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James May and Jeremy Clarkson learn to beware of the buses but not much more… And they need some new cycling jokes

When news emerged that this evening’s edition of the BBC’s hugely popular motoring programme, Top Gear, was due to feature a segment on cycle safety, it seemed too good to be true – and that’s exactly how it turned out, as it resorted to a to a re-hash of old jokes and pantomime prejudice against cyclists.

Aired on the eve of the launch of a major new road safety campaign by the AA aimed at fostering more awareness between people in cars and those on two wheels, Top Gear could have seized an opportunity to highlight that they are often one and the same.

Indeed, just as AA president Edmund King called in November 2012 for an end from what he described as a “Two Tribes” mentality that often sees motorists and cyclists viewed as breeds apart, Top Gear co-host James May told the My Orange Brompton blog last year, “I particularly hate road sectarianism.”

You wouldn’t have known that from last night’s show as May, on his Brompton, embarked on what was laughably described as a fact-finding bike ride through London’s West End, accompanied by Jeremy Clarkson on a hybrid.

The tour was undertaken after a panel of experts reacted with dismay to Clarkson and May’s initial efforts to produce what was billed as a “public information film” to help stop cyclists being injured.

Those experts were British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman, Westminster Council’s commissioner of transportation, Martin Low and Alan Kennedy of Road Safety GB.

Speaking to road.cc last week about Top Gear's pre-filmed cycling segment Chris Boardman told us this: 

“Anything to do with Top Gear is playing with fire, which is why people watch it,” he said. “On the flip side, it’s also a chance to reach a wider (motoring) audience and portray ourselves as ‘one of you’ rather than cycling fanatics. Just normal people with a sense of humour, who’d like to see more cycling.

“I’m not in control of the edit but knowing a bit about making telly, I could see how they could cut it to look several different ways!

“We’ll see on Sunday if the gamble has paid off.”

We saw.

Clarkson’s film showed a man leaving the office after working late and driving home to his family. “John works hard,” went the voiceover, “which means he can afford to drive a car. That means he gets home to his family safely every night.”

The strapline, against the image of a bicycle laying on the road with buckled tyres, was “Work Harder. Get a car,” an old Clarkson joke and used often enough to be more or less his catchphrase when it comes to cycling.

May’s showed people from a variety of professions and trades – medicine, the law, workmen in hi-viz jackets – frolicking in a children’s playground.

The message, as a man rode past on a bicycle? “You stopped playing with children’s toys when you grew up. So why ride a bicycle? Act your age. Get a car.”

“You just haven’t got it, have you? Absolutely crazy,” said Low, his comments presumably unscripted. Meanwhile, Boardman winced.

So off trooped May and Clarkson to undertake their fact-finding mission, clad in hi-viz jackets and wearing cycle helmets and sporty eyewear, concluding that drivers were incredibly courteous, even at Hyde Park Corner, with the exception of those in charge of buses. Indeed their close encounters with a number of London buses did look genuinely terrifying - even the presence of a BBC film crew is it seems no protection.

Disingenuously, executing a right turn was highlighted by the pair as the biggest source of danger to cyclists, so instead they followed a route composed entirely of left-turns. No mention of the dangers posed by cars or lorries, no mention of improving infrastructure.

The films they returned with were as excruciating as the originals. Clarkson’s had a cyclist blown up while attempting to defuse a bomb because of his inability to distinguish between red and green.

“Cyclists: red and green – learn the bloody difference.” (Traffic lights, geddit?)

May’s began hopefully – footage of Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech, giving rise to vain hopes of a share the road message. Instead, via John Lennon and Yoko Ono and Christ on the cross, we were told: “Righteousness is no guarantee of safety.”

It was head in the hands time again for the panellists.

But wait. There was a fifth film. It was better than the others, which isn’t saying much, but it’s message was that more people taking to bikes, while disconcerting for their work colleagues due to their body odour, meant less congestion on the roads – and topped off by a car being driven up a deserted Whitehall.

