world motoring journalism, Clarkson was "the best of us"; and when I asked a former editor of two of Australia's leading motoring publications who to read to improve as a writer, his response was "I quite like that Clarkson fella".

Don't be fooled by his television persona, Clarkson knows his subject matter inside-out and back-to-front, and his ability to explain complex or confusing topics in a straightforward and entertaining manner - one of the most important abilities for any journalist - is almost beyond compare.

Thanks to working for a publically-funded broadcaster, with no advertising repercussions to deal with, he is also one of most brutally honest reviewers you'll find.

He isn't always 100 per cent correct - he's wrong about the Porsche 911, for instance - but, in general, regardless of price or badge, good cars are praised and bad ones mercilessly bashed.

There's no better example of Clarkson at his best than this Honda Civic Type R film from 2008. Can you imagine the face of the Honda PR team when that was broadcast around the world?

No doubt there are plenty of you that will disagree with this column. You probably think of Clarkson as a sexist, misogynist dinosaur (internet points to anyone who knows what James Bond film that line was stolen from) and Top Gear as a show that's gone 10 seasons past its use-by date.

You may well be correct, but there's now one hour less of quality car-based content on television each week, and that's a loss for all enthusiasts.

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