James May is ‘unemployed’. Richard Hammond is bored. Jeremy Clarkson is… well, you know.
If you’ve been following the (former?) Top Gear presenters on social media this past month, you might have noticed that at least two of them have made the most of their time off, building new careers as YouTube vlogging sensations.
James May’s grainy ‘U-Tube’ videos started the trend, as he demonstrated how to cook a carbonara and play British Grenadiers on the recorder. Here he is doing his best Jamie Oliver impression with a jar of Bisto.
Richard Hammond followed his co-presenter’s lead this weekend, setting up the ‘Richard Hammond is bored’ YouTube channel and releasing a video where he drives up to the Lake District with his dog to herd sheep.
Thanks to his marginally better video editing skills (and me doing everything I could to avoid feeling inadequate in front of Poldark) I found myself instead watching ten minutes of a flat-capped Hammond traipsing up hills, staring at lakes and downing pints in the pub. It was great, like Countryfile without the depressing John Craven bits on badger culling.
It’s also had over 200,000 views in less than a day (there’s a shorter version for people with lives), and May (boasting almost a million views for his recorder rendition) feels threatened.
Toy trains seems to be edging ahead. And just because Hammond's bought a posh camera and edit software doesn't mean I will. Rich bastard.
This is all good fun, but isn’t there something in it? If Top Gear’s worldwide audience is willing to watch May fart around in the kitchen and Hammond play the gentleman farmer, just think how many people would watch a decent car show online – one with Jeremy Clarkson in it of course.
Clarkson has already said he wants to do another car show but traditional broadcasters like Sky have backed away from the dropped presenter, saying “We couldn’t put Jeremy Clarkson on any Sky channels, especially those which are part of a family package deal and then face another controversy round the corner.”
But is there anything to stop the three of them (and, who knows, perhaps Top Gear producer Andy Wilman) setting up another production company and revving up the viewer counts online?
Yes, the average YouTube vlogging sensation looks like a teenager and has never left their bedroom. But couldn’t Clarkson, Hammond and May break that formula? it’s not like three old men chuntering about cars ever exactly screamed prime time entertainment in the first place, and anyone who’s ever checked YouTube to find out how to bleed a radiator would be crying out for a show they could call their own.
Now look at the numbers. Top Gear’s BBC Worldwide-owned YouTube channel has over four million subscribers. 24 million people have watched a Bugatti Veyron race a Euro Fighter jet.
Even if these kinds of budget-breaking set pieces are few and far between, some regular car segments mixed with behind-the-scenes videos and the odd naff ‘life hack’ (I doubt May would call his videos that, but that’s essentially what they are) would be enough for the trio to build a channel.
Motor manufacturers would want a piece of the action and would keep the cars rolling in, while the novelty of the project could intrigue financial backers and a Clarkson-hungry press. In those notorious words, “How hard can it be?”
In all seriousness? Very. It’s easy to underestimate just how much work went into Top Gear – the show hid its nuts and bolts so well. Even online, expectations about how a new show should look would be high, and a couple of blokes with a camera drone in the Highlands might not cut it.
Only last weekend Clarkson called Top Gear “a many-tentacled global monster”. From logistics to production values to the minefield of BBC diplomacy, it was a leviathan. But who’s saying they should make ‘another Top Gear’?
People around the world have bought live tour tickets because they want to see Clarkson, Hammond and May. However unlikely, it’s that trio of personalities that people relate to. In that sense there is no difference between them and, say, Zoella, or any other bedroom vlogger with a big money book deal. The format works, no matter how many cameras you can afford.
And Clarkson is right, the appeal is “global”. So if he is serious about wanting to do another car show, why not drive around traditional broadcasters and make the next one available everywhere, at the same time, all the time?
At least it would save us from another James May recorder recital.