“Top Gear” and Chernobyl

I have a soft spot for the absurd Top Gear and its “star in a cheap car” and its supercar features. But above all I like the Flashmanism of some of the team’s heroics. Very galling, then, to watch their absurd treatment of  a visit to Chernobyl.

By now, the idea of the district of Chernobyl as a nightmare, and off-limits, is plainly ridiculous. Within a few hundred yards of the exploded Reactor 4, one other reactor continued to run until quite recently, and it was staffed by hundreds of people who were not, so far as we know, put at day-to-day risk of elevated radiation. Besides, there is now a small but – so far as I now – thriving tourism industry based on people visiting Chernobyl town. Film crews, as a Daily Mail TV reviewer pointed out, are very frequent visitors.

All that is sort of obvious. But what I think is worth noting is that the three heroes of Top Gear are supposed to admire derring-do, science, and roughing-up Green liberals. Told that they were going to Chernobyl, they should have rushed there as fast as their small cars could take them. They could have  devised stunts and games with some of the early responders to the Chernobyl disaster, whom they would have found to be quite as madcap and wonderful as the heroes of the Charge of the Light Brigade the team were happy to sob over at the other end of their Ukraine trip. They could have shown their love of science by devising some way of pointing out how complex is the story of radiation around Chernobyl. They could have dished the Greens and the soft-left green Establishment which employs them at the BBC by exploding the silly Doomsterism which has allowed Chernobyl myths so free a rein – so gripping a reign – over what will soon be three decades.

This programme was not just silly. I felt it as a cowardly, nasty, failure to respond to the qualities of the people who had to deal with Chernobyl, and a dreadful poverty of response to the wonders of the place. Perhaps “cowardly” and “nasty” risk appearing too personal and ad hominem. I don’t mean to be those, so much as to characterise an important editorial failure, whoever is to blame.

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Publication date

17 February 2014


On TV & Radio


BBC; Chernobyl