Monday, December 10, 2007

Death of Jeremy Clarkson (almost)

Lord Goldsmith's proposal last week that the words of our national anthem should be changed to make it more “inclusive” has led to a spate of suggestions for national anthem replacements on the Downing Street e-petition website.

Although there is predictable support for Land of Hope and Glory and Jerusalem there are some radical proposals, including a spirited campaign for the theme from The Archers. At least we’ll all remember the words: “Rum te tum te tum te dum”.

The e-petition site is supposed to be a way of connecting our government with its electorate. I see that a few thousand people have signed an e-petition calling for the upgrading of the A1 north of Morpeth and a few more want the widening of the Western by-pass.

However you question the site’s value to the democratic process when you see that the sixth most popular proposal is “Make Jeremy Clarkson Prime Minister”. Why 26,000 people would waste their time voting for a man who single-handedly killed the jeans industry is beyond me.

Ten years ago, I very nearly killed Jeremy Clarkson. I’d created a television series called Robot Wars and Jeremy was the first presenter.

I knew the robots were dangerous. They had real axes, saws and other weapons of mass destruction and they were given names like “Panic Attack”, ”Razer” (sic!), and “Chaos”. Because members of the public had built them from second hand wheelchair motors and radio-controlled toy cars, they were notoriously unreliable. So, in order to stop stray robots running into the audience, we put up some Perspex screens round the stage.

I asked Jeremy to host the first series because his support for motorized metal mayhem was pretty close to the Robot Wars ethos. So he stood high above the carnage on a rostrum, making facetious comments about the little boxes below, which had taken grown men months to build, and less than two minutes to destroy.

The first day of shooting went fairly well, despite the fact that a lot of the robots had technical problems and we had to pull them onto the stage with fishing wire.

The second morning, just as we were getting into our stride, disaster struck. A robot being driven by a tearful eight year old was being carefully carved into tiny pieces by one of the house robots. Suddenly a circular metal blade (from a robot appropriately called “Dead Metal”) flew into the air at more than 200 miles an hour and embedded itself deep in a solid concrete wall just behind where Jeremy was standing.

When we studied the recording in slow motion, we found that the blade, rotating at a more than 6000 rpm, had missed the Clarkson scalp by less than two inches. With only a slight adjustment to the trajectory, the person now being proposed as our country’s leader would have been decapitated.

Of course within minutes the entire show had been shut down and it took a week for us to find enough bulletproof Perspex to seal off the auditorium from danger. The rest is history, except that Jeremy wisely decided his life was more valuable than our second series, and went back to abusing Skodas.

Clarkson’s profile has grown over the years, but somehow I can’t see his fan club getting far with their campaign. In fact, I doubt that Downing Street takes any notice of its e-petition site at all, certainly not enough to listen to a few thousand people trying to get the North East a decent motorway to link it with the rest of the world.

But here’s a solution. Instead of wasting valuable time on the government’s site, people who want us to have a road infrastructure for the 21st century might do a lot worse than to send a petition to Jeremy Clarkson himself. After all, with six million adoring Top Gear fans, he’s probably got more clout than the real prime minister.

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