Clarkson is back in fine form for The Grand Tour, and terrifyingly for his many critics, he’s bigger and brasher than ever. Made available to 200 countries in the past week, The Grand Tour is Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May’s mega-budget new show for Amazon Prime.
It is the trio’s first vehicle since their controversial departure from the BBC 22 months ago, and is already insanely successful. Chris Evans, whose attempt to host Top Gear flopped, must be wondering what Clarkson has that he doesn’t. Indeed, what does make the swaggering overgrown schoolboy succeed where Evans failed?
He’s the original petrolhead
Clarkson isn’t playing at this. He’s utterly obsessed with cars, speed and engineering. A proper petrolhead with palpable passion for his subject, earning him the respect of even the nerdiest car nut.
Clarkson’s opening speech in The Grand Tour makes play of the fact that he’s been a motoring journalist for three decades. The subtext here, of course, is that he’s not just a rich DJ with a car hobby (see Chris Evans). He really does know his stuff.
He “tells it like it is”
Clarkson is a one-man publicity magnet, happy to hit headlines with a throwaway tongue-in-cheek remark. Some see this as simply “telling it like it is” – others see it as being offensive. A list of all the groups he’s upset over the years would take up the whole page but includes: Labour MPs, “eco-mentalists”, Vauxhall employees, gay rights activists, lorry drivers, striking public-sector workers, blind people… and just about every nation on earth.
In The Grand Tour’s opening episode, he has pops at the French, gypsies, cyclists, communists and Americans – the latter resulting in a faux-riot.
He never really grew up
Clarkson understands that endless test laps and talk of car specs would make for one-note, niche TV. So alongside the credible car stuff, he throws in copious crash-bang-wallop – often involving wanton destruction of his bete noire, caravans. The Grand Tour sees him drop cars from the sky, shoot at them and blow them up in huge fireballs.
He’s highly unpredictable
There’s an unpredictability about Clarkson that keeps viewers glued to the screen. Not only could he be about to say something incendiary but there’s genuine danger in the stunts – witness Hammond’s near-death experience when he flipped a jet-powered dragster at 300mph.
The joke’s on him
The Grand Tour opens with Clarkson sadly leaving the BBC and surrendering his security pass. He proceeds to get beaten up by the audience and lose a bet that means May and Hammond can bulldoze his house. One thing that stops Clarkson being a boorish bully is that he mocks himself more than anyone.
He’s actually quite clever
He might try to hide it but Clarkson is intelligent, with a ferocious work ethic. He thinks hard about the craft of television, comes up with clever ideas and slaves over scripts. It takes effort to look that casual, you know.
He doesn’t give a shit about his looks
He’s the classic middle-aged man who’s given up and let himself go. Except Clarkson never cared in the first place. At 59, he’s too old to wear denim and leather but doesn’t care, sporting his dad jeans and a hangover to boot. He jokes about his bad teeth and beer gut. In an era of primped, plucked, manscaped metrosexuals, he’s a breath of fresh air. Well, maybe not fresh. Slight whiff of wine and fags.
He knows it’s all about the money
Clarkson knows the media focus on the moolah, so he makes sure you can see The Grand Tour’s £4.5 million-per-episode budget being spent right there on-screen. Not just via high production values but shameless location-hopping and ostentatious props.
This attitude extends to the guest list. The first episode boasts star names in Jeremy Renner, Armie Hammer and Carol Vorderman – but pretends to kill them before they can speak. You don’t get that on The One Show.
He’s in the middle of a man-o-pause
His unique selling point is that Clarkson is his audience. He’s your divorced mate with a midlife-crisis sports car. He’s that ranty eccentric down the pub with un-PC opinions. He’s very good at being a bloke. If only all blokes had a £9.6 million salary and supercars in the drive of their £4 million Cotswolds mansion.
He’s quite funny
Jeremy Clarkson is arguably the most naturally witty person on TV. His relationship with wingmen Hammond and May is sitcom material. His banter is best-in-class. And on that bombshell…