The obituary to Top Gear, or at least of the Clarkson, May and Hammond series has been delivered innumerable times since its unfortunate end in 2015, and all pay fitting tribute to the show which has until recently been a staple of modern British culture. This article will not attempt to do that which has already been accomplished but will instead offer an obituary to something far more worrying, the death of ‘Top Gear Britain’.
Top Gear Britain is the perfect representation of the attitudes and ideas which until even the last few years have dominated the popular culture and political scene of the United Kingdom. Top Gear Britain is a nation not yet plagued by the political correctness and divisive politics of today, but rather exemplifies a deep sense of British identity through its humour. On the contrary, the current politics and culture have become polarised beyond recognition, with increasingly more people viewing themselves as ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ rather than friends and family, and the entertainment scene dulled by the strangle-hold of full-time PC ideologues, notably within the BBC.
The trademark Clarkson and Co. insulting of anything east of Dover or north of the M25 that defined the iconic series is something for which it frequently received criticism from those in the metropolitan circles of the capital, yet endeared them to the public with each new controversy. A simple time, when France could be insulted with leisure without being considered political or related to Brexit, when it was simply acceptable to engage in the age-old pastime of offending Europe that is an essential ingredient of British comedy and culture without starting a protest movement from left-wing students and out-of-touch elites.
Unfortunately, as can be seen all too often, the rise of no-platforming speakers with contrary opinions and the rejection of any celebrity by the media classes who deviates from the PC party-line are a sad testament to this phenomenon and stand as a gloomy reminder that Britain is a different place to what is was in 2015. From the silencing of any opposition to the Black Lives Matter organisation using the baseless accusation of racism, to relentless calls by many students at the University of Birmingham calling for the banning of Birmingham Students for Life (a pro-life society at the university), political debate has been tainted by the same afflictions as the entertainment industry with only opinions deemed ‘acceptable’ having the chance to be aired. The treatment of Professor David Starkey is a case in point.
It is difficult to understand exactly how this changed, how Britain moved from a nation of free debate to one ruled by fear, specifically fear of deviating from what the PC brigade allows to be said. Some of the most controversial comedians in recent times have come from the UK, such as Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr, and both possess the DVD sales and viewership figures to prove the British still have an appetite for a wide range of humour that goes against the PC party-line, even if the BBC will no longer air it. Ironically, despite his humour, Frankie Boyle these days can be counted among the ranks of the politically correct. Unfortunately for those who enjoy this kind of humour, it is unlikely this appetite will be satiated in the future; but the issue here is not the blandness of the entertainment industry, but how it reflects the toxicity of political debate. Being a country well-known for its comedy and sense of humour, with such comic geniuses as Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse calling Britain home, the fact that this area of excellence has been allowed to be controlled by ideologues is a sad reflection on these dire times and mirrors the political landscape in its polarisation. In the climate of censoring old classics such as Little Britain, I feel the need to hoard my TV boxsets like a dragon hoards gold; soon, they will be the only reminder of what came before.
For many, Brexit was an attempt attempted to reverse this new, alien, PC cultural climate; yet like the Grand Tour, which attempted to continue the magic of Top Gear, Brexit was assigned an insurmountable task. It appears that destroying something is much easier than creating it, which is seemingly as true of hit television shows as it is of a nation’s culture. Ultimately, we were being far too optimistic to think that Brexit alone was capable of curing this tainted political and cultural landscape.
Even the trio of Clarkson, May and Hammond, once almost invincible to the criticism their humour generated, have increasingly had to restrain their nature to avoid the contempt of their fellows, as the controversy generated by accusations made against them have demonstrated, such as Will Young’s accusation against the trio last year of homophobia. If there is one thing critics of the trio’s humour should give them credit for, it’s the fact that they insult everyone regardless of social group. Are we at that point where every comedic utterance must be treated as something sinister, more than just a simple joke? Yet in the bitter climate of today, nothing, no matter how trivial, can be seen without the lens of a political agenda. Mournfully, I must say farewell, Top Gear Britain.
Photo by Tim Loudon on Flickr.
Enjoying our online exclusives? We’re sure you’d like our print issues, too. For more detailed, and longer explorations of social conservatism in the world today, find our list of issues HERE, or subscribe HERE.