You might ask, why does this matter? Top Gear is at heart a light entertainment programme, and Clarkson no more than a pantomime villain, not to be taken seriously.

Except, many do. And it’s reasonable to draw a connection between the abuse cyclists suffer daily on the roads is partly due to the impact of shows such as this – abuse, moreover, that the same people do not get when they are in their car, or on foot.

Reaction on social media varied. AA president King said: “Top Gear - cyclist advice interesting. AA to film our own tomorrow,” while Spin LDN said: “Jeremy Clarkson patronising cyclists not funny, cool or even worth screen time..so out of touch, total yawnfest.”

Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign said: “If @BBC_TopGear have to make fun of themselves and tries to turn people against bus drivers, does this mean uk #cycling has come a long way?”

Meanwhile, Wes Streeting, deputy leader of Redbridge Labour Group and the Labour Party's prospective parliamentary candidate for Ilford North at next year's general election, added: “Cracking episode of Top Gear tonight. 'Red and green. Learn the bloody difference'. Brilliant.”

We’d hoped against hope that the show might give its fans some insight about the issues cyclists face while riding city streets, ones that cause danger and lead to people being killed or seriously injured.

Instead, we got a piece that played for and got cheap laughs, and that reinforced old prejudices, the very same ones that May said he loathed.

If you missed it judge for yourself - point making, if provocative public information film or pointless rehash of old jokes and pantomime prejudice that missed a chance to do some good? It's on the BBC iPlayer now.

Still, on the bright side – at least there was no mention of bloody road tax.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

133 comments

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Martin Thomas [377 posts] 1 year ago
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It's at times like this that I turn to Stewart Lee for consolation: http://youtu.be/K7CnMQ4L9Pc

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80sMatchbox [27 posts] 1 year ago
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I thought that it would at least have been funny but it wasn't.

Well, besides the "Christ on a bike" bit.  16

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Condor Andy [151 posts] 1 year ago
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Pretty glad I was spared subjecting myself to such a farce being in the States.

Might have to watch it when I'm back next week just out of curiosity.

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Shep73 [211 posts] 1 year ago
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The bloke is an absolute cock, it's not just push bikes he has a vendetta about, it is also motorbikes, most of which would leave his car for dead. As for the other two (both motorcyclists) not having the bollox to have an opinion of their own.

And to think our hard earned goes towards their wages and that dross of a show. Give me motorcycle racing or a GT over that crap anyway. As per normal the BBC can air what it likes.

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Nick T [913 posts] 1 year ago
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It felt like it was missing some sort of revelatory punch line to make it all worthwhile.

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Leviathan [1784 posts] 1 year ago
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CB and Jesus, nice beards, link?
Buses are a nightmare and some other BS
"He's wearing normal clothes. You are going to die!"
Comedy not even up to normal Top Gear standards.
Don't forget Top Gear has already proven that bikes are superior:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkOzNK4l8KY

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Nick T [913 posts] 1 year ago
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Shep73 wrote:

And to think our hard earned goes towards their wages.

No it doesn't.

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yenrod [106 posts] 1 year ago
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It was heinous and I felt seriously hurt by it. I know some will think this is taking it waay too far.. yet cycling in this country is getting WORSE in regards to driver attitude. I've cycled for 25yrs and I've never know it this bad, I seriously wonder the cause if this and I'm convinced its YouTube camera cyclists, I know quite few live the aspect of angle towards showing the plight of the cyclists viewpoint but I feel this is the cause. In December I has 3 near fatal misses to the point I nearly stopped cycling even though it's my life. In light of the popularity of the sport now, I wonder how many of those that laughed this eve' with this programme cheered Bradley Wiggins on his momentous year in 2012.

I sincerely hope for all reading this and hope you all well' riding the byways of this very varied country.

