Within seconds of finishing And on That Bombshell, my wife had asked if she could read the book. This is the first time my wife has ever asked to read one of my books. But then that’s the power of Top Gear. It’s less a television programme and more a national treasure.
As the show’s former script editor, Richard Porter is well placed to tell the story of how ‘new’ Top Gear grew from a wobbly pilot episode to a global phenomenon touching hundreds of millions of lives. But now Top Gear as we knew it is over. And having read the book, I can’t help feeling it’ll never be the same again.
You get the sense that this was so much more than a job for Richard Porter. He was living the dream, doing something that us mere mortals can only fantasise about. The book describes how he got the job and how the new Top Gear format was formed. Getting things moving wasn’t easy and after two pilot episodes, it wasn’t clear if the new formula would actually work.
It wasn’t until episodes three and four that Top Gear found its groove. But the reason it worked is partly down to the way the team was formed. The presenters, producers and support team weren’t chosen by committee or by a faceless individual in a posh office. Much as Porter won’t appreciate me using this word, it was more organic than that. Almost how a rock band would form.
Because of this, the team was close knit and driven by a common aim. Porter speaks warmly of the entire crew, including Stigs past and present, along with former presenters from the old and new format. There are kind words for the oft-forgotten Jason Dawe, who was very much the PetrolBloggy man of the show.
Porter references The Beatles when describing the critical role played by executive producer Andy Wilman. Interestingly, in a not at all interesting kind of way, I had already scribbled ‘John Deacon?’ in my notes, when searching for an analogy for Richard Porter’s script writing position. Quite frankly, it’s rubbish, but hear me out.
Deacon was the quiet, unassuming member of Queen, with a supreme amount of talent. He was, ahem, instrumental in the band’s success, but was far less flamboyant than Messrs Mercury, May and Taylor. He was the more elusive member of the band, yet responsible for some killer tracks, including Another One Bites The Dust.
After the death of Mercury, Deacon retired from music and has since become a reclusive figure, in my opinion leaving Taylor and May to tarnish the reputation of a great band.
As far as I know, Porter hasn’t written any songs or bass lines that have been played at the Super Bowl or in a blockbuster Hollywood movie and isn’t set to retire to a log cabin in the Swiss Alps, yet his influence on the success of Top Gear shouldn’t be underestimated. Sorry to waste three paragraphs on such a weak analogy, but I was promised a vast sum of money by a search engine optimisation expert if I could mention John Deacon.^
It’s not for me to run through the contents of the book, because that would be like Mark Kermode giving a scene-by-scene review of Spectre, thus spoiling it for the rest of us. But if, like me, you’ve followed Top Gear from the 1980s, through the early Clarkson years and right up until the end of the show as we knew it, there’s much to enjoy here.
You’ll learn that the Toyota Aygo football match was actually the idea of Toyota’s PR chap. You’ll learn that the Suzuki PR chap put his job on the line by supplying the show with the Liana. There are many chaps in the book. But it’s surprisingly light on references to the gentleman sausage.
There’s an excellent section on Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. For me, this was always the weakest part of the new format, yet I now have a better understanding of why it was so crucial to the show’s success.
And I’ll be honest, the paragraphs on the time when Michael Schumacher played the role of the Stig almost bought a tear to my eye. But then I’m a bit weird.
Porter also defends the amount of cars that were destroyed in the name of entertainment and while his arguments are solid, I’ll never get over the sight of seeing a five-door Citroën AX GT killed in action. But as I say, I’m a bit weird.
To use the Wittertainment approach to film reviews, And on That Bombshell passes the six laughs test with ease and you’ll be laughing out loud (or LOLing, for our younger reader) many times. Take care when reading this on public transport.
Look, just go and buy the book. Clarkson, Hammond and May’s new employers are selling it for £13.60. Take a break from watching re-runs on Dave and BBC Three. You’ll be glad you did. Alternatively, you could have my copy of the book. Seems fair, given I received a review copy for free.
I was thinking how best to sort this, but I reckon a Facebook giveaway will be the best option. Simply head over to PetrolBlog’s Facebook page, ‘like’ the link to this review and you could be in it to win it. Alternatively, if you’re not on FacePalm, simply favourite or retweet the appropriate tweet on Twitter. Phone lines close at midnight on Sunday 25 October and a name will be chosen at random on Monday. Ask bill payer’s permission before calling.
All names will be written on a paper doily and thrown into the Grand Union Canal. Dale Winton will then dive in blindfolded, before selecting a winning name.*
There are many reasons why the Chris Evans era may not be as good as the old format. It’s already feeling a bit manufactured and you sense it couldn’t possibly have the same team ethic and good spirit as before. As for the new jungle-based motoring show, sure it has Clarkson, Hammond, May and Wilman. But without that Sunday evening slot on BBC2, access to the BBC music library and the script writing of Richard Porter, will it reach the dizzy heights of old?
The jury is out. I think we all felt a sense of ownership with Top Gear. An export Britain could be proud of.
Throughout Porter’s book, the language, humour and anecdotes are colourful, leaving the final two chapters to fade to grey. After the numerous bangs, the ending felt like a whimper. There’s a good reason for this. Through the actions of one man, Top Gear as we knew it was finished. No chance to say goodbye, no opportunity for what you’d imagine would have been an explosive goodbye. This is a great shame.
In much the same way the final episode, filmed inside an empty hangar, made for uncomfortable viewing, the ending to the book was tinged with sadness. All that was missing was the slightly sombre music that accompanied the end of old Top Gear during the 1980s. For me, this was a signal that it was time for bed. A script writer with more intelligence and wit than me could conjure up a suitable metaphor here…
Goodnight Top Gear, and safe driving.
^This isn’t true. *Neither is this.