Opinion: Sue Perkins For Top Gear. And If Not Her Another Comic?

Sue Perkins

In the last few days I’ve heard about Count Arthur Strong being mooted as new host of Top Gear and Alexei Sayle being tipped for the job. At the time of writing Sue Perkins is the odds-on bookies favourite, even though she has tweeted that she is not interested.

What is interesting to me is that all of these people are best known as comedians. Ok, I know that some of you pedants will say that Count Arthur is not real and others will say that Perkins is best known for The Great British Bake Off. Let’s park those two bits of nit-picking for a moment.

The difference is that Jeremy Clarkson is definitely not now, and, in fact, never was, a comedian. Top Gear hosts are not comedians as far as I know, although Alexei Sayle did apparently do a few bits for it years ago. The only other notable host that springs to mind is Noel Edmonds and he has never made me laugh. Well, not intentionally any way.

The mentions of Strong and Sayle and Perkins highlights this modern tyranny of comedians, which is kind of good and also bad. We want them to do everything these days, from politics to reality TV to documentaries. Comedians are perceived as guaranteed audience grabbers and all-round egghead entertainers that can turn their hand to anything.

Did the BBC ever consider hiring Tommy Cooper or Peter Sellers when it was making its landmark series in the 1960s? Tommy Cooper's The Ascent of Man would have been great. Yet these days stand-ups are the go-to faces for everything from baking programmes to travelogues. They are seen as great communicators but also people that the public want to spend time with. Journalists used to get the chat shows, now comedians get them. Doesn't Stephen Fry top all those "who would you like at your dinner party?" questionnaires. 

I’m suspect we have Michael Palin to thank or blame for this, depending on where you stand on the issue. If he hadn’t been such a hit on Around The World In 80 Days (after Alan Whicker and that man Noel Edmonds turned the job down) we might still have travel shows presented by travel writers and food shows presented by cooks. And when it comes to car shows producers might look further than clowns who have a driving licence. Although as it happens I'd be happy to see Perkins, Strong and Sayle on Top Gear. Ideally all three together. 

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