The notion of new contracts for Top Gear presenters Richard Hammond and James May is a thorny one for their BBC paymasters, especially in the current climate of transparency. On the one hand, Hammond and May are obviously important elements of what makes Top Gear so very popular - remove one part of the trinity, and would the whole circus tent come crashing down around them? On the other, the BBC is under so much scrutiny in terms of everything it does now, star salaries especially, can Auntie be seen to be held to ransom by any personality on its books?
To be fair to Hammond and May, it seems they simply want fair dealings in line with the new contract negotiated by Jeremy Clarkson, which is rumoured to include a cut of profits from the commercial activities of the Top Gear brand. One thing I do have to ask, however, is: without Top Gear front and centre on their annual CV, would either presenter’s extra-curricular projects be as noteworthy and successful?
Richard Hammond is perhaps a special case, having become something of a national treasure following his near-fatal accident while filming a sequence for a Top Gear report. But that aside, I think he’s a likeable and genuinely talented presenter with great range and appeal beyond Top Gear.
But May… Now, with all due respect, he’s cracking on Top Gear, but I’m not sure how much mileage that unkempt, uncompromising blokey shtick has beyond the show. Especially as Clarkson still carries off the same routine well enough without needing a Mini-Me to help him out. And I did find May’s stance on the complaint over his and Clarkson’s quaffing of a G&T at the wheel during one of Top Gear’s regular race features to be a touch off the mark. Okay, you were in the North Pole, there wasn’t anything around you for miles, but to turn round to the BBC Trust and say: “You can sod off!” when you’ve had your wrists slapped is not a great display of diplomacy. Yes, it might have been a silly complaint, all told, but you work for a public service broadcaster, deal with it. Auntie has to show a sense of responsibility in these things. And besides, what were you doing burning up the North Pole in a 4x4 in the first place?
I think the success of Top Gear has gone to the collective head of the show a little bit to the point where the presenters sometimes have the air of errant schoolboys who are happy to stick two fingers up at teacher and they’ll get away with it. I admit that attitude is part of the mass appeal of the show, but a word to the wise, gentlemen: the broadcasting climate is changing, you might not be as bullet proof as you think you are…