The Top Gear “fake” scandal? Let’s get worked up when this show is really offensive…

Ben Dowell rails against the suggestion that the show's latest faked "hovervan" stunt is anything to get upset up about

Top Gear is in trouble again – for not offending people.


Yes, Jeremy Clarkson and co are in the papers once more, this time having incurred the wrath of the Mail on Sunday for faking a sequence in which they drenched a group of diners at an al fresco riverside restaurant.

Or rather they didn’t.

The row of people seated beside the Avon as the trio zoomed past in their “hovervan” (a Ford Transit turned into a hovercraft) were in fact actors in a staged stunt.

Whoopdee do.

The Top Gear “fake” was proclaimed without any supporting evidence of complaint (perhaps because there isn’t any). Things that don’t exist sometimes require concocting. If you want them to exist.

Let’s think about the real outrage that would have been caused if the three amigos had actually soaked people who were out for a nice lunch with their family. Imagine the steam – both figurative and literal – spewing off the licence fee payers whose money was basically being spent to ruin their day and make their toddler cry?

Also, Top Gear is an entertainment show. I saw that sequence and thought two things: 1. It was faked. Clearly faked and 2. This did not matter in the slightest. The point of Top Gear is to make its large audience, some of whom are semi-sentient petrolheads, laugh and see things go fast. If you want unvarnished realism or something a little more serious I suggest you watch a show which isn’t three middle aged men trying to do amusing things as if they are on a golf jolly. Panorama maybe. Or Channel 4 News. 

The main problem with the Mail on Sunday’s piece isn’t just the silly season weakness of the story. Or the fact that it plays into the programme’s hands by giving it publicity. (Jeremy Clarkson already makes a mint, taking home more than £14m from the show last year. This will just see him rubbing his hands and laughing all the way to the bank. I mean, do you want him to make more cash?)

No, the real tragedy is that when there really is a scandal in TV Land the currency of the term “fakery” and even “fury” will be devalued by rubbish stories like these.

As you can probably guess, I dip in and out of the show and, while I recognize its skill as a product and the obvious talent of its production and presenting team, have no real affection for it. I begin to actively dislike it when one of the trio make unpleasant comments just when the show needs publicity and people are too dumb to see what is going on.


But wouldn’t it be far better to get outraged when Clarkson deserves it? When he thinks its funny to make fun of someone’s disability (even if it is Gordon Brown) or to make jokes about the real life murder of prostitutes?