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Crozier on Clarkson on Brunel

I seem to recall some mention here of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Yes, here, in the comments. All who seek a painless way of learning a little more about this truly great man, and also about a rather interesting British broadcaster whom not all Samizdata readers will know much about, should read this Patrick Crozier piece for Biased BBC, which proves that Biased BBC is not itself nearly so biased as you might expect it to be. (Once again the blogger archive system is a deranged mess which blanks out the very piece you are trying to get to. All must move from Blogger to Movable Type. All, I say, all. So go to the top and scroll down to Wed Oct 23.)

Patrick begins thus:

The BBC is a bit like the dying days of the Soviet Union. Most of it is crap but just occasionally it can put on a show that makes you temporarily forget its manifold inadequacies.

Last night was just such a night, with Jeremy Clarkson’s biography of Isambard Kingdom Brunel playing the role of Olga Korbut.

You can usually count on Clarkson to be sarcastic and to throw in a few not-very-funny similes. But last night be dropped it. He played it straight. The effect was amazing – it was like watching a completely different person. In place of sarcasm was enthusiasm. In place of simile, passion.

Quite simply it was stupendous. Clarkson has never and will never do anything as good as this. For once subject and author (all part of the Great Britons series) came together for a moment of magic, transforming both. We will never look upon either of them the same again.

And I love this, towards the end of Patrick’s piece, about the end of Clarkson’s performance:

This is (approximately) how he ended: “I understand Princess Diana is up for this award. Now, I am sure she was a very nice lady but quite simply she wasn’t in Brunel’s league. John Lennon is another candidate. I am the eggman. I am the walrus. And then Shakespeare the man who has bored and confused generations of schoolchildren.”

“In ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Puck dreams of a Girdle circling the Globe. Shakespeare dreamt it but Brunel with his bridges, tunnels, viaducts, railways and ships built it.”

As I recall it Puck said he’d put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes, and I don’t remember Brunel ever launching a satellite into earth orbit. But had he been around now he undoubtedly would have.

Jeremy Clarkson, for the benefit of all you Americans, is a somewhat facetious but otherwise very capable, confident and good-humoured writer and TV broadcaster, mostly on the subject of cars. Politically Clarkson is a P. J. O’Rourke party-on libbo-rightie – O’Rourke also got a lot of his first writing assignments doing cars did he not? – and is definitely one of us. He gets right up the noses of all those whose noses we here want got up, so it’s very good news that Patrick reckons he did so well.

All of this is in connection with a BBC search to find “the greatest Briton”, and you never know, Brunel might do quite well. Princess bloody Diana indeed.

7 comments to Crozier on Clarkson on Brunel

  • Princess Diana? That’s really, really lame. She was someone who married into an old ruling class, which has faded to the point of celebrity from dictator. Other than her (fairly inconsequential) work on against landmines, it’s difficult to think of anything she did that was at all significant. I’d probably vote for Newton or Darwin on the current top ten, but Brunel beats out Diana and the only slightly less lame candidate John Lennon without breaking a sweat.

    Cultists (including personality cultists) are humanity at its lowest. There was a Modern Library vote for the best books of all time, and Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard (the founder of the church of Scientology for you Britons out there) came in third. Are Scientologists as stupid as Diana lovers? You be the judge.

  • Yes but Typewriter in the Sky and Final Blackout were promising gems in Elron’s early career.

    Clarkson makes IKB *sexy*. Turn him loose on Tizard, without whom we would not have won the Battle of Britain.

  • Tom Burroughes

    This makes me wish I had seen the programme, maybe the BBC will issue a video. Jeremy Clarkson is indeed similar to the great PJ O’Rourke, both in terms of his roughly libertarian stance and love of insanely fast cars. One of my favourite BBC programmes of recent years was his series, “Extreme Machines”, which included a film of him being flown in a converted P-51 Mustang fighter at the Reno Air Race. Absolute magic.
    Long may Clarkson pull the chains of the puritan killjoys!

  • Adonis Kazakos

    Clarkson is the only one presenter with the ability to crack me up. Though he obviously overestimates himself. Libertarian or not I could not say… my respect is not high enough, as to believe that he has the ability to take any sort of libertarian stances or to even speculate on liberty itself. His intelligence reaches the realms of basic sarcasm and fast cars… which is fortunate for us, the mare spectators of BBC.
    Since you mentioned the great Britons; I would have to go with C. Darwin. The sole man whom I consider to be greater than Newton for reasons that may as well be discussed if you wish so.

  • Paul Marks

    The “Financial Times” (Friday the 25th of October I think) sneared at Clarkson on I.K.B. (whilst praising other bits of the “Great Britons” series).

    This says quite a lot about the F.T.

    This is Britain – a nation where the main financial newspaper is controlled by socialists (and has been for many years).

    Paul Marks.

  • Adonis kazakos

    I think you people have absolutely lost the meaning of the word “socialist”… is there such thing as a “socialist” with an “American stomach”? I refuse to accept that… Paul the people controlling The Times in England are more likely to be pseudo-socialists

  • Stephen Wambsganss

    I’m sorry folks, but Jeremy Clarkson is a neo-gentry, self-absorbed, sarcastic and overly self-stimulated twat! His day-to-day rantings (as found in the London Times and innumerable television appearances in which he is exhalted as the voice of the average wealthy ex-public schoolboy) amount to no more than the vocal masturbation of the landed, spoiled and privileged.

    I, for one, hope he locks himself out of his quaint and luxurious Cotswalds cottage, loses the keys to his Range Rover and gets lost in the woods, never to seen or heard from again.

    A bit harsh I guess, his mother probably loves him.