Stacia Briggs on new Top Gear: At least there’s no Clarkson

The new Top Gear. Photo: BBC World Wide 2016

The new Top Gear. Photo: BBC World Wide 2016 - Credit: BBC Worldwide

I know it's heresy, but I couldn't abide that boorish, contemptuous sneering lout Clarkson and his royal court of hangers-on, obsequious manservant James May and dwarf jester Richard Hammond.

Jeremy Clarkson, former Top Gear presenter. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Jeremy Clarkson, former Top Gear presenter. Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire - Credit: PA

If there was ever a caricature of a hateful, ungrateful public schoolboy with a chip on his shoulder, it was Clarkson with his vile klaxon mouth blaring horror after horror.

He told audiences that South Korean car makers eat dogs, mocked the disabled, suggested public sector strikers should be shot dead in front of their families, called Asians 'slopes', drove through Argentina with a number plate apparently referring to the Falklands war, drove a Jaguar around Indian slums with a toilet mounted on it, insulted women wearing burkas and attacked a Top Gear producer that couldn't magic him up a sirloin steak at gone 10pm.

And do you know the very, very worst thing about Clarkson? The really unforgiveable thing? He's a clever man capable of being incredibly funny, amusingly outspoken and on-the-nail: but it's a bit like saying that a man-eating shark is kind to its mother. The hideous stuff shadows the good.

Frankly, as far as I'm concerned, Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc could have presented the rebooted Top Gear via interpretative dance in the pitch dark and I'd have preferred it to watching Clarkson and his cronies.

Matt LeBlanc in the new Top Gear. Photo: BBC World Wide 2016

Matt LeBlanc in the new Top Gear. Photo: BBC World Wide 2016 - Credit: BBC Worldwide

Rarely do I complain about paying my licence fee, but paying Jeremy Clarkson to insult the rest of the world, hit people and drive really lovely cars that I will never, ever be able to afford really got my goat. The BBC is one bigot down, three cheers.

I love cars and I love driving, so I am the perfect target audience for Top Gear (if you can gloss over the fact that I'm a woman) which returned on Sunday with new hosts but a familiar format.

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'Welcome to Top Gear,' Chris Evans whispered at the top of the show, clearly terrified at taking the wheel from The Evil One who despite being loathsome is adored by people who secretly have all his opinions but dare not voice them. Fully aware of the poisoned chalice he's been handed, he then introduced co-host Matt who he has to buddy-up with faster than a Ferrari because the Dark Lord and his minions were together for 22 series and that's a lot of shared twazzockness to compete with.

After a TGI Friday-style moment that involved the staff from Evans' local Indian takeaway sitting on a car to represent a tonne of downforce (the same effect as a rear spoiler on a Dodge Viper, apparently) and to gift him a gag about late night catering, hur-hur-hur, we were off to US Naval Air Station Fallon in the Nevada desert. Top Gun!

Evans puts the Viper to the test and it all goes a bit Clarkson-lite as he imitates Jeremy Clovenhooves minus the racial slurs, sexism and snobbery. For someone who excels at off-the-cuff quips, to hear him tethered to a script is a bit uncomfortable.

Nowhere near as uncomfortable as being Sabine Schmitz's passenger as she takes on Evans in a Chevrolet Corvette – the fighter pilot next to her is used to the kind of G-Force that would rip out a normal human's liver, but Schmitz has him heaving into the desert within half an hour.

'You can be any time my wing man,' she tells him, giving us all an idea of what Top Gun sounded like when dubbed into German.

Back in Blighty, Evans and LeBlanc took on a UK vs USA challenge which was back on familiar testosterone-charged territory: both drove three-wheelers to Blackpool with varied success, both drove army vechicles along the sea front at top speed, rescued drag queens from the beach and then pointlessly chased each other up a mountain. Someone won, I can't remember who.

In the studio, Star in a Reasonably Priced Car has become two stars in a rallycross car who introduce each other in an awkward way, this week Gordon Ramsay (who has bought two limited-edition Ferraris within a year which even his daughter thinks is embarrassing) and Jesse Eisenberg (who doesn't have a car) both take on a Mini against the clock.

Evans is far happier on the sofa interviewing than he is driving a car and reading a script.

LeBlanc, meanwhile, has been sent to what looks like the set of Star Wars where he is messing around in a kind of dune buggy thing called a Nomad and while he is far better with scripted material than Evans (he should be, he's an actor) this segment didn't hold my attention in the slightest – well, until he or a stuntman drove the Nomad into the back of a transporter driven by The Stig while on the move, The Italian Job-style.

Consulting social media in the hours that followed transmission, you'd have thought the BBC had conscripted Hitler and Jack the Ripper to front Top Gear – it really wasn't that bad. It wasn't great, but it wasn't terrible. It was OK. Third Gear.

Jeremy Clarkson, however, is terrible. I'm glad he's not wantonly offending people on my payroll any more. And on that bombshell…

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