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Is Clarkson, Hammond & May Live better than Top Gear?

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Supercars, flame throwers; it was Top Gear in all but name. ShortList reports on Clarkson, Hammond & May Live at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena - and Chris Evans wasn't in sight

So what were Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May to do with doubt over the future of their car show? The short answer is more of the same, but on tour in front of the paying public.

Having been shunted away from TV screens, the trio were left in a tricky legal predicament. The tour would go on, but with a hastily thought-up name and a lack of merchandise. That it should open with a spoof Seventies cop film featuring Ford Cortinas and moustaches was goofy enough. Then, KAPOW, a dramatisation of Clarkson’s dismissal before he breezed in on a hovercraft, bellowing, “’I’M HERE!” What were you expecting, an apology?

Aside from panto-buffoonery, every yard of the arena is used for pure spectacle: four stunt bikes in a metal sphere; souped up Porsches lit by a woman with flame throwers for arms; team GB athlete Louise Hazel racing May driving a Nissan GT-R.

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But the silliness provides the real entertainment. Familiar aspects have been revamped, such as reasonably priced cars performing stunts. Or the driver testing supercars – who, for legal reasons, is named ‘The Ben Collins’. Most memorably, the three presenters race their personally designed electric cars featuring ironing boards, tumble dryers and food blenders. 

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Like the best comedy acts, they know how deplorable they can be, yet retain their status as lovable rogues. “People know us well enough by now to know Hammond is a thick Brummie, James is a pedantic bore, and I’m a bit bombastic,” Clarkson tells us later. “Those elements shine through; along with a lot of stuff that’s ambitious, which often turns out to be useless.” He’s not wrong: between stunts, they eulogise engines, argue over a £6,000 racing stripe and how to pronounce the letter ‘z’.

Above all the revving is the sound of a man who will not be silenced. While marvelling at his food blender-powered vehicle, he claimed Professor Stephen Hawking would be proud. “But then Hawking would struggle to make a balloon animal”. Could he say that? According to Clarkson, he could: “I don’t work for the BBC any more, I can say what I want”. Naturally, the show wouldn’t end without Clarkson having his way.

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