Clarkson on: leaving Top Gear TV
To a great many people, Top Gear presenters have very possibly the best job in the world. Free cars, club class travel, no repurcussions when you crash and large dollops of fame, fortune and foie gras.
So I'm sure a few readers may be a little perplexed to hear that I have resigned. Here's why.
Now that I've gone, I don't need to drive a razor around my face every single morning. I don't need to buy new shoes every time the old pair start to look scruffy and, best of all, I have no need, ever, to set foot again in the armpit that masquerades as Britain's second city.
Much as I liked Pebble Mill, I really did grow to hate, with unbridled passion, the city that surrounds it. Until you have driven through King's Heath on a wet Wednesday in February, you have not experienced true horror.
You may have seen footage of the Columbian towns devastated by the recent earthquake. Well, King's Heath is like that, only worse. In seven days, God created heaven and earth and then, just to keep his oppo amused, he let Beelzebub do Birmingham.
I pity James May, the man being touted as my replacement. He has been lured by the promise of untold riches, of motor industry obsequeousness on a biblical scale and of bathing in an intoxicating mix of public adulation and Dom Perignon. But he has not considered that his drive from England to Pebble Mill will mean getting through King's Heath.
There are, of course, other reasons why I needed to go. There was, for instance, surprise when I described the Corolla as dull and, yes, even shock when I was seen to fall asleep while driving it. And then, there was surprise again when I savaged the Vectra, refusing for seven minutes of tele-visual time to say anything about it.
By the time I got round to the Cadillac Seville STS, the Clarkson attacks were only midly noteworthy. You had grown to expect them. The shock tactics had become predictable and so weren't shocking any more.
"Much as I liked Pebble Mill, I really did grow to hate, with unbridled passion, the city that surrounds it"
And it was the same with the metaphors. The first time you heard me liken some car to the best bits of Cameron Diaz, you probably sniggered about it at school all the next day. But now, it's tedious.
I never tired of trying to think up new ways to describe a car, and could regularly be found at four in the morning scribbling new lines on a piece of paper by the side of the bed.
I thought of one only last night. "It's like being left outside the pub as a child with a crisp drink and a bag of coke." Great, but now I've nowhere to put it.
I will of course carry on writing for this magazine, and there's always Mr Murdoch to stand bravely between my front door and the wolf but already I'm starting to miss Top Gear.
I miss the banter with Quentin and Tiff, as we sniggered about Steve Berry and what he'd crashed that week. I miss Vicky's eyes and her ability to bring sex into absolutely everything. I miss climbing into a new car and thinking "Right. What have we got here then".
You may think that the best bit was the endless succession of new cars. But it wasn't. The best bit was sitting down at the computer with an expectant, winking cursor and then, four days later, handing over seven minutes of video tape to the producer.
The actual driving was always a drag. You sat in some Godforsaken hedge, on a blind bend waiting for the walky-talky to say the road was clear. And then you set off to find it wasn't or that the cameraman had lost focus and that you'd have to do it all over again, and again and again.
I promise you this. It really isn't much fun driving a Ferrari when you are accompanied by a cameraman, a ton of equipment and a bloody great blinding light on the bonnet.
I'm often asked what qualifications you need to work on Top Gear and I've always given the same advice. Like cars by all means, but love writing. Love it so much that you do it to relax. See the new Alfa or whatever as nothing more than a tool on which your prose can be based.
Don't worry about how fast it gets from 0 to 60. Worry only about how you will explain this meaningless figure to your viewers or readers.
So what am I going to do to fill the void left by Top Gear? Simple. I'm going to write and write and write until the smiles come back.
This article was originally published in the March 1999 issue of Top Gear magazine