‘Our programme features three old gits, at odds with the modern world, who react to their powerlessness by retreating into a second childhood. How on earth is that similar to Last of the Summer Wine?’ said a Top Gear insider, ‘You’ll be telling me they had over-the-top stunts using unlikely modes of transport like bathtubs next.’
However Summer Wine creator Clarke is unconvinced by the proclamations of innocence. ‘My old geezers had Nora Batty, an intimidating figure that they were all in erotic awe of who loomed over their every move. Put the Stig in a housecoat and a pair of wrinkled stockings, and what’s the difference? They even nicked our idea of spreading rumours that the part was actually played by Michael Schumacher.’
The theft of his situation and characters was bad enough, said Clarke, but what really hurt was the wholesale lifting of his trademark set piece knockabout finales, ‘I had ideas like an improbably out of control balloon drifting into airport space, or a bunch of funny-looking men — who probably smell a bit if you get too close — standing around sniggering while a caravan is blown up, and I got cancelled. They do it and they get a blinkin’ BAFTA for factual programming.’
While the resentment has been simmering with Clarke for years, the final straw was said to be when one of his most prized sub-plots was also pinched. ‘I always loved writing about when the eminently unloveable Howard would try and sneak away from his wife and ended up being caught in a compromising position with Marina, a woman half his age. And I open my Sunday papers last week and there’s that Clarkson looking like he’s been caught with his hand in the show’s production kitty. Enough is enough.’
Top Gear characters Clarkie, Poshie and Shrimp were said to out walking in the Yorkshire Dales, and unavailable for comment.