Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Why I hate Jeremy Clarkson.

You see, the problem is that, to the man on the street Jeremy Clarkson is motoring journalism. When people find out that, more than anything in the world, I enjoy driving cars and then writing about them, they almost universally say;

“So you want to be the next Jeremy Clarkson, then?”

It’s difficult to avoid responding with violence. I don’t know what to say and I become temporarily mute with dozens of negative responses vying for contention, and in the end I usually reply with what feels like a really clever answer;

“Not really, he’s not a motoring journalist, he’s an entertainer.”

It shuts them up, but hurts me to say it. Mainly because it’s wrong.

In actual fact has a fantastic gut instinct for a good car. He knows that the chaff is sorted from the wheat by far more than just facts and figures. He is also exceptionally good at expressing his views in ways that people can understand, something many auto-hacks struggle with. But on Top Gear detail has to be blended with drama. If Top Gear wasn’t great entertainment for the masses it would struggle to bring in anywhere near the viewing figures it enjoys. Jeremy Clarkson functions as both a motorist journalist and an entertainer.

Unfortunately, Peter and Hilda Great-Unwashed are all too familiar with his glossy, high-budget TV appearances and his confident outspokenness. Daily Mail readers probably find his attitude cavalier and bolshy. And there can be little doubt, that these people will assume that all motoring journalists are, or want to be, cast in the same mould as him.

Look at any of the videos on youtube where people conduct their own car reviews and you’ll see that everything is a pastiche of the Clarkson style. Where the Top Gear franchise has been launched in overseas territories, you can see that the presenters have been watching Jezza in action long and hard. The problem here is that too much emulation can make it very hard to develop a personality of your own. Top Gear USA gets short shrift for failing to live up to the sheer watchabilty of the flyaway-success UK series, and this may well be because the producers have been trying far too hard to duplicate Jezza and his pals.

Clarkson is almost like a blot on the landscape of motoring journalism. He’s a demented rhino, charging around making rash generalisations and sweeping statements, while everyone else just goes about their ordinary, workaday lives measuring the boot capacity of the latest Kia.

Essentially, the shift in motoring journalism towards entertainment and away from documentary, the very thing I was celebrating yesterday as being A Good Thing, is the very thing that I'm most afraid of going too far.

If Clarkson was to be the prototype for what all journalists should be like, the motoring world would be a very boring place. And, although the planet certainly wouldn't want for entertainment, there would be whole sectors of the market going without coverage. With an industry full of Clarksons, the supercar market would be very well represented indeed, as the chase for increased sales results in a quest for ever more exotic road test headlines.

Jeremy Clarkson heralded the era of the Megastar Automotive Journalist. He receives a colossal salary, further bolstered by his sales of merchandise, and is certainly not wanting for quality of life. Without me getting embroiled in a mega-whinge about celebrity payscales, this is what he gets for being “The Talent”. The BBC see him as vital for retaining their huge Sunday evening viewing figures. And as his global status increases, so the wage pot gets bigger.

To be able to stay grounded and relate to the struggles of lesser man, to appreciate the stress involved in deciding between a Hyundai I10 and a Kia Picanto, must be hard when you've achieved such a lofty perch. But perhaps this doesn't matter? Maybe Keith and Edwina Average don't care about such trivia?

Maybe, in fact, the very point of Clarkson is to distract and entertain the casual viewer, so as to clear the decks for genuine motoring enthusiasts? Maybe the fact that there is no point at all in competing with Clarkson for market share or audience figures suggests that there is still mileage in the rest of the industry providing good, readable and objective coverage of the Motor Industry as a whole, not just the photogenic bits with trips to Monaco by Aston Martin

Why do I want to be a motoring journalist? Is it because I want to drive Ferraris around circuits all day, or get paid to visit far-flung motorshows? Well, yes. But it’s also because I love cars. From a Proton to a Pagani, I get equal pleasure from deconstructing them on paper. If it’s well written, a review of a Perodua should be no more boring than one about a Porsche. The fact that Clarkson tends not to get too dragged down by this kind of tawdry stuff, means somebody else gets to do it instead.

This somebody is all the other car journalists. Just as you reach a certain point of your life when Radio 1 suddenly becomes too much for you to stand and you move on to Radio 2 instead, as people get older, there are plenty of motoring titles to mop up the disenfranchised, who have hung on Clarksons every word only to realise that there's a whole world out there.

The industry vitally needs Jeremy Clarkson. I actually believe that. To some extent the whole car magazine market has fed on the success of Top Gear, in its written or broadcast form, and Clarkson makes a publicly recognised figurehead. If an impressionable viewer watches a particularly fine episode of Top Gear one evening, he’s more likely to pick up a car magazine from a news-stand the next day, be it CAR, Top Gear or Practical Classics. Like it or not, without Jezza or TG stirring up interest it would be a very quiet time for car journalism.

And my bottom line is, well, he makes me jealous. Of course he does. But for all that, as you've probably guessed by now, I don’t really hate him at all. In fact, the whole tone of this piece has moved from my fear that people see him as the definitive motoring journalist, to my glee that he does such a good job of keeping our love affair with the car at boiling point.

I’d be only too pleased to buy him a drink, if he can lend me one of his many fivers.

Everything you read herein is my opinion, nothing more. Hey, I've been wrong before and probably will again. Any innacuracies in facts listed are due to writing from passion rather than carrying out exhaustive research. Oh, and I flagrantly nicked the Clarkson image from Cheers Jeremy!