EvansWhat is going on? Cameron, Hodgson, Farage; and now Evans; yes, it’s true – Chris Evans has followed those other esteemed public figures through the exit door by quitting as host of ‘Top Gear’. I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure how I’ll ever get over it. Okay, sarcasm aside, has so much money ever been spent on so few for the entertainment of so many few? The ridiculous hype surrounding the re-launch of what was once the BBC’s most bankable show seemed destined to condemn it to failure; to imagine the factors that had made it so bankable – all three of them – could somehow be replaced in one fell swoop was a rather overambitious aim; but the Beeb had no real option as it desperately sought to prove the series could survive without the three-way dynamic that had turned it from a motoring magazine programme into a slapstick sitcom based around a trio of overgrown schoolboys and their expensive toys.

Recruiting another overgrown schoolboy with a penchant for expensive toys of the four-wheeled variety could be viewed both as an attempt to maintain the established traditions of the show and an effort to reduce the average age of the audience. If Clarkson and May appealed to survivors of the 70s, Chris Evans and Matt le Blanc are very much 90s men, at one time sharing the prime-time Friday night schedule on Channel 4 – with ‘TFI Friday’ and ‘Friends’ respectively. The choice of an untested double act plucked from the laddish zeitgeist of 20 years ago appeared to be a desperate gamble that has evidently crashed and burned.

That zeitgeist would seem to be coming back to haunt Chris Evans in the least desirable way at the moment, with police interest in the legacy of hedonistic years on the piss with Baker and Gazza piqued by stories of the ginger magician’s most unappetising magic trick – that of pulling a snake from his trousers. Back in ‘the day’, as they say, this would have been regarded as a hallmark of his cutting edge credentials; when David Baddiel and Frank Skinner presented ‘Fantasy Football League’ around the same time as ‘TFI Friday’, the former once confessed a photo shoot with the World Cup ended with the latter ‘wiping his knob’ on the trophy. This was the era of ‘Loaded’ and Liam Gallagher, don’t forget; and Evans is man defined by his times as much as Dave Lee Travis is defined by his; that both times are not especially compatible with the mores of the present day isn’t necessarily their fault.

Evans has never gone out of his way to make friends; surrounding himself with stooges paid to respond to his every utterance with side-splitting hysteria, his ego is the stuff of legend, and it is true that he’s a man it is very hard to like. Despite being well aware of the risks, former Radio 1 controller Matthew Bannister turned to Evans as the saviour of the station in the middle of the 1990s, a time when the Smashie and Nicey image of Radio 1 DJs had turned a radio station allegedly aimed at a teenage audience into a laughing-stock peppered with has-beens and leftovers from another era, playing MOR Pop for listeners in their early 30s. Evans was signed-up along with several other younger recruits, although the rebranding of Radio 1 was initially a disaster, one that saw listening figures plummet and the man who had been led to believe he was ‘the guv’nor’ quickly making unreasonable demands of a kind Bannister had dreaded.

The love affair between Chris Evans and Radio 1 was short-lived, but as pop culture moved on and TV work dried up in the new century, Evans eventually returned to the national airwaves via Radio 1’s cardigan–clad uncle, Radio 2, as that station underwent one of its own periodical age-shedding exercises. Enough distance between now and the 90s had instilled the requisite nostalgia in forty-somethings to provoke an ill-advised revival of ‘TFI Friday’, putting Evans back on the small screen and persuading a distraught BBC he might be the man to step into the gargantuan shoes vacated by Jeremy Clarkson. If one colossal ego could take what had originally been a programme about as entertaining as ‘Gardeners’ World’ on wheels and transform it into a global money-spinner by making the motors secondary to the comedy routine of the presenters, maybe another colossal ego could maintain the momentum and ease the corporation through the trauma of losing one of its most popular (if divisive) stars.

For all his faults, however, Clarkson is a journalist who had spent years on ‘Top Gear’ in its previous incarnation, injecting some much-needed wit into a straitlaced show by bringing a sardonic eye to the reviewing of cars of all shapes and sizes. However far the series moved away from its original remit when he, May and ‘The Hamster’ rebranded it, Clarkson’s trainspotter-like knowledge of the internal combustion engine at least rooted it in a degree of anal know-how. Chris Evans has no such background to boast of; he was able to continue the adolescent fantasy of speeding around deserted airfields in sports cars because he’s essentially been doing that ever since he made his first million. A celebrity collector of such vehicles, Evans was selected by the Beeb for this reason alone; and it would seem the CV of a motoring dilettante hasn’t been enough to save the show from ratings oblivion.

Announcing his resignation from the programme, Evans has done so in a week when his off-air activities have attracted some unseemly headlines; and it’s hard not to join the dots between the two. The bonfire of the seventies has all-but burnt itself out now, and it was inevitable Inspector Knacker, having acquired an appetite for time-travelling, would turn his attention to more recent decades – if only to avoid the less exciting job of investigating genuine crime in the here and now. The many enemies Evans has made over the years are hardly bound to express much in the way of sympathy for the man; but he’s an easy target to aim at, and those eager to cut him down a peg or two know it.

© The Editor

4 thoughts on “THE NAUGHTY 90s

  1. I find it somewhat incredulous that so much attention is paid to cars. Top Gear is just three farts in cars, like F1 is young farts in fast cars. The only reason to watch either is to see if someone crashes – and that should be the only time they make news. That so much attention is paid to Top Gear’s viewing figures when there is, you know, like, real STUFF happening all around the bloody world says so much abpout our media and the people who actually read that crap.

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    1. The reason for the Beeb’s obsession with Top Gear is simple: the vast sums of money that can be made from overseas sales of the programme. For that they were prepared to hold their noses and tolerate the non-PC antics of Clarkson and co.

      It will be interesting to see how well the old laddish formula (assuming they stick to it) works on Amazon Prime. Presumably Amazon will also enjoy the opportunity to have a snoop around our viewing history when we log on.

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  2. There’s another way of viewing the departure of Evans – just like the Brexit vote the week before, this was a demonstration of people-power against the establishment. They put a cross against Leave and they switched channels against Evans – both worked, and the establishment, whether politics or the BBC suddenly realised it had better start listening, so Evans went (more likely pushed than jumped, but he’s a sensitive soul, so let the kid ‘resign’). The danger to our leaders is that, if ‘the people’ realise the power they have now unleashed, then nothing will be the same again.

    The ‘Clarkson Top Gear’ worked because Clarkson is fundamentally a very clever writer and, although often looking spontaneous, it was very tightly scripted and arranged – even their weekly process of filling the front-row with tasty totty, rather than the central casting set of PC personnel in the Evans disaster, was part of the deception. And it wasn’t really about cars, they were just a device, a background excuse to feature three blokes being blokes for an hour. What’s perhaps surprising is that more than 50% of its audience was female – explain that.

    The Evans version was just a bad, very bad, clone-failure – no new material, just recycling the old Clarkson tricks without their creative intelligence, but with a full-on cast of PC presenters, black, female, foreign etc – I’m surprised they didn’t manage to fit in a blind, single-parent, breast-feeding, transsexual Eskimo in a wheelchair. Maybe next time.

    The best thing the BBC could do now would be to recognise they blew it, give Top Gear a decent burial and never again try to replicate that magic formula which had supported their budget for a decade. It’s gone, move on.

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