Sun, seeds and squirrels --- it's hell in the parks police (July 30)
At school we had a careers master who was on hand to help pupils choose what job they'd like after they left. And at no point did he say to me: "Well, son, I should think you'll be able to make a pretty decent living by driving other people's cars too quickly round corners while shouting."
In fact, he gave me the choice of being an estate agent, a bank clerk or an accountant -- and then he gave me a two hour detention for saying: "I want to be a homosexual astronaut."
Actually I was lying. What I really wanted was to be a meteorological officer in the Sahara desert. I'd file my report every morning, saying the day would be hot and sunny, and then I'd go back to sleep, knowing that 98% of the time, I'd be correct.
My son had an even better idea when he was asked at school what he'd like to do. He said he wanted to be AA Gill, but without the writing. In other words, he wanted to go to excellent restaurants and watch television, and then spend the rest of the day doing as he pleased.
Today, as I understand it, a huge number of young girls say that when they grow up what they'd like to do most is: "Be famous". They read the sidebar of shame in the Mail Online and all they see is an endless parade of women "jetting" in and out of Los Angeles international airport and lying by the pool, earning a living simply by having breasts.
It's why there are queues round the block for the chance to warble your way through a Celine Dion song on The X Factor, and it's why every newsagent is rammed with people frantically rubbing away at a scratchcard. Everyone wants to be Katie Price, or me, or Adrian Gill. To do something that doesn't apparently involve any actual work.
It is a noble dream. But it so very rarely works out ... I was in Liverpool last year, in the back of a taxi, moaning about how I didn't want to be there, doing whatever it is I was on my way to do. And in the gloom of a wet and cold November evening I went past a branch of PC World where I saw a young man in a purple shirt, doing whatever it is that shop assistants in PC World do.
And in a moment his life flashed before my eyes. He'd work hard until he was made store manager and then, with some careful arse-licking, he might one day become a regional manager, which would enable him to attend the annual conference at a hotel in north Wales where he'd get a bit drunk and accidentally insert himself in Janet, the regional manager for the northeast.
And that would be the highlight of his life. The moment that would bring half a smile to his greying lips as he lay on his deathbed many years in the future. I stopped moaning immediately and I haven't since.
PC World man is not alone. I look at Nicholas Witchell on the news, endlessly commentating on Prince George's new hairstyle and how the Duchess of Cornwall smiled at an old lady and I think: "Is that how you wanted your life to turn out? Really?" It's the same story with people who chisel fat from London's sewers or those who sit at an air traffic control computer, or the man who comes to dust the plants in my office. If you'd said to any one of them when they were 16 that this is what they'd be doing 20 years down the line, they'd have jumped in front of a train.
It's not a money thing I'm talking about. I have many friends who work in the City, and they all have Range Rovers and stick-thin wives and adorable, clever children who attend agreeable, leafy schools where no one gets knifed. But all they do, all day, is watch ones and noughts float across a computer screen. And that's a terrible way of filling time between the two eternities.
All last week I was thinking about this, about what job would allow our children to spend their days doing not much of anything at all. And while sitting in Holland Park, in the sunshine, enjoying a morning cup of coffee, I cracked it. They should join the parks police.
The normal police are obviously no good because you have to spend all day talking gibberish while waiting for someone to throw a petrol bomb at your head. And you aren't allowed to climb ladders or rough up crims or do anything that is fun because there'd be too much paperwork afterwards.
The parks police, however, are different because parks, by and large, are used by people on Tinder dates and quite attractive women with dogs. Maybe you will occasionally have to ask someone to cycle more considerately and sometimes you will have to put a carelessly discarded sweet wrapper in a bin. But that's about it. They even give you a Volvo.
Think about it. Have you ever heard of a parks police shootout, or witnessed a parks police high-speed car chase? Has there ever been a criminal gang that has decided not to ram raid the sweet shop by the boating lake in case it gets collared by a burly parks policeman or policewoman? The parks police website says you may be asked to provide security at any concerts that are being staged in the park, which means you get free tickets and front-row viewing of something you'd want to see anyway.
