Top Gear producer: Cycle safety piece wasn't anti-cyclist, aimed to promote mutual respect on the road

Andy Wilman defends BBC show following complaint over Jeremy Clarkson and James May's cycle safety film efforts

by Simon_MacMichael   March 22, 2014  

Work Harder. Get a Car. (BBC Top Gear still)

The executive producer of the BBC motoring programme Top Gear has defended a segment regarding cycle safety aired earlier this month in which presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May, claiming it was not biased against cyclists and that it’s main message was that “motorists and cyclists should show respect.”

Andy Wilman was responding to a complaint made to the BBC about the programme, which aired on Sunday 2 March, by road.cc reader Adam Rees who forwarded us a copy of the reply.

As the comments to our article on the programme showed, it divided cyclists, some saying it trivialised the issues, while others insisted that since Top Gear is a light entertainment programme characterised by an irreverent approach to its subject, it shouldn't be taken seriously.

The issue of cycle safety is a serious one – more than 100 cyclists are killed on Britain’s roads each year, and thousands more seriously injured – but referring to the overall tone of the segment, Mr Wilman said: “The Top Gear film on cycling was always going to be done in a Top Gear tone, and I believe justifiably so.”

The show followed Jeremy Clarkson and James May as the attempted to make a cycle safety public information film to present to a panel including British Cycling policy advisor Chris Boardman at Westminster Council.

Their efforts weren’t well received, with the first film presented giving advice to cyclists to work harder so they could buy a car – a well-worn joke of Clarkson’s – and another telling them act their age and buy a car.

Mr Wilman said that those first two films were “specifically made to be absurd, and the joke here is centred on the hopeless misinterpretation by Jeremy and James of the brief given to them by Westminster Council.”

The programme also showed Clarkson and May riding through London’s West End, the former opining that since he was riding a bike, he could ignore red lights, which was the subject of another film the pair produced which told cyclists: “Red and Green. Learn the bloody difference.”

According to Mr Wilman, that reflected “a common perception of cyclists,” but he insisted that otherwise, May and Clarkson were “not critical of cyclists.”

“At what point does the film say cyclists should not be treated with respect on the road?,” said Mr Wilman. “It doesn’t – when Jeremy and James go out on their fact finding cycle around London, they make it clear that they believe buses to be the main danger point.”

But in London, it is in fact lorries that present the greatest threat to the safety of cyclists. Making up 2 per cent of the city’s traffic, they are involved in more than half of cyclist fatalities.

The show, which included images of mangled bikes and one sequence that showed a basket of fruit and vegetables being dropped from a height, supposed to represent a dead cyclist, followed by a bicycle.

Debbie Dorling, whose husband Brian was killed by a lorry at Bow Roundabout in October 2011 told road.cc after the programme aired that she had tuned in as a fan of the show, but had found that sequence particularly “distressing.”

She also said that she believed the programme had “totally missed the point of cycle safety.”

In his reply to Mr Rees, however, Mr Wilman insisted that the point of the programme was to reinforce the need for mutual respect between road users, whether on two wheels or four.

“The end film does state that both cyclists and drivers should respect each other on the road, and surely that is the important point Top Gear can get across,” he said.  “Does it matter if we make childish jokes about cyclists’ clothes or body odour as long as we advocate that both parties respect each other’s road space?”

He concluded: “I would also say that although Top Gear brings its own distinct voice to the cycling/motoring issue, we are at least bringing more awareness to the debate, and if the main message from a such a car based programme is that motorists and cyclists should show respect, then that’s ultimately to the good.”

The programme is still available to watch on BBC iPlayer until tomorrow, Sunday 23 March.

Is the executive producer's rejection of criticism of the show justified? Did Top Gear really bring more awareness to the road safety debate and highlight that there should be respect between cyclists and drivers? Let us know in the comments.

40 user comments

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Reminds me of folk who say "I'm not a racist but..."

I complained.

I complained about specifics.

I got a stock generic e-mail response.

I got a stock generic e-mail response that didn't address my specific complaint.

Conclusion? The Top Gear crowd are so far up their own smug arses they won't listen to anything but their own conceited point of view. Because it sells. To morons.

Really, though?

posted by workhard [357 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 15:05

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I also received the exact same reply via e-mail so it looks like it is a prepared across the board statement and not a reply to the issues that I raised in my complaint to them, When I first went onto the BBC website to register my complaint it guided me to "The only complaint to date" about that particular episode, which was a complaint about the wasting of completely good fruit & veg when it was dropped from a height. I THINK THAT SAYS IT ALL ABOUT THE BBC and their attitude to complaints.

Tommy

posted by highto [14 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 15:06

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He had two messages and thinks the emphasis was on the second one?

