Why I’m sad for my children that Clarkson is leaving Top Gear

I remember the first time I watched The Sweeney. Other children my age were watching cartoons, but nothing captured my imagination more than watching Jack Regan screeching round the streets of London in a Mk3 Cortina GXL.

Top GearSat with my Dad, car spotting and enjoying the Flying Squad’s totally un-PC DI tearing up the criminal underworld was one of my favourite things to do. Actually it still is – and along with Airwolf, Knight Rider and countless old rally vids, I’m already introducing the third generation to the cult shows I was introduced to by Woody Senior.

The great thing about programmes like those I mention above (and I’m sure you can add plenty of your own to the list!) is that they have timeless appeal, so you can dust off the video cassettes anytime you fancy a bit of nostalgia. And people like me always will.

I owe my love for classic Fords (my first rally car was a Mk2 Cortina which I built with my Dad!), at least in part to Jack Regan and George Carter. And in part, I owe my love for driving and talking about fast cars to what we used to do on Sunday evenings as a family.

Top Gear didn’t need timeless appeal, it moved with the times. Unlike Jack Regan and Stringfellow Hawke, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May are real life characters that myself, my Dad and my seven year old son can relate to.

I can’t think of another TV show that has spanned our three generations; that has appealed equally to all three. But thanks to well-documented events that allegedly unfolded in a North Yorkshire hotel room, for our seven year old Top Gear as we know it will be just a childhood memory. For our six month old it will have to take its place in the DVD cabinet alongside re-mastered editions of The Sweeney and Airwolf. (And it will!)

The biggest record of Top Gear’s unprecedented reign as the BBC’s most valuable global brand isn’t its figures, I would argue. It was in its ability to be a part of the family. A true household name.

On the day the BBC announced it was terminating Jeremy Clarkson’s contract, my Grandma asked me what I thought, my local BBC radio station spoke to me live on air for my reaction to the news, it came up in conversation with my parents, my wife, numerous colleagues, and I used the news to make a point to our afore-mentioned seven year old about treating others with respect blah blah blah.

Paul Woodford

By the way, I’m not for one second suggesting Tony Hall was wrong to make the call he did. After all, as I said in my interview with Andy Comfort on BBC Radio Humberside, the corporation has a responsibility to send the right messages out to the public, and workplace violence can never be condoned.

Here’s what’s on my mind though; I can’t imagine a motoring TV show ever figuring so highly in all of our lives – not even Top Gear in different hands, unfortunately.

Top Gear empowered petrolheads; certainly Monday morning conversations in the office are unlikely to feature worship for the latest Ferrari and debates about the best new hot hatch. I just hope the new Top Gear in 2016 – alluded to in Hall’s statement – will continue to inspire future generations.

I also hope I can somehow have a hand in influencing that, but that’s a whole different story!

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