101 Things Birmingham Gave The World. No. 71: Top Gear

Amid the hoo-ha around the fracas, it’s easy to overlook that the current brooha-ha is the result of Birmingham’s influence. Yes, Birmingham invented the mechanisms of modern TV, yes, Birmingham was responsible for the growth of the motor car, and yes Birmingham has made Jeremy Clarkson more upset about concrete than a patsy who’s about to take a swimming lesson from the mafia. But we have an even more direct role in the ding-dong than that, because way back in 1977, just after we invented The Star Wars, Birmingham invented Top Gear.

Those clamouring for a more serious, Reithian, look at the automobile industry need only to look back at the first series: hosted by a woman — Angela ‘Short Fat Hairy Legs’ Rippon no less — it featured endless investigations into safety, re-run after re-run of colour-bleached footage of crash test dummies. The dummies drove cars, they drove them fast, and they said very little: it was a time of equality, it was a time of wit. It was a time that Big Centre TV and their flagship Land Rovers Live are harking back to today. But, if possible, with more stilted presenters.

After Top Gear we invented everyday sexism (the picture of the tennis girl scratching her arse), and lad banter too (we really did, as anyone in a Trevor Beattie FCUK t-shirt down the Yates’s will tell you). Birmingham built a platform for the Clarkson era of car journalism. So what was it that pissed Jezza off about Birmingham? Probably that it was just such a long commute away from his precious Chipping Norton, or was it because of all those cuddly animals that he couldn’t eat or kill just across the road from where the show was filmed, at Pebble Mill?

Now, as Clarkson’s fortunes wane and as UK PLC faces losing its biggest export (and with it a healthy dose of soft power), surely Auntie should be looking to Birmingham for an answer? Well the Post & Mail will certainly think they should: the return of Top Gear to Brum should be at the centre of their campaign for more BBC spend in the 2nd city. Zoe Williams of The Guardian makes a compelling case that a new Top Gear should be an eco-feminist look to the future of motoring: electric cars, hybrid technology, hummous holders and a little light so your passenger can read Chomsky in the dark on the way back from a lovely weekend at Center Parcs. We think she could be right — and Birmingham is the place to do this. Our universities are at the forefront of developing new sustainable transportation technologies (no really, sorry we’re being serious now, the Chomsky line was the last joke) and against all the odds employment in the automotive sector is growing year on year. They’re even talking about bringing the Super Prix back, but this time as an eco car challenge.

And if Jezza and ‘his Solihull-born colleague’ (the Mail’s desperate shoehorning of a local angle into the story) fancy having a go, then we’ll see if there’s a rusty bike lurking underwater at Gas St that they can borrow. What a challenge.

Author: Howard Wilkinson

Director of Satire, Paradise Circus. Howard adds stability at the top, taking a strategic overview of operations whilst also stepping in from time to time in a caretaker author role.