1. Cyclists are smelly, childish, red-light-jumping, workshy poor people, and killing them is a funny topic (in stark contrast with TG treatment of soldiers' injuries).

2. Cyclist/Driver mutual respect is good.

posted by vbvb [221 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 15:08

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highto wrote:
BBC and their attitude to complaints.
I think complaining to the beeb is a mistake. They treat it as "feedback", just one voice in their tapestry of viewers' responses, very patronising, as if you are just glad to "have your say".

Better to complain to the ombudsman, much more legalistic, where the issue then dealt with is the merit (or otherwise) of the complaint, and not the quantity of complaints received.

posted by vbvb [221 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 15:21

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Motorists: 30 and 50, learn the bloody difference.

http://think.direct.gov.uk/speed.html

posted by Cachao [2 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 15:34

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Strange thing is that the people who might be able to afford a super car that they wank on about on Top Gear are the same people who will fork out £10k for a top spec Cipollini or BMC et al….Not sure why they didn't do their usual fun stuff like we altered 3 bikes to make cyclists safer…May's = More lights, Hammonds = More sounds, Clarkson's = More power and then come the conclusion that it doesn't matter what you ride as the drivers (e.g. the bus drivers) will still try and kill you….Would have been a more entertaining episode.

posted by bigbluebike [16 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 15:49

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There is no question that this, and indeed all TG, represents a threat to cyclists and others on the road. The plain fact is that people (not just cyclists) are killed, hurt and threatened off the roads by people whose potential to do so needs to be controlled, restrained and properly regulated: these people are the ones who drive cars and who watch and make TG.

Hurting, killing and generally endangering others is, as they say, "easily done" by motorists - which is why they need an attitude of humility which is just the opposite of what you see on TYG.

Yu shouldn't treat anyone from TG with this kind of respect. The only basic issue is why it is on the BBC, which is supposed to be a public service.

posted by ChairRDRF [107 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 16:45

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There were loads of tips on being a better driver around cyclists that most people wont even notice them selves taking in while they were laughing along with the butt and nut jokes.

Quit whining it probably did a better job than the AA's current 'Think Bike' campaign.

posted by Initialised [105 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 16:49

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We are giving far too much publicity to Clarkson, Top Gear and the Beeb by even discussing their crass programme.

Mike S

posted by Mike Smith [7 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 17:11

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For me it was simply disappointing. For all their bluster I believe the team are good guys and I genuinely expected some insight and education for their viewers but there was none. More disappointing was Chris Boardman's involvement, he was simply a stooge for some lame humour, nice fee for him hopefully but did nothing for cycling.

posted by Gashead [29 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 17:32

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I'd suggest anyone who has taken the time to complain to the BBC, and isnt satisified with the response, should continue to escalate the issue until it reaches the BBC Trust. They are an independent body, there to ensure the BBC is regulated and compliant with the BBC Charter (which spells out the reasons for the mandatory licence fee).

posted by pauldavies83 [8 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 18:07

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I thought it was great.

posted by andyp [807 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 18:35

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BarefootBrian wrote:
Anybody who takes Top Gear seriously has completely missed the point. Clarkson has demonstrated that whatever subject he covers his main aim is to mock that group of people (as well as being a cyclist I am also a caravanner!). It is just a shame that he thinks it is okay to make programs that will obviously upset people - there again, maybe he is so insensitive that he is unaware of the possible impact of his drivel.

It is precisely because this is the only programme that dares to deliberately upset people that makes it so loved and so popular throughout the world (excluding USA). Any group with a specific interest will tend to get very up itself and defensive to outside intrusion. Cyclists, caravanners, bird-watchers, Morris Marina owners, women, whatever are fair game to a group of very clever performers who know exactly how stay just the right side of the line while making it very clear where their loyalties lie. Wonder how Hammond felt about this segment, and why he wasn't on it in the first place.

posted by sidesaddle [64 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 20:23

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Here is another picture of a cat.

posted by Argos74 [265 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 20:49

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sidesaddle wrote:
BarefootBrian wrote:
Anybody who takes Top Gear seriously has completely missed the point. Clarkson has demonstrated that whatever subject he covers his main aim is to mock that group of people (as well as being a cyclist I am also a caravanner!). It is just a shame that he thinks it is okay to make programs that will obviously upset people - there again, maybe he is so insensitive that he is unaware of the possible impact of his drivel.

It is precisely because this is the only programme that dares to deliberately upset people that makes it so loved and so popular throughout the world (excluding USA). Any group with a specific interest will tend to get very up itself and defensive to outside intrusion. Cyclists, caravanners, bird-watchers, Morris Marina owners, women, whatever are fair game to a group of very clever performers who know exactly how stay just the right side of the line while making it very clear where their loyalties lie. Wonder how Hammond felt about this segment, and why he wasn't on it in the first place.