Also, it says you may be called upon to advise the public on dog chipping and cycle marking. But it adds that if you see any crime that may involve running, you can call upon the actual police who will do it for you.
This means you are free to spend your days sitting in your comfy Volvo, in pleasant surroundings, watching pretty women walking past with their dogs. It is then, quite literally, the perfect job for somebody who doesn't want one.
An airship crashes, is rebuilt ... I know how this story goes (Aug. 28)
There was much disappointment last week when the Airlander 10, a gigantic airship the size of four hundred football pitches and Wales, crashed very slowly into Bedfordshire during its second flight.
After the super-slow-motion accident was over, engineers were quick to report that it was only a minor thing and that Airlander, the biggest aircraft in the world these days, would soon be writing the latest chapter in the book of British brilliance.
On paper it does sound remarkable, as it can stay airborne for weeks, produces very few emissions and can land anywhere provided there are no trees or pylons or telegraph poles within about 40 miles, which means it can be used to supply remote parts of Africa with food, or a war zone with bullets, or an oil rig with a thousand copies of Men Only.
However, there is, as I see it, a big problem. It's an airship. And in almost all human history airships have never worked.
Among the pioneers of the idea was a German madman called Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. In 1900, after a tricky round of financing you don't say his first attempt was built and ready for its maiden voyage. Onlookers gasped as the giant craft it was 420ft long was wheeled from its hangar. And then they gasped some more when it crashed minutes after it took off.
Undaunted, Zeppelin raised more money by liquidating his wife's estate and built a second version. This suffered total engine failure on its first flight and crashed into a mountain, where it was subsequently destroyed by a storm.
Determined to prove that he was on to something, Zeppelin built a third airship, which failed to meet any of the criteria necessary to satisfy potential customers, so he built a fourth, which was forced by mechanical issues to make an emergency landing. It was tethered in place but then a gust of wind blew it into a tree, after which it caught fire and was burnt to a crisp.
We don't associate the Germans with an Eddie the Eagle mentality, but they had become rather fond of the mad count's endless attempts to conquer the skies and a flood of donations meant he could keep on going. In fact the imperial German army bought his fifth attempt, which was blown away in a gale.
Meanwhile, Zeppelin had decided to start an actual airline using his airships and was building a sixth attempt, which was destroyed by a fire in its hangar before it was finished. The seventh was used to take a party of journalists on a publicity trip. That crashed into a tree.
The eighth was then wheeled out of its hangar but blew away before anyone had a chance to climb on board, and on it went until eventually, for reasons that are not entirely clear, the imperial German navy decided that an airship was exactly what it wanted and bought two.
The first crashed into the sea, killing all 14 on board. The second, just six weeks later, exploded.
During the First World War the German army reckoned that airships were the way forward but quite quickly it became obvious they weren't, partly because they were huge and had a top speed of about one, which meant they were very easy to shoot down, and partly because they tended to go where the wind was blowing. After one raid a Zeppelin crew reported that it had totally destroyed Birmingham, but it turned out that the German airmen had actually spent the night bombing the bejesus out of Amiens, in northern France.
By the time the war ended, Zeppelin was dead, but his workers carried on regardless until eventually they built the 127th attempt. Called the Graf Zeppelin, it was a whopping 776ft long and in 1929 it flew all the way round the world. On board was a reporter called Grace Hay Drummond Hay, whose description of flying over the moonlit Siberian tundra while dancing the Charleston is some of the best writing I've encountered.
It was so good that it created an aura of romanticism around the airship idea. Which lasted until the Nazi party decided they should all have swastikas on their tailfins. That spoilt the glamour a bit, but not half as much as the Hindenburg accident in 1937 and the 36 deaths that resulted from it.
Then there was the British airship the R101, which crashed into France, killing 48, and the French military's Dixmude, which crashed, killing 52, and the USS Akron, which disintegrated and fell into the sea, killing 73.
