It's been a while since Jeremy Clarkson caused an upset. The days of him punching a producer, prompting his ejection from the BBC, or straining diplomatic relations in Argentina seem so long ago, it's enough to make one nostalgic. But order has been restored with a fresh storm about homophobic remarks aired during the new series of The Grand Tour, highlighted on Twitter by the singer Will Young.
"Enough is enough," said Young. "I'm pissed and fed up. I want Amazon Prime and the producers of Grand Tour to meet young LGBT [people] who want to kill themselves because of shaming and laughter and normalising of shaming homophobic narratives."
Young's complaint lies with an episode in which Clarkson and his underlings, Richard Hammond and James May, travel across Colombia under the pretext of photographing wildlife. Clarkson is given a Jeep Wrangler to drive, which May notes is "a very popular car with the gay community". The trio then stand around pondering the meaning of LGBT – "what is it – lesbian, bacon, transgender?" asks Clarkson. Later on Hammond declares that the vehicle would be best paired with "some nice chaps, suede, but ventilated at the back". Meanwhile, The Weather Girls' It's Raining Men plays on the stereo.
Should we be surprised? Schoolboy sniggering and colonial-style bantz has long been the trio's stock-in-trade. The Grand Tour, meanwhile, has spent the past two-and-a-bit years bulldozing its way across continents, proudly racking up air miles and hoisting its hosts aloft like minor royalty in a sedan chair. In the offending episode, we also get to see Hammond trying to manoeuvre a monster truck through the back streets of Cartagena, in the process holding up an ambulance trying to attend an emergency. The moment passes with little more than a shrug.
It's possibly written into the contract that Clarkson and co must also cast lazy aspersions on "the locals", much as they did on the BBC's Top Gear. Back then Romania was "Borat country" and full of Gypsies; now, in an absurdly contrived set-piece, rural Colombians are donkey-shaggers. Such japes.
The phrase “toxic masculinity” is overused, deployed to describe all manner of male infractions, but here it is apt, highlighting the raging entitlement and inherent smugness of three white men telling it like it is and waging their mid-life war against untrammelled political correctness, the liberal disease that saw them hounded off the BBC. The problem is that what they see as runaway wokeness, a lot of reasonable and courteous people view simply as “not being an arsehole”.
It's possible that Amazon is feeling a similar queasiness around the show. It's one thing to try to reinvent a format once loved by millions; it's another to blow an alleged £160m per series when that love is already on the wane. In any case, shortly before Christmas the platform revealed The Grand Tour would no longer exist as a series and will live on instead as a succession of "specials" – the final chapter, one hopes, for this bloated, catastrophically unfunny product.
Young was right to call out Amazon as well as the presenters. The complacency with which Amazon Prime and its production team has treated the whole enterprise has finally come back to bite the platform. You can imagine the mood when plotting the first series – "Here you go, lads, have a pile of cash! Go mad! Let's stick it to the BBC!"
What we are seeing now is Clarkson, Hammond and May fully liberated and exercising their inalienable right to offend. Yet rarely has the show looked so flaccid, so bored with its own existence. All of which suggests that the BBC was right to pull the plug on Clarkson when it did, even if it meant dooming its biggest cash cow, Top Gear (which still staggers on, unloved).
Commentators have a habit of signalling the departure of a big hitter as a national tragedy and another nail in the BBC's coffin – see the wailing over Jonathan Ross's exit post-Sachsgate and, more recently, Chris Evans's move to Virgin. Yet, with each celebrity departure, fresh blood is hired, new shows are dreamed up, older ones are rejigged or retired. Life goes on. The Grand Tour was clearly a tantalising experiment for Amazon but it has failed to breathe life into an ailing format. The end is surely nigh. – Guardian