See also UKIP. And imagine a Venn diagram of TG fans and UKIP sympathisers.

I would take issue though with "Any group with a specific interest". I think me not being killed or injured, my son not being killed or injured and my friends not being killed or injured hardly counts as a "specific interest".

posted by SteppenHerring [169 posts]
22nd March 2014 - 23:26

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It's a thinly veiled hate campaign, all the more dangerous as TG insist it's all light hearted and just a joke. Given the fact that motorists kill everyone including each other quite how this can be trivialised into mutual respect is beyond me. Paedophiles and children...let's just respect each other yeah?

Doesn't work there does it? So why should it when one group continually slaughters the other? Holocaust? Let's all just get on? Is that ok too?

Quite how public licence fees are being used to spread and propogate stereotype and general discrimination without being jumped on is testimony to the fact that the BBC is a shambolic and outdated institution run by morons.

I don't live too far from Mr. Willman or another senior member of the TG clan, if the opportunity presents itself I might (just for a joke mind you) run them over and see how light hearted and jovial they feel about wearing adult nappies and dribbling down themselves whilst condemned to a life of serious disability.

Just joking of course Andy, I probably won't do it.

Hating our selfish and ignorant car culture

posted by ironmancole [115 posts]
23rd March 2014 - 3:13

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I think people haven't understood the Top Gear Formula particularly well.

90% of the content of the short films is just showing some ageing men being as incompetent as possible, and and calling each other 'pillocks'.

Then there's some massive plot-twist/bomb-shell, and the program ends with everyone sharing the same mock disbelief.

In this case, the 90% idiocy was the set of 4 (IIRC) dismissive, silly, and potentially offensive videos that were shown to the judges (whose role was to look highly unimpressed, thus highlighting how much the comical buffoons had 'missed the point' of their task).

The 'plot-twist' was the last video, which was based on a completely different idea to the others:

Whereas videos 1-4 placed the onus entirely on the cyclist to take responsibility for getting hit, the last message was squared solely at motorists - and improving driver attitudes towards people riding bikes. There were still sly jives about smelly armpits, but it was fundamentally based on a more sensible message; look after the smaller breakable people trying to use the transport network; 'give 'em an inch, because they've given you a mile'.

Clearly, there was a vast amount of stupid, ignorant stuff in the episode, but given it was all in the 'incompetent buffoons completely missing the point' section, I found it hard to get offended.

I feel the show should be judged by its conclusion, not the buffooning* around in the middle. And I don't feel it's conclusion was, really, all that bad.

*maybe 3 uses of this word is excessive...

posted by Quince [108 posts]
23rd March 2014 - 3:33

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It's obviously a conspiracy against cyclists! The BBC are funded by government and we all know that the powers hate cyclists, I mean look at pleb gate! Ignor the cycling minister it was an establishment campaign of hate for cyclist. As for the episode of top gear well I ask you,give cyclist an inch they have given you a mile can easily be integrated as kill cyclists!

As for the people who think many cyclist are self absorbed and blinkered!get real we're not in favour of sharing the road with cars! Not even if it's a cyclist driving it!

The baffoon clips were obviously not meant as a joke. How on earth could you think something funny is anything but a subliminal message that cyclist are evil.

The missing aeroplane has been taken to Jupiter by J.C and Hamster as there was a bicycle in the hold.

(It's early 6am I'm going the Cheshire Cat in my car with the bike in the boot, so if I'm a little silly I'm tired)

HMCC

Beefy's picture

posted by Beefy [110 posts]
23rd March 2014 - 7:05

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If Top Gear has given the expressed view "stop being dicks to one another and everyone follow the rules" then it might have raised some awareness.

They did not.

What they did was make fun of riders who had been trapped under the wheels of a lorry. That's not raising awareness.

As has often been said it is pointless complaining to the BBC about anything. They simply make a statement and ignore the problem. Top Gear used to be good, now its just a vehicle for three old men to act silly for lots of money. For that reason they should avoid important issues - May, Clarkson and Hammond are essentially clowns.

downfader's picture

posted by downfader [193 posts]
23rd March 2014 - 11:32

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The whole piece was done in typical Top Gear style, and it was what we've come to expect of them. However, the jet bike bit was not up to their usual standard.

