Jeremy Clarkson being hoofed in the testes. Now that’s what I call erotica

Patrick Freyne: I will be giving Clarkson’s Farm my usual joyless Marxist critique, but first...

Quite well off: Jeremy Clarkson

Quite well off: Jeremy Clarkson

 

Jeremy Clarkson being hoofed in the testes; Jeremy Clarkson getting his overly large tractor stuck in a mud pit he has dug himself; Jeremy Clarkson putting his arm inside a sheep; Jeremy Clarkson being admonished by his land agent for unorthodox agronomy; Jeremy Clarkson gazing wistfully at a goldfinch; Jeremy Clarkson being hoofed in the testes again, but harder.

This stuff is pure erotica for some people, and it’s at the heart of Clarkson’s Farm, a very popular Amazon programme about, well, Clarkson’s farm.

I will be giving this my usual joyless Marxist critique, but first: what do we talk about when we talk about Clarkson? Well, he found fame as the ruddy-faced host of the BBC’s flagship motoring show, dressed in the traditional garb of a stag-weekending bank manager – sports jacket and bootcut jeans with affluent musk.

Jeff Bezos presumably thinks The Grand Tour/Continuity Top Gear is a heartbreaking documentary about penniless urchins who can’t afford spaceships

In that programme he and his chuckling chums drove expensive vehicles around beautiful parts of the world and exploded things and laughed at strangers. That show was called Cargasm 2000 or possibly Rich Man Chortlefest or possibly Top Gear. I can’t remember. It’s hard to imagine a mainstream BBC show nowadays in which guffawing, privately educated millionaires explode their way through public money, except, obviously, the news.

Look, I know The Grand Tour, on Amazon Prime Video, is basically Continuity Top Gear, but Amazon is not the BBC. Amazon is a streaming service owned by Jeff Bezos, a wizened trillionaire who has launched himself into space in a penis-shaped rocket. He presumably thinks The Grand Tour/Continuity Top Gear is a heartbreaking documentary about penniless urchins who can’t afford spaceships. He probably signed it up via some sort of Amazon diversity programme aimed at deprived millionaires in paisley shirts.

The end came for Clarkson on the BBC only after he hit an Irishman who wouldn’t give him hot meat. He was left with nothing but his vast fortune, his well-paid newspaper column and regular jobs on other high-profile television programmes, like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? where he presumably has to resist regularly adding the words “like me!” to that title. Yes, “cancel culture” truly is a harrowing thing.

Clarkson’s Farm pitches itself as a fish-out-of-water farce about a big-city media type. But if you’re no fun, like me, you’d be more inclined to describe it as a fish-very-much-in-water programme about upper-class landownership

Clarkson’s Farm seems to be a real comeback for this plucky overdog. It has charmed people, and I can see why. It’s beautifully shot and has some surprising hidden depths. It’s not quite what it purports to be. It’s pitching itself as a fish-out-of-water reality-television farce in which a big-city media type is challenged with the practical task of running a working farm. However, if you’re no fun, like me, you’d be more inclined to describe it as a fish-very-much-in-water programme about upper-class landownership.

It’s really not unusual for very rich people to hobby around with the productive power of their vast estates. But A Pretty Conventional Story About a Rich Man Who Owns Land and Basically Has Servants is a long-winded title, and Landownership with Jeremy Clarkson is too on the nose. So they went with Clarkson’s Farm.

There are, in fairness, several layers to the show. One layer is simply Clarkson doing stuff, as demonstrated in my opening paragraph. Clarkson is a seasoned entertainer who can engage in any task in a vaudevillian fashion. His general shtick is that he is a self-aware, self-narrating buffoon who veers from boastful overconfidence to self-deprecating comeuppance in a low-stakes environment.

In Clarkson’s Farm this is largely communicated via a double act with the charismatically stroppy young farmhand Kaleb Cooper, whose sage counsel Clarkson frequently ignores. This is basically a version of the “wise servant” trope that harks back through Blackadder to Jeeves and Wooster to Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Socialists will note that the idiot half of all these partnerships still owns everything.

Clarkson’s Little England bluster subsides a bit. While he still weakly shakes his fist at ‘communists’ or ‘red tape’ or ‘ecoists’, he doesn’t really seem to have the courage of his convictions any more

But there’s also something deeper going on. The programme painstakingly follows the farming process over the course of a year and so also becomes an education in the hard graft, material realities and tiny margins of farming as a business. And, as the programmes progresses and Clarkson seems to engage more seriously with what’s happening, we begin to see another side to him.

The Clarkson persona is partly expressed in the mismatch between his lugubrious sad-eyed face and his smirking quip-ready mouth. In this show we sporadically see the smirk slacken as the sad eyes are overcome by a sunset or are enchanted by lambs. His Little England bluster even subsides a bit, because, while he still weakly shakes his fist at “communists” or “red tape” or “ecoists”, he doesn’t really seem to have the courage of his convictions any more.

It’s almost as though this were all just reactionary cosplay designed to upset timid Guardian readers. As the show progresses, much as with the Selfish Giant, Clarkson’s heart grows in size as he contemplates the creatures cavorting in his garden, which is paradise, and he even creates a kind of wildlife sanctuary. It turns out that all we needed to do to get performative cranks to care more about the environment is to let them own big chunks of it.

Watching the sense of peace that overtakes Clarkson as the episodes progress, I start thinking about my own life. Maybe I too should escape the rough and tumble of urban existence and become a wealthy landowner. Why do we persist in being nurses or teachers or park wardens or shop assistants or journalists? Why don’t we also experience the gentle, hazy transformative power of owning land worth millions of pounds?

If they want to up the stakes for the second series – it has already been commissioned – it might be an idea to let Kaleb Cooper, the charismatically stroppy young farmhand, and some of the other workers seize the means of production

Because, just in case I haven’t mentioned it, Clarkson’s Farm isn’t really about Clarkson being a farmer. It’s about Clarkson being a wealthy landowner. There are illusory stakes here but no real risks. Clarkson is personally worth about £50 million. Even if he loses some money on his farming hobby, it’s going to be offset by Bezos-bucks.

Yes, Clarkson’s Farm is frequently a strangely joyful programme, but, when I think about it, it’s the second-hand joy of owning land while not being financially dependent on that land. So, if they want to up the stakes for the second series (which has already been commissioned), it might be an idea to let Kaleb and some of the other workers seize the means of production.

I enjoy Clarkson’s Farm, but Comrade Kaleb’s Syndicalist Collective is a programme I could really get behind.

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