"Digging" for the Truth
Since May of 2003, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May have been entertaining the masses with their pseudo-informational to downright absurd approach to the automotive industry. During their 22 Season run (21 with May), they managed to find themselves at the center of quite a few controversies. Some of these were meticulously manufactured for entertainment, such as driving a Rolls into a pool, and others were more unintentional. One or two in particular led to the downfall of Clarkson's run on the show. Regardless of the reception of these stunts, they are nearly guaranteed to elicit a reaction of some sort. One of the most memorable reactions to a stunt was the TGGGF.
For those who, like me, are not versed in television of the UK beyond Top Gear (and my slightly embarrassing addiction to British procedurals), The Top Garden Ground Gear Force, or Top Gear Ground Force, Garden Force, was a one-off special that the Boys did for the 2008 Sport Relief, a biennial charity event on the BBC to raise money for indigent people in struggling countries. The 2008 Sport Relief was hosted by Gary Lineker, Davina McCall, and our own Richard Hammond, and featured such guests as Jimmy Carr, Johnathan Ross, and Sue Barker, among others.
Footballer Gary Lineker, TV Personality Davina McCall, and the intrepid Richard Hammond hosting Sport Relief 2008.
The Top Gear spin off skit was a 59 minute episode combining the whit (at least half of it) and style of Jezza, Hamster, and Captain Slow, with the British gardening show Ground Force, which was a makeover show for gardens, yards and lawns. The victim, I mean lucky winner of the Top Gear Trio's altruistic garden revamp was five time Olympic Gold Medal Rowing Champion Sir Stephen Redgrave. The Top Gear Crew gave themselves eight hours to turn Redgrave's lawn into a manicured masterpiece with "a river of gravel" leading to a wrap around tree bench, among other things. According to the show, the idea was supposed to be a surprise for the Olympian orchestrated by his wife, Lady Ann.
For those of you who have yet to see this hidden Top Gear gem, I will not spoil it with in depth recitation each attempt to remodel Sir Stephen's yard, and subsequent attempts to repair the damage they inflicted. In short, from pruning a tree with a shotgun, to making a grill with the jet engine of a V1 Buzz Bomb, crashing a digger, and setting fire to a shed, the Trio was in top form.
The most interesting moment for me, however, was not burning sheds or flying water features, but the reaction on the Olympian's face when he arrived home to bear witness to the aftermath of the automotive legends' hamfisted approach to gardening. It felt genuine, as if Redgrave was actually surprised, and not in a good way, to see the Three Stooges of motoring standing in front of what was left of his lawn.
Much of Top Gear is a blend of humorous scripting and staged conundrums presented in the style of professional wrestling (but with better acting), and the TGGGF Special is no exception. Re-watching this treasure, I couldn't help but think about that aspect of Top Gear that goes unmentioned: what happens after the Trio wreck everything.
Top Gear has become famous for its seemingly inconsiderate destruction of public and private property alike, but most of the time it's quite obvious that their shenanigans are staged and well prepared. For example, the Top Gear boys destroyed the Twickenham Rugby Pitch with the debut of the Kia Cee'd in Series 19, which was scheduled to be re-turfed anyways, and the dousing of the lunch crowd at a restaurant with the Hover-Van during Series 20, which came out as staged when an actor at the restaurant called it one of his "silliest jobs ever" (Williams, 2013). Three years after the Trio left the BBC motoring show, it's only the effort of an online search to find the dirty details behind most of their greatest stunts, from burning a caravan while on holiday, to plowing into a pool with a Rolls.
Clarkson christening a pool in Chipping Norton by driving a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow into the water, in homage to Keith Moon.
The Ground Force special ended with a dismal look on Sir Stephen Redgrave's face, and indication on how, or even if they would go about fixing his lawn turned Somme. Now, when questioned about the destruction of his yard, Sir Redgrave told the Radio Times "'They raised a lot of money for Sports Relief and my garden has been put back into an even better state than it was... But I didn't speak to my wife for three months.'" (Noah, 2012). This came as a response to questions about Sir Stephen shading Clarkson for his egregious salary as a TV presenter, but failed to provide further commentary on the shot.
Sir Stephen Redgrave and family with the trio, looking slightly more amused with the situation after Jeremy's apology.
Supposedly there were 65 complaints to the Sport Relief program regarding the segment, but the Sunday Mail article detailing the calls has since been deleted, leaving this claim as unsubstantiated, but not surprising. The Trio never seem to shy away from criticism, even going so far as to incorporate many of the complaints against the show (mostly in the ilk of not considering the common motorist in their show), and wear (most) of their criticism like a badge of honor (we won't mention Argentina or Mexico).
While neither Top Gear, nor its successor The Grand Tour make much of a show of hiding their escapist surrealism, the complaints are constant, which I prefer to think fuels the Boys and their loyal producer Andy Wilman to keep creating wonderful shows, both to stick it to the haters, and for their fans, whether car lovers or just those who enjoy a good laugh. Regardless if their threat to riverside lunch dates, rugby pitches, or the local pool, is real or fabricated, when the Orangutan, Mr. Sense of Direction, and the One-With-Suspiciously-White-Teeth get together, fans are in for an entertaining treat.
With The Grand Tour wrapping Season 3 of its production, and with Clarkson, Hammond, and May seemingly up to their same old tricks unperturbed by the loss of their beloved Top Gear the writing on the wall is that there is much more of the same coming for fans of the Trio and their lunacy. With Season 3 airing in 2019, and a tie-in multi platform video game under development, fans have plenty of reasons to be excited for the return of the beloved (or loathed) Trio, and for the first time will get the chance to join in on some of their antics from the safety of their couch (I really hope they throw in some Caravan Conkers).
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