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nuclear coffee [205 posts] 1 year ago
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Jesus christ this is predictable. Not the show (well, to a degree, yes the show) but the response.

I'm sorry but you're a bit thick if you can't notice when someone known to play an idiot persona for the sake of a laugh a lot of the time... is playing an idiot persona for the sake of a laugh. Taking what they say literally to make a point makes you look a cnut.

This is Daily Mail quality journalism.

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ajd [25 posts] 1 year ago
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Come on, did none of you laugh at the Lance Armstrong gag?
I also thought the red/green was funny too.
Lighten up everyone!

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Gizmo_ [1333 posts] 1 year ago
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It was such an opportunity. And they might, just might have taken it - there was after all a 'race' across London from Richmond to City Airport when Hammond on a Specialized Sirrus beat May in a car, Clarkson in a boat and Stig on the Tube.

I own two cars and four bikes, I love driving, I love cycling, I just wanted it to be funny.

It wasn't.

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paulfrank [94 posts] 1 year ago
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I know I'm going to get shot down here but the "Red and Green" comment I totally support. I've been stopped at a red light (on my bike) and cringed with a mixture of fear, embarrassment and anger at the stupid riders who have come passed me and weaved through oncoming and crossing traffic rather than wait the 30 seconds for the lights to change and then caught and passed those same riders within a couple of minutes, and they couldn't understand what they had done wrong when I had a go at them  39 102

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paulfrank [94 posts] 1 year ago
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Lance Armstrong joke was good  19

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teamjon [27 posts] 1 year ago
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totally agree nuclear coffee

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userfriendly [538 posts] 1 year ago
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Sorry, can't agree with the response here at all.

Yes, they rehashed the same old jokes - as satire. I thought that was pretty obvious. And they ended the segment with what's probably the most important message to their petrol head audience: be considerate, give enough room.

They also included a lot of the things drivers would do well to remember (e.g. more cyclists = fewer cars) cleverly disguised in their jokes.

All in all I was both moderately amused and happy with the outcome - which is totally not what I expected from a show like Top Gear. It's a small step, but a good one IMHO.

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j_mes [2 posts] 1 year ago
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Clarkson, Hammond & May are well past their use by date when it comes to comedy value.

The "right turn" danger as shown, was useful to highlight to the public how dangerous it is for cyclists to go right at a junction like that. Maybe they'll keep that in mind next time they see a cyclist do something similar. I did wholeheartedly agree about bus drivers. They are a menace to road users (not limited to cyclists only).

I thought the "Lance Armstong" gag was funny, but that was about it.

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Initialised [270 posts] 1 year ago
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You can wear normal clothes!

Buses are the enemy!

Sometimes you should cut the red wire!

To be fair they extraced the precise amount of urine required.

Had me in stitches!

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Gkam84 [9068 posts] 1 year ago
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I did like the "cyclists need to learn the difference between red and green" and also the Lance poster.

I think only one person has come out of this looking bad. Chris Boardman.

We all know by now what Clarkson will be like, but Boardman sat there, said nothing, is sh*t at acting and got paid for it....He needs a good slap around the face and told to wise the f*ck up.

He wants to be this "leader" of cyclists...not a hope in hell now. I've noticed the tone on twitter was pretty damming of his involvement with this.

All in all, I saw the funny side of it. I liked 2/5 of their informational videos. If you take Top Gear seriously, then you need to take a long hard look in the mirror....

