By Cooke, Rachel
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 137, No. 4903
It's good to try new things, isn't it? Or maybe it isn't. The other night, I watched Top Gear (Sundays, 8pm) for the first time. I did this on purpose; it wasn't that my husband had tied me to the sofa. He doesn't watch Top Gear, in any case, because he's not interested in cars. He leaves the subjects of cars, petrol, MOT tests, traffic and so on to me, his chauffeur.
So there. Anyway, for a while now, I've been dimly aware that Top Gear is exceedingly popular, not least because every time I walk past W H Smith, I see an enormous picture of one of its presenters, Richard Hammond, who has written a book called On the Edge, which makes me feel like headbutting the window. Then, the other day, I was interviewing a Hollywood star. The one moment that she became genuinely animated--as opposed to going through the motions for my benefit--was when she told me that she'd been invited to appear on Top Gear.
"Don't you like it?" she asked.
"Er ... "What to say? It's one thing to politely praise some actor's terrible movie, but I think I draw the line at sanctioning their dreadful taste in TV shows.
In the end, I said: "I'm not sure." I might be a journalist, but even I draw the line at slagging off something that I have not seen. Which is how, last Sunday, I came to be sitting in front of the telly watching the aforementioned Richard Hammond -I bet he owns more than one Marillion album -and his appalling colleagues, Jeremy Clarkson and James May, whose defining physical characteristic is their strange resemblance to Alec Guinness when he was dragged up to play Lady Agatha in Kind Hearts and Coronets. Oh, I wish I had not done it. Ever since, I have been unable to put these men out of my head. For some reason, I keep imagining them in their underpants. What, I keep wondering, are these men like in bed? I know that this is thoroughly shaming and repulsive, but it's true.
Of course, this is precisely the effect they're after. Top Gear isn't about cars. It's about sex. If the three of them sat in the studio in tiny lime-green Speedos, it couldn't be any more obvious. I can't imagine that any of them was particularly successful with girls at school. …