After all these disasters you'd imagine the whole airship idea would simply go away. Even Hitler lost faith, reportedly saying that the idea of a powered balloon was like a new type of floor that was resistant to water and scratch marks. But exploded when you walked on it.
However, it did not. After the war, boffins decided that they'd solve all the problems of the airship if they replaced the extremely flammable hydrogen that was used to make it float, with helium, which is about as explosive as mashed potato.
The problem here is that helium is a finite resource. Yes, a huge new reserve has recently been found in Tanzania, but you can't sweep it into a mound or shovel it into a lorry, and once it's exposed to the atmosphere it just floats up and up until it escapes into space.
Couple that to the fact that no children's party is complete without a squeaky-voiced dad inhaling the balloons to entertain the kiddies and you have a problem. There isn't enough left over to fill an airship, not if it's going to be big enough to be of any use.
That's the second problem. If an airship is going to be able to lift anything more than a pencil sharpener, it needs to be absolutely vast. The Hindenburg was about 3 1/2 times longer than a Boeing 747 and more than twice as tall. This means massive engines are needed to compensate for even the slightest breeze.
I wish the Airlander boffins all the best, I really do. But history has taught us that if you want to move big loads across the world, you can't beat an even better invention. It's called the "ship".
It's Notting Hell, but don't stop the carnival, officer (Sept. 4)
Not that long ago the Notting Hill carnival was a good-natured affair, an opportunity for newspapers to print pictures of attractive young Trinidadian women in skimpy swimsuits dancing the salsa with a cheerful-looking police constable. But not any more, it seems.
If you read the reports of what happened at last weekend's carnival, you'd have to agree with the chairman of the Police Federation, who reckons this celebration of West Indian culture cannot continue in its current form. Perhaps he shares the views of those community leaders who say it should be moved elsewhere. Such as, er, the West Indies.
I spent bank holiday Monday on the fringes of what's now the second-largest street carnival in the world and can testify that there was a lot of trouble. As night fell, I stood on my balcony and counted five separate skirmishes all going on at the same time.
One was quite big. A gang of youths had dragged someone from his Toyota Prius and were bashing his head into the pavement. But then it's likely he was an Uber driver so he probably deserved it.
The next day, official figures showed that over the bank holiday more than 450 people had been arrested, a 15-year-old boy had been slashed in the stomach with a "zombie" knife and about 170 others had needed hospital treatment, including eight of the 43 police officers who were injured. That sounds like the roll call from a bad night in Homs.
Certainly, it was all pretty hellish for the local residents, who'd prepared by boarding up their windows, shutting their businesses and going to stay with friends for the weekend. In somewhere more quiet. Such as Syria.
For those of us--that'd be me--who'd forgotten it was a bank holiday and the carnival was on, the noise was indescribable. There was drum'n'bass, R&B, hip and hop, and all of it was being played at a volume that was exactly two decibels less deafening than the police helicopter that hovered over the area, without a break, for 40 hours.
By Monday afternoon I was trying to fashion a rudimentary Stinger missile from anything I could find in the kitchen cupboards so that I could shoot it down. I know that such a thing makes the pilots feel very important, but have the bean-counters not heard of a camera drone? Which is nearly silent. And which does exactly the same job as a ?3m Eurocopter. And which can be bought from Selfridges for about ?250.
That night I had a fitful sleep, being woken every two or three minutes by the screams of Uber drivers having their heads smashed in, and the post-party boomboxes and the endless sirens and the infernal helicopter. And I must say I had some sympathy with the senior police bod who said officers "dread" marshalling the event.
But then I changed my mind. Because it seems that 38 of the people detained by the constabulary were arrested for using laughing gas, which is about as illegal as parking on a single yellow line while you pop into the corner shop for a pint of milk. It's nitrous oxide, for crying out loud, which as any hospital patient will testify makes the user about as undangerous as a small mouse. What's the charge going to be? "Finding everything funny"? Then we get to the police officers who were injured. In our heads, we see them staggering into Charing Cross Hospital with blood pouring from their heads and swords sticking out of their eyes. But further investigation reveals the eight were hospitalised after being spat at.
