Clarkson on: the future
This article was first published in TopGear magazine, May 2006.
It’s likely that millions of years ago, Johnny Dinosaur was busy eating leaves, completely unaware that far, far away in what we now call the Caribbean Sea, a giant asteroid had exploded. And that as he settled down to a nice bit of willow, a huge dust cloud was heading his way.
And so it goes with the big, widescreen world of television. For as long as most of us can remember, we’ve had something called schedules. Top Gear, for instance, goes out on a Sunday at 8pm. Just after something with Richard Hammond in it. And just before Richard Hammond on ice. Simple.
But very soon, the idea of sitting down at a specific time to watch a specific programme will end. Instead you’ll watch whatever you want, whenever the mood takes you. You’ll start at 9.14pm with Dr Who, And then after some music videos and a spot of pornography, you’ll go to bed.
There won’t be a BBC or an ITV or a Channel Four. There won’t even be ‘televisions’. There’ll simply be a big vault of programmes which viewers will access on their computers. And that sounds great. No more waiting until Sunday to find out what Jack Bauer does next in 24. Just hit the yellow button and on with the story.
Already my kids have this mindset. They come home from school and after the homework is done (by me, usually), they settle down to watch The Simpsons, which seems to be on constantly.
Apparently, it’s the same story with Top Gear. If you delve into the murky, Christian and porno depths of your satellite listings, you can always find a repeat. Usually of the dreadful episode where we all went to Iceland. And couldn’t think of a single thing to say or do when we got there.
Anyway, my kids, with their Internets and their digital lives have no concept of scheduling. They can’t understand why I want to watch the BBC news at 6pm when it’s on permanently elsewhere. Nor can they see much point in Top of the Pops when all the songs are on the Internet, the radio, MTV, VH1, their iPods, the car stereo and every CD in the bloody house. All the bloody time.
So, they’ll welcome the new broadcasting world. But that’s because they’re not yet ten and they haven’t thought it through. At the moment, it costs a fortune to make Top Gear. Hundreds of people have to be paid. Richard Hammond has to be groomed. Cameras have to be rented. Fuel bought. Who is going to pay for this when the BBC is gone?
You’ll pay for the download perhaps? Well, how much? Because if it’s anything less than £12.50 we won’t even have enough for the sticky product in Hammond’s hair.
Advertising, then? Really? Are you going to sit through the commercials or hit the fast forward button? And how honest do you think we’d be about a Ford if the show was sponsored by, er, Ford?
"Very soon, the idea of sitting down at a specific time to watch a specific programme will end"
And then there’s the business of how a show like Top Gear would get off the ground in the first place. Who would have given us £200,000 for that first episode? And who would have watched? The show would have died after one miserable week.
So, as far as I can see, all you’ll get on your new ‘download’ TV is that fat kid pretending to be a Jedi knight with a floor mop. And a bit of happy slapping.
And just in case you thought I’d gone mad and forgotten that this is a motoring magazine, I should say at this point that those of a petrolly disposition can stop smirking. Because I think motoring as we know it is coming to an end as well.
Recently, there was a bit of a row about whether or not Britain’s government ministers should have new Jags as company cars. Apparently, they should have hybrid Toyota Priuses instead because this will set an example to the rest of us.
I don’t think so. Government ministers in the recent past have used Rovers (they went bust), the Vauxhall Omega (dropped because no one bought one) and Jags (the new XJ has been a flop). I’m afraid the evidence is compelling. We don’t look to our leaders for advice on anything. Let alone our choice of car.
And what’s so good about the Prius anyway? It does 45mpg, which makes it thirstier and dirtier than most diesels, it has two engines, which means two filthy production lines and imagine what it would look like alongside Berlusconi’s Quattroporte and Merkel’s Merc? A Prius would make Mr Blair look like an even bigger berk than he already is.
Astonishingly, however, a significant chunk of his ministers have decided to ditch the Jag and have the Toyota instead. And now, even though the road transport minister recently called them all ‘salad eaters’, you can be sure they’ll start to wear their hearts on our sleeves as well.
It’s already happening. Bit by bit. Little by little. The speed limit in a contraflow used to be 50. Now, in the roadworks on Oxford’s bypass, it’s ten. Ten! And to make sure you don’t go faster, you’re led, convoy style by a car with orange lights on its roof.
Meanwhile, planning permission to convert an airfield into a test track for Top Gear was refused. Because of road rage, apparently. And because of pollution. And the noise. This would be the noise of Terry Wogan in a Suzuki Liana presumably.
The message is clear. Employment. Enjoyment for 500 million people around the world. Better value from the licence fee. Kudos for the area. All ignored because in 2006, cars are bad.
That’s why we’re going to see big taxes on all cars with big engines. We’re going to see 4x4s banned from cities. We’re going to see more pedestrianisation, more bus lanes, more stuff and more nonsense. Anyone who buys a tasty car will be bled dry by the taxman and then made to feel guilty by dirty looks.
And you can forget speed cameras. I absolutely guarantee that within my lifetime, there will be constant satellite surveillance on every car, all the time. Anyone who breaks the limit will be fined. Not because they were a danger to themselves or others. But because they were a danger to the planet.
Currently, the BBC is hosting a giant experiment into global warming. I suggest you log on and tell them to eff off. I mean it. Already, we are seeing large numbers of people on the streets protesting about the animal rights protesters. And we need the same thing from the car lobby. A movement against the movement. Because if we all just sit here tutting, one day soon, the asteroid will hit.
That’s bad for you. But it’s catastrophic for me. No more decent cars. And no more television. I really will be screwed.