Top Gear, BBC Two

Like an elite football club that sells its all-conquering front three then spends the next few seasons chopping and changing line-ups to try to recapture the magic, Top Gear has been casting around for a winning team ever since Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond jumped ship to become Amazon Prime’s first big money signing (though I use the word “magic” advisedly where that quarrelsome are concerned).

Next up in what now seems like a rolling cavalcade of presenters – Chris Evans has come and gone, so has Friends star Matt LeBlanc – are ex-cricketer Freddie Flintoff and comedian Paddy McGuinness, who last week joined Chris Harris, a presenter since 2017, in yet another shake-up. Collectively they’re nobody’s idea of a big money signing, though as more than one football team has shown over the years, big name Fancy Dans aren’t always the route to success. It’s all about teamwork.

Full disclosure time: in common with comedian Keith Lemon, who tweeted his support for his friend McGuinness after last Sunday’s opener, I’ve never watched a whole episode of Top Gear. I’ve tuned in for 10 minutes or so here and there, but the fact that the star guest always seemed to be Tom Cruise makes me think it was actually the same episode over and over again. Or was he just on it a lot? Answers on the back of a Ferrari Pista, please.

Actually, forget that. I can’t drive, have no interest in cars and tend to fall on the Extinction Rebellion side of the argument where their use and proliferation is concerned. I don’t even like cricket so Flintoff’s reputation, if he has one, is lost on me. Then again, that makes me the perfect guinea pig, doesn’t it? I mean if they could make me laugh (or at the very least not make me shudder at the thought of owning a £250,000 Ferrari) then they’d succeeded.

I did shudder, but I laughed too. Harris describing the gear stick of the Pista as looking like a medieval sex toy was funny (and I’ve never even seen a medieval sex toy) and the interaction between the three as they journeyed across Ethiopia in (respectively) a Mini, a Ford Escort and a Porsche Boxster was chuckle inducing at points. Also it’s rare to hear Lancashire accents outside of BBC Radio 6 Music these days and McGuinness and Flintoff are refreshingly northern. They call a **** a ****.

I still find the show perplexing, though. Is it actually about masculinity as viewed through the prism of the automobile industry? Is it a celebration of consumerism and capitalism? Is it about camaraderie and travel? Or is it as obvious at is seems, a show about some men driving some cars with the aggression repackaged as banter and the swearing bleeped out?