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MartyMcCann [194 posts] 1 year ago
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I've just watched it and felt it was an opportunity missed. Yeah I know some of it was intended to be satire but you just have to look at how many people repost The Onion or Daily Currant satirical stuff as fact to realise that sometimes subtlety doesn't cut it. If more people got satire Snopes.com would have far fewer stories to look into!
No big surprise that Clarkson was keen to point out that every single car driver they came across seemingly behaved themselves and it was the big, bad public transport that caused all the problems. Again sweeping generalisations either on the show or on this site (which is either that all drivers are prospective candidates for sainthood (Top Gear) or that they are all maniacs who set out to purposely kill as many cyclists as possible (some of the contributors on here)) were not challenged and as Top Gear is in a prime position to reach out to many drivers as possible it was a wasted chance- the simple message that not all cyclists are red-light jumping clichés, just as everyone behind the wheel of a vehicle with an engine is not a powderkeg of fury about to be unleashed on cyclists would have done a lot more. And while they probably did intend that message to be got across in what they did I go back to my original point-sometimes subtlety is not enough and can go on to be used to justify prejudices that inspire bad actions. (It was also noticeable that the issue of lorries was totally absent).

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Mike Smith [7 posts] 1 year ago
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The show did prove one thing (as if it needed proving) - that Clarkson/May are a complete NOBs and that Top Gear is to motoring as the Daily Mail is to journalism.

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Argos74 [372 posts] 1 year ago
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Here is a picture of a cat.

//i.imgur.com/4nkxGga.gif)

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OldRidgeback [2554 posts] 1 year ago
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I'm glad I didn't see it. But I hate Clarkson anyway.

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Sub5orange [89 posts] 1 year ago
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Top gear is a joke. Have they ever treated any subject seriously on that show? The format has been the same for years. The only change is its presenter's ageing. The facial expressions And comments Of boardman and co did nothing to endear cyclists to non cycling motorists.

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colinth [191 posts] 1 year ago
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I suppose it could have been worse based on my low expectations but still cringed at people laughing at mangled bikes given all the killings we've had recently. The fact is there'll be plenty of nobs shouting "work harder" etc at commuters this morning instead of "pay road tax".

I'm a big fan of Boardman but he needs to make a statement today or he risk looking stupid imho

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andyp [1436 posts] 1 year ago
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'I know I'm going to get shot down here but the "Red and Green" comment I totally support.'

This. Idiot cyclists give us a far worse name than Clarkson et al could ever manage.

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Flying Scot [908 posts] 1 year ago
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Look.....it got motorists watching, and would, I assume hold their attention and demonstrate, through the film, rather than the 'comedy' sections, just what riders need to deal with in traffic.

The programme was repetitive after 2 series, cycling just happened to be this weeks theme, it could be 'bloody foreigners' next week.

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oldstrath [494 posts] 1 year ago
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paulfrank wrote:

I know I'm going to get shot down here but the "Red and Green" comment I totally support. I've been stopped at a red light (on my bike) and cringed with a mixture of fear, embarrassment and anger at the stupid riders who have come passed me and weaved through oncoming and crossing traffic rather than wait the 30 seconds for the lights to change and then caught and passed those same riders within a couple of minutes, and they couldn't understand what they had done wrong when I had a go at them  39 102

Because of course no motorist has ever jumped a red light, ever. In fact most surveys suggest motorists do it more often than cyclists. A more truthful ad would have said "all you, lot, learn the difference". I can understand why Clarkson peddles lies about this, but quite why we have to support them here puzzles me.

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andyp [1436 posts] 1 year ago
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'In fact most surveys suggest motorists do it more often than cyclists.'

reference please?

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oldstrath [494 posts] 1 year ago
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andyp wrote:

'I know I'm going to get shot down here but the "Red and Green" comment I totally support.'

This. Idiot cyclists give us a far worse name than Clarkson et al could ever manage.

I see far more idiot car drivers and idiot lorry drivers than idiot cyclists. How bad a name should I use for anyone in a motor vehicle, or would that be unfair?

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jmaccelari [237 posts] 1 year ago
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I thought it was brilliant. Typical TG rabble rousing. What did ANYONE expect??? These guys love to get a ride out of people and apart from the religious, cyclists are probably the next best group to gun for.

The red and green skit was really funny, Christ on a bike excellent.

If you don't get the TG humour, then stay on your bike and don't watch it...

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