Keep your Clarksons and Mays, Richard Hammond is what holds The Grand Tour together
Please note that “the show” refers to both Top Gear in the Clarkson-May-Hammond era and The Grand Tour.
On 4 March 2015, an incident happened which would shake up car shows forever. It started (as so many disasters in life do) with missing food.
Jeremy Clarkson, the host of Top Gear had finished up a heavy day of shooting. When he got back to the hotel, there was no hot food waiting for him. He then verbally and physically assaulted the producer he thought was responsible and this eventually led to the BBC firing him. His co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May refused to renew their contracts and Top Gear as we knew it, ended.
(A poor imitation of it with that guy from Friends still runs on the BBC but let’s not dwell on that sad excuse for a car show.)
The Clarkson incident in a nutshell was what Top Gear was all about: controversial with a side of male stupidity. And in the middle of it all, as always, was the big guy — Jezza Clarkson.
Now, Clarkson was supposedly one of the three hosts on Top Gear. But he was always the alpha-male on the show. He was the one who interviewed the “star in a reasonably priced car”, the one who had a different chair, the one who took the lead while discussing the news and the one who went on the internet.
Then there is the man they call “Captain Slow” — James May. The oldest of the three, he rarely drives fast and has a penchant for “doing things right”. May is a nerd through and through and actually has a show where he reassembles things. He literally puts together things which have been stripped down to pieces. He is the very definition of droll humour and is part of some of the funniest moments of the show.
Both Clarkson and May are in their own ways integral to the show. But what if you don’t quite identify with either of them? And this is indeed the case for most of the general populace. Clarkson and May are just really over-the-top personalities with their specific quirks which add to the show but also make them… different.
The common man’s representative on the show then is a short Welshman named Richard Hammond. He is what most of us would be on that show: bullied. The others make fun of his height, his “American-ness”, his love for two-wheelers and his use of teeth-whitener. Sometimes the bullying would reach extreme levels as when he won a competition with the others and was strapped to the top of a BiPlane and flown around as a prize.
And yet, the Hamster remains the most adorable person on the show. He is the most outdoorsy of the trio which lets the show travel to remote locations and have Hammond just pitch a tent and survive. This was used to great comic effect in an episode where he was abandoned on a Canadian mountain and the other two were supposed to rescue him post-haste. It started off okay as Hammond used his camping skills to good effect to set up base to wait for them. Of course they took their sweet time in the rescue even as they drove huge pick-up trucks up the mountain. This resulted in Hammond becoming “the angriest man in the world” as he made wooden figurines of the two and threw knives at them.
Hammond also has the most appropriate reactions to big cars. In Series 17, he drove a ten-ton military vehicle called the Marauder. The Marauder dwarfs other cars the same way Shaquille O'Neal dwarfs his girlfriend. Hammond breaks down walls, has a tug-of-war with a tow truck and basically drives over two cars, completely crushing them in the process. He also has concerns that any of us would, namely is the car good enough to get drive-thru food (the Marauder fails this test). He still concludes that it is a “good city car”.
Then in Series 21 he drove the Mercedes G63 AMG 6x6, a six-wheel drive behemoth. He drives it over structures which are more "sand mountains" than sand dunes as the segment is shot in Abu Dhabi. However the truly delightful part of that segment is his constantly fluctuating feelings. One moment he loves driving the G-wagon in the desert. But when he has to go down a practically 90 degree sand cliff, he quickly summarises that ‘it is stupid place and he hates it’.
Sadly, Hammond is also the most accident-prone of the trio. And accidents not of the garden variety kind, but big ones. He once had a 463 km/hr crash when a tyre burst caused him to run off the tarmac and put him out of commission for a fair while. Earlier this year, he fell off his motorcycle while shooting and sustained a head injury which left him unconscious on the road. Most recently, he narrowly escaped death as he barely managed to crawl out of the electric supercar he was driving before it burst into flames.
One hopes that Hammond has completed his share of accidents as he truly is a big part of why Top Gear was — and The Grand Tour is — immensely watchable. The Hamster might not be over-the-top like the other two but sometimes he is exactly the dose of normal the show needs.