Clarkson’s had his innings, but Top Gear hasn’t gone soft, says Flintoff
As he takes over hosting duties, the ex-cricket star says the show has moved on from its boorish days
Is Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff the touchy-feely face of a new Top Gear?That was the impression created recently as it was announced that the returning BBC franchise would feature “hugs and nice bits”. This set alarms blaring among some fans of the series. Top Gear is still, in many ways, perceived as having been created in the image of Jeremy Clarkson. If it isn’t a bit swaggering and boorish, with jeans hitched too high and beer belly showing, what’s the point?“I used to watch the old Top Gear and enjoyed it,” nods the former England cricket captain, 41, who, along with comedian Paddy McGuinness, takes over from Friends star Matt LeBlanc as host (motoring journalist Chris Harris returns as Reliant Robin-style third wheel).Flintoff insists Top Gear hasn’t gone all scented candles and man-hugs. There will still be jokes and, to use the official term, “banter”.“But humour in the world has changed. Don’t get me wrong, there’s humour in the show now. I’m all for having a laugh and a joke, but not nasty. There’s a fine line with that and I don’t think it’s one we ever come close to crossing. We’re there having a laugh. But also rooting for each other.”
Having seen episode one, I can report that the new Top Gear is essentially the same as the old Top Gear, minus the terrible denim and Clarkson banging on about cyclists. It’s certainly an improvement on the most recent incarnation when LeBlanc and Harris (and the underutilised and now jettisoned Rory Reid) trotted the globe with mixed results. Though LeBlanc grew into the gig, initially he was stiffer than the gearbox on a second-hand Cortina.
Flintoff and McGuinness, by contrast, roar off the starter grid. Five minutes in they’re hurtling across Ethiopia in a van, poking fun at Harris’s claims that his first car doubled as a mobile love nest (“Don’t pretend you had girls in the car,” they hoot). It feels completely off the cuff, a spirited return to that old TG boisterousness...