‘Who Wants to Be a Milliner?’ – a classic Clarkson vehicle

Jeremy Clarkson might not be PC, but he is always innovating. Why not hatmaking?

Tonight Jeremy Clarkson is returning to terrestrial television but, in an unusual move, he is hosting a programme about aspiring hatmakers. In many respects Who Wants to Be a Milliner? (TV3) is a classic Clarkson vehicle. The man might not be "politically correct" but he is always innovating and now he is apparently a mover and shaker in the rag trade.

Okay, I've just been informed by my editor that this is actually just a relaunch of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? I have, apparently, been hamstrung by my own "culchie" accent.

The original iteration of the long-running UK quiz show and paean to avarice ended in 2014, when urhost Chris Tarrant tricked the bad fairy who had cursed him and won his freedom. "Tarrant-Ta-ra!" he presumably cried as he absconded into the night (this should be his catchphrase). And now the show is back for one week only to celebrate its 20th anniversary, but this time with Clarkson at the helm.

For some time now, Clarkson! (which I will henceforth spell as it is pronounced, with an exclamation mark) has been relegated to Amazon Prime, a latter-day equivalent of Super Channel, which makes him Pat Sharp in the 1980s or possibly DJ Cat.

There, in well-paid obscurity, he self-narrates about times past from the steering wheel of a high-speed jalopy on Top Gear clone The Grand Tour.


As you probably know, Clarkson!'s banishment from the BBC's Top Gear was due to the fact he assaulted and racially abused an Irish man who wouldn't give him hot meats. I know that this sounds reasonable enough to you. Clarkson! was hungry and the Irish man was surely, if I know my countrymen, feckless, insolent and pope-cowed. Not a court in the land (Britain) would convict Clarkson! over this, I'm sure. And this is ultimately why we left the union and the Border is such a vexed issue.

Clarkson! had been presenting Top Gear for many years by the time he was driven to violence by the perfidious salad-wielding Gael and frankly it was impossible to imagine Top Gear without him. Then they did it without him and we realised it was grand.

Top Gear's life in the early days of the twenty first century was a sort of petrol-guzzling reboot of Last of the Summer Wine. Clarkson! was joined by curmudgeonly hippy James May and an adorable elderly child known as Richard Hammond to roam the byways in search of meaning. They all wore the same uniform – brown pointy shoes, jeans, a floral shirt and a sports jacket. I now know, to my horror, that this is just what middle-aged men look like when they're unclothed and in the wild (our legs are denim; our feet pointy brown-leather hooves; our chests paisley).

The clue is in the anachronistic name

In each episode, Clarkson! and his gang of snickering Memento Mori would spend the budget of a small developing country in order to drive noisy vehicles through that small developing country making hilarious japes about any locals they met along the way. In those countries, everyone just shook their head and said "The Brits are at it again!" little knowing that David Davis and Boris Johnson were transcribing each episode into a policy documents for post-Brexit trade missions.

Wartime rationing

I suppose, in a way, putting Clarkson! on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? amounts to ITV bravely passing the baton to the younger generation. Whereas Clarkson!'s revamped version of Top Gear is a child of the current century (the Clarksonian iteration first aired in 2002), Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? is, like Mr Blobby, wartime rationing, the music of the Glen Miller Orchestra, scurvy, the common market, penicillin, intensive farming, Minder, Keynesianism and Glen Madeiros, an artefact of the last one (it began in ancient 1998).

The clue is in the anachronistic name. Nowadays, it would be a YouTube channel called Who Wants to Upload a Gazillion Cryptobucks to the Bot Cloud, Bitches? I mean, what would a million quid get you these days? A one-bedroom flat in Dublin? Nineteen fidget spinners? You might as well call it Who'd Like a Few Farthings in the Old Money? or Who Wants to Be a Mere Millionaire? or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? but said sarcastically.

Butterfly net

The premise is, as always, simple enough. Tarrant, now Clarkson!, sits opposite an acquisitive punter who has been caught in a large butterfly net on the mean streets of Chiswick and must answer a series of multiple choice questions that appear on a high-tech flatscreen television. The early ones have less money at stake and are easy. For example:

“What is your own age? a) six months b) a lady never tells c) pi or d) JUST SAY YOUR ACTUAL AGE ALOUD”

The later questions, as the prize tally mounts to the eponymous million, are a little trickier. For example:

"With what country does the UK share a Border? a) Britannia has no borders b) the sea c) Ireland or d) We voted Leave! Leave means leave. What are you? French?"


At this point the troubled questionee, baffled by contemporary geopolitics and bloated by hormone-injected beef, may make use of one of his or her "lifelines". The term harks back to an era when the UK had a functioning safety net, but even then the lifeline you chose indicated something about your worldview. You could "phone a friend" (a so-called "expert"); you could "ask the audience" (I hesitate to use the word "mob", but usually this option led to a riot and a few deaths); or you could narrow the possibilities by choosing the "50/50" option (this is to stoically succumb to the whims of fate and it is usually the province of philosophers, or, as we call them here in The Irish Times, losers).

On the show tonight, any such considerations may well be beside the point. Confused at being positioned in a stationary seat for so long, Clarkson! will eventually start making absent-minded “brrrmm brrrmm” noises before getting involved in a scuffle with a Greek peasant boy over the temperature of his pie.

“Clarkson!” we’ll all declare, shaking our heads in woe. “What are you like?”