Remote Control - Saturday January 03, 2015

Top Gear
Top Gear
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Clarkson and co finally get in a real mess

This was probably a long time coming, but in their 11th special, the ‘boys’ of Top Gear (BBC2, Saturday and Sunday) finally got themselves into some real trouble.

It’s been years since the Beeb’s flagship motoring programme was really about the vehicles. Since the show was revived in 2002, presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond have been stuck in a curious place between perpetual adolescence and The Last of the Summer Wine.

Over the years, these specials have seen them race to the North Pole, ride across Vietnam on scooters and travel from Iraq to Bethlehem in Christmas 2010.

But this year, they decided to take three V8s to Patagonia, and drive them 1,600 miles down Argentina and Chile to arrive in Tierra del Fuego where they would ‘build bridges’ with the locals by creating a stadium and staging a car-football match with the locals.

But Clarkson’s Porsche 928 had the number plate H982 FKL, which, thanks to pre-publicity and the show’s global reach, an enterprising Argentinian had seen online, and made a link with the 1982 Falklands war. Which he then shared on social media.

Considering the hosts’ propensity for controversy, with previous outrages relating to accusations of racism, homophobia and insulting environmental activists, it has to be disingenuous at best to claim that no-one from the show’s production staff had noticed how the plate could be interpreted.

And given that Clarkson is well-known for his right-leaning politics, this was as good as waving a red rag to a bull.

So as they headed to the town of Ushuaia, the show took an unusual turn.

Suddenly, the stage-managed larks and hijinks were out, and in came secret filming and security consultants with pixelated faces.

With warnings that a mob was mounting, the 31 crew members fled 180 miles back to the Chilean border under police escort. It was genuinely tense viewing as the convoy was pelted with rocks and buzzed by local vehicles.

It’s going to be a while before any of the trio are offered any ambassadorial roles.

It might seem an odd choice to employ the man behind a failed hotel as your own hotel’s entertainments manager. But then this is the strange world of reality TV, and Mark Jenkins, star of the original The Hotel (Sunday, Channel 4, 9pm) has been given another crack. Even though his own Torquay establishment, The Grosvenor, went under, he is, as the voice-over describes him, a man of ‘unshakeable self-belief’.

‘I’m their only hope’ boasts Mark early on, ‘The impossible is my speciality.’ Lord help them.

As one guest, the rather posh Tim, put it on Mark’s first night in the bar: ‘It’s quite fun. Like being stuck on a ghastly cruise ship.’

And Mark may yet turn things around – if he can convince the staff to actually do some work to save their own jobs.

Chris Broom