I can put up with smelly BO bits, and even the work harder and get a car line, but the one bit that I found not acceptable and totally distasteful was right at the beginning, with the mangled bike.

posted by 4ChordsNoNet [8 posts]
23rd March 2014 - 12:47

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Stewart Lee, Top Gear, You Tube
Just watched this. Made my day. Thanks.

posted by efail [36 posts]
23rd March 2014 - 13:00

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The screengrab at the top of this article says it all really. Clarkson and the whole Top Gear crew make me vomit.

posted by paulfg42 [374 posts]
23rd March 2014 - 19:05

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Who cares. JC only has a few series left before his hips finally give way to the strains of inserting his huge fat arse into a sports seat in some italian supercar. He'll end up on 'top mobility scooter'........though he'll still be whinging about bikes.

posted by Simmo72 [274 posts]
24th March 2014 - 14:18

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workhard wrote:
Reminds me of folk who say "I'm not a racist but..."

I complained.

I complained about specifics.

I got a stock generic e-mail response.

I got a stock generic e-mail response that didn't address my specific complaint.

Conclusion? The Top Gear crowd are so far up their own smug arses they won't listen to anything but their own conceited point of view. Because it sells. To morons.

Did the same - got a stock reply that was so unsuitable to what I had said it was insulting.

Top Gear is a tired format now and is being used to upset as many people as possible in the pursuit of cheap jokes. Unfortunately the cheaper the jokes the less appealing they are and I suspect that I am not the only one tired of this programme now.

The Stewart Lee clip on Youtube about Top Gear sums it up nicely!

Applause

posted by mattanthony [10 posts]
25th March 2014 - 21:48

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Motorists - 4ft and 4 inches. Learn the bloody difference.

posted by jash [7 posts]
25th March 2014 - 22:21

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But the concept of road cycling especially now and in busy cities is a highly dangerous one. I know it angers many but to describe it as, placing one's unprotected body, on two slender wheels, among many large fast moving essential machines, operated by complete strangers of varied ability and mental capacity, is an accurate description isn't it?

Would humans normally consider doing anything like it and expect to survive?

Let's face the truth instead of burying our heads while people are being killed and maimed daily.

Road safety 'experts' are often folk who's CV doesn't cut the mustard.

posted by Sedgepeat [61 posts]
26th March 2014 - 12:15

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Sedgepeat wrote:
But the concept of road cycling especially now and in busy cities is a highly dangerous one.

Not really.

More pedestrians, motor cyclists and motor vehicle occupants are killed or seriously injured in London each year than cyclists. This fact is usually omitted when talking about cycling 'danger'.

The World Health Organisation report this week estimated 6 million people a year are killed due to pollution related issues, half of that due to outdoor pollution.

http://www.bbc.com/news/health-26730178

And air pollution is greater inside a motor vehicle than outside.

http://www.air-quality.org.uk/06.php

posted by seanbolton [126 posts]
26th March 2014 - 12:30

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Sedgepeat - you are quite simply wrong and Seanbolton makes the point perfectly well.

I wonder if your views might be at all skewed by the type of bike you ride - the Honda Goldwing in your profile is hardly the type of bike we generally talk about on here is it?

If cycling, being a pedestrian, being a motorcyclist and being a motorist in the busy city are all dangerous (to varying degrees) then the solution can be found simply by looking at the vehicles causing the damage. Make the cities less busy with those vehicles and you'll increase safety for everyone.

Very simple, but politically very difficult - we can yet only dream of cities with hardly any motor vehicles putting their citizens at risk!

Shay

posted by shay cycles [210 posts]
26th March 2014 - 12:35

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Sedgepeat wrote:
But the concept of road cycling especially now and in busy cities is a highly dangerous one. I know it angers many but to describe it as, placing one's unprotected body, on two slender wheels, among many large fast moving essential machines, operated by complete strangers of varied ability and mental capacity, is an accurate description isn't it?

Would humans normally consider doing anything like it and expect to survive?

Let's face the truth instead of burying our heads while people are being killed and maimed daily.

But the concept of road driving especially now and in busy cities is a highly dangerous one. I know it angers many but to describe it as, placing large fast moving machines among many unprotected bodies, on two slender wheels or on foot is an accurate description isn't it?

FTFY

I am tired of the way people play games with the ambiguous meaning of the word 'dangerous'. We need more emphasis on the transitive sense rather than the intransitive. The former seems to be completely ignored these days.

Oh, and why is some lazy sod's 1 mile drive to the shops 'essential' in your view while a worker's 5 mile cycle commute apparently isn't? I note you misuse the word 'essential' as much as you do the word 'dangerous'.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [639 posts]
26th March 2014 - 13:34

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[[[[[ Wilman's responses? Evasive, and economical with the truth, and he knows it full well. Disgraceful.
P.R.

PhilRuss

posted by PhilRuss [271 posts]
27th March 2014 - 4:08

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