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Tedious masculinity: why I've had enough middle-aged men and machines on TV

Michael Portillo, Chris Tarrant The Grand Tour trio – will we ever see the end of middle-aged white blokes clogging up our screens, asks David Butcher

Published: Saturday, 16th February 2019 at 8:02 am

You’ll have noticed that masculinity has taken some dents lately. Men are getting clobbered in the culture wars: assailed by the #MeToo movement, called out for casual harassment, lectured by a recent Gillette advert on how to behave. Our very stuff, masculinity, routinely gets the qualifier “toxic”.


We’re a hopeless bunch of jerks, let’s face it.

I wish I could say television was doing its best to help us out. Instead, the objective on some channels seems to be to put as many middle-aged blokes on screen as possible. Ideally on trains.

Very soon Tony Robinson starts a new series called The World by Train on Channel 5, shortly after Chris Tarrant: Extreme Railways hit the buffers.

Obviously, Michael Portillo is on BBC2 most days, hopping onto or off a platform while wearing colour combinations inspired by a dream he once had about living in a house made of Smarties. It can’t be long before Griff Rhys Jones is back, gazing out of a carriage window again for our benefit.

I like a railway doc as much as the next sad, middle-aged guy, but a TV version of the Beeching Report might be needed, to cut back on numbers. Or at least, book all the presenters onto the same service across Mongolia and when they start fighting, film it.

The catch is, we’d still be left with the car shows. Top Gear returns with fresh tyres, while Christopher Timothy and Peter Davison are reliving the golden age of motoring in Great British Car Journeys. I could wheel out more examples, but you get the point.

The problem isn’t toxic masculinity (a phrase that sets my teeth grinding, but that can wait), it’s something duller – tedious masculinity. It’s that tendency among men of a certain age to assume what they have to say is of wider interest and a tendency among TV executives to give them a vehicle – and it is usually a vehicle – to say it.

A case in point is Amazon’s The Grand Tour, where Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond continue to lean on the bounds of good taste like buffers on the bar of a village pub. In their new series they try out a little light homophobia while motoring across Colombia: Jeremy’s car is a model popular with gay men, so Hammond calls him The Pet Shop Boy and Clarkson oh-so-amusingly tries to remember what LGBT stands for, and gets it wrong, ho ho.

The antidote may be at hand. Soon, very soon, the king over the water will return… Alan Partridge will walk among us again in his new BBC1 series, which will, we can only hope, restore Steve Coogan’s creation to his rightful place spoofing self-deluded berks everywhere.


Come back, Alan, we need you now more than ever.


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