IT WAS non-stop laughs when Jeremy Clarkson was on the BBC – hosting a motoring programme, not a stand-up show.
But he, like millions of Brits, thinks his old stomping ground has become too obsessed with being PC and not enough with making us chuckle.
New BBC Director-General Tim Davie is to target comedy shows that are often seen as too left-wing in a bid to restore trust and confidence in the organisation.
Jeremy, however, says it is easier than that — just crack good jokes.
In an exclusive interview, he said: “It’s got nothing to do with your politics. Are you a funny person?
“It doesn’t matter where you went to school, what colour you are, whether you’ve got breasts, a scrotum — it simply doesn’t matter. It’s, ‘Are you funny?’
“There was an old commissioner at the BBC who used to say, years ago, ‘Beware, beware, the man who cares’.
“If someone comes to sell me this documentary about something that they feel passionately about, it’ll be c**p.
“All films made about something where the director is trying to get a message across, whether it’s diamonds in Africa or whatever, aren’t as good as they could have been if somebody couldn’t have given a s**t.”
Jeremy’s comments about making films and shows which the directors are obsessed with are very timely.
Just a day before we speak, Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle signed a deal worth more than £110million with streaming giant Netflix.
A toe-curling statement from the couple promised they would create content that “informs but also gives hope”.
And I doubt that will prompt Jeremy to shell out £8.99 a month on a subscription any time soon.
He said: “They will be drivel. £100million to make shows and films that inform and give hope? Kill me.
“I’d be much better making their programmes, as I don’t give a s**t about anything they give a s**t about. Just awful.”
Jeremy and I are chatting ahead of the return of the legendary game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, which returns to ITV tomorrow night.
And there is more hype around the new series — his fifth since taking over from previous host Chris Tarrant — because someone takes home the £1million prize for the first time since Ingram Wilcox in 2006.
The identity of the contestant, only the sixth to win the top prize without cheating, is being kept a closely guarded secret.
But what Jeremy will say is that it is must-watch television, as the person in question seems to just “breeze” to their life-changing victory.
He said: “They were just an extraordinarily knowledgeable person. If you lived on this person’s street you would never need Google.
“They did it really fast. That was, I suppose, the big surprise — that one minute they were on £2,000 and the next I was going, ‘And this for a million pounds’.
"It felt surreal. This person got there in about 14 seconds.”
The contestant joins Judith Keppel, David Edwards, Robert Brydges, Pat Gibson and Ingram Wilcox as top-prize winners.
But because there was no studio audience due to Covid-19 restrictions, Jeremy has no concerns that they got there using questionable methods — as Major Charles Ingram did in 2001 when an accomplice coughed at the right answers to help him to victory.
Jeremy said of the latest winner: “They were obviously the best I’ve ever had because they've won more money. They’ve done better than anybody else.
"To know the breadth of stuff they knew was really quite extraordinary. And because there was no audience, there was certainly no one there coughing.
“They were out there literally on their own. I am sitting there, acutely aware, having also watched (2020 TV drama) Quiz.
"No, the person did not cheat. This person sailed through it, like it was a breeze.”
Jeremy is as invested as ever in the contestants’ performances on the show — particularly as at any time he can be called upon to help them, using the Ask The Host lifeline.
But he was relieved that the punter was confident in their own intelligence rather than looking to him for help on the 15th and final question.
Asked if he knew the answer, Jeremy said: “I did not, even though I had read up extensively on that subject matter only five months earlier for something we were doing for The Grand Tour.
“We did a 90-minute programme on that exact subject a few months earlier. I’d read countless books on it.
"It’s gone in one ear and out the other for me. It was fresh in my mind, and I couldn’t remember the answer. They hadn’t done that and did know the answer. It’s gone in their ear and stayed there.”
He continued: “Obviously, the £1million winner steals the series. But what I can say is we had so many good contestants and we’ve given away a lot of money this series.
"We had some very, very, very good contestants. I mean, very good — and then some absolute dunderheads, which is what people want.
"This series isn’t very grey. They are either very, very good or very, very bad.”
With no audience for contestants to consult, producers had to add a second Phone A Friend lifeline — something I suggest is actually an unfair advantage.
But Jeremy says the audience, despite not being as “bookish” as the contacts of some of those in the hotseat, are still very useful.
- Harry and Meghan: "£100m to make films that inform and give hope? Just kill me."
- 'Serious' TV: "When someone is ‘passionate’ about their show, I know it’s crap."
- Ask The Host: "I’d read up on the million-pound question then forgot answer."
- Brainboxes: "Some know all dates for 100 Years War but have never seen Corrie."
He said: “They can sometimes be split, but they rarely — very rarely — get it wrong. The highest is usually the right answer, weirdly.
“They’re certainly extremely useful to use at £2,000 when you’ve been asked about Coronation Street.
“A lot of these contestants know the date of every single battle in the Hundred Years’ War but have never seen EastEnders or Coronation Street, so they’re stumped.
"And that’s why the audience is very useful. And often their friends are similarly bookish, so the audience is useful for that.
“I’d have had a coronary if they’d suggested that we let contestants Ask The Host twice.
“It’s great to Ask The Audience and it’s nice to have four different lifelines, but when you don’t have an audience there really is nothing you can do about it.
“That’s what we had to do because of Covid-19 and this is just where we are.”
- Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? airs tomorrow night at 9pm and all this week on ITV
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