Now I know the police are no longer allowed to injure themselves at work--it's why they can't climb ladders, or wade into a garden pond to save a drowning child--but since when did spit become worthy of a hospital visit? What's the matter with a tissue? Apparently the victims were fearful of a viral infection, but do me a favour. Every other weekend, half these fit young policemen and policemen women will be in nightclubs, happily swapping saliva and other bodily fluids with anyone who comes within range.
If I were a senior officer and a constable came to me saying he needed to go to hospital because someone had spat on his tunic, I'd have his badge. And I certainly wouldn't use the dribble as an injury statistic to prove a point.
Make no mistake. I hate the Notting Hill carnival. It is a hotbed of weed, unjoined-up noises and petty theft. And the location is pretty bonkers too a bunch of people celebrating an area where they don't live any more by having a giant party in an area where they don't live any more.
But it must be allowed to go on, because it's not up to the state to tell people what they can celebrate, or how, or where. And it can't be shoehorned into a park because that would somehow be more convenient for the police. They are here to serve us, not the other way round.
All year long, we get up and clean our teeth and have a breakfast that's been passed as acceptable by government health experts, and we drive with our seatbelts on under the watchful gaze of an endless battery of speed cameras to our offices, where we work so that we can pay our taxes, and then we go home, where we watch television shows that have been deemed acceptable by a government watchdog, and drink half a pint of beer because that's all the government says we are allowed, before eating a salad and getting an early night so that we are fit and able to create some more tax income the next day.
It's vital for our sanity that just once in a while we are allowed to say, "F*** it," and let our hair down. For those who drive vans, that comes when England win a football tournament. For those who are old, it comes when someone in the royal family gets married. And for those who are under 25, or from the West Indies, it comes at the end of August in Notting Hill.
A minor problem? Call Hi-Vis Man and make it a crisis (Sept. 11)
Constitutionally, the Queen has the ability to fire the Australian government. But apart from a technical kerfuffle in 1975, she has never done this. Not once, in her entire 64-year reign, has she got a bit tipsy with friends at a dinner party and called the Aussie prime minister to say: "Hey Bruce. It's Mrs Queen here. And you're sacked."
I would have done that. I know I would. And you would have done it too. But because Her Majesty is basically German, she understands the need for order, and so she hasn't.
She also has the ability to appoint lords. If I had the ability to do that, I'd spend most of my time handing out titles and peerages to completely unsuitable people, just for a laugh. Half the nation's lollipop ladies would be dames and Huw Edwards would be a duke.
It's an interesting concept: having the power to do something interesting and fun, then choosing not to do it. And that, of course, brings me on to the trouble we saw at London City airport last week.
Nine people with unusual haircuts, smelly armpits and double-barrelled names somehow got onto the runway where, for reasons that are not clear, they erected a small wooden tripod to which they all chained themselves. Equally unclear was their motivation.
Plainly, they'd had a meeting before embarking on the protest and all of them had come up with a different reason for doing it. So, as is the way with sixthform politics, they'd decided that all their voices should be heard. As a result, they were protesting about climate change, the shooting of black people in America, elitism, the refugee crisis in Africa, deportation of illegal immigrants, the Judean People's Front, the Popular Front of Judea and everything else that upsets the posh unwashed these days.
So, here is the situation. On the runway, you have nine mad people chained loosely to a small easel. And in the terminal, you have thousands and thousands of business people unable to oil the wheels of the world by flying off to Belgium and Luxembourg to do business.
It's an easy call for the authorities. The airport is required by law to have a fire engine. That fire engine is equipped with a water cannon capable of shooting water and foam with such force it can extinguish a burning jetliner. So you simply drive it out there and hose Mr Carruthers-Spart and his mates back through the fence through which they came. Airport reopens in a jiffy.
Carruthers-Spart gets a much-needed bath. Wheels of the world turn once more. Bish bash bosh.
The protesters have exercised their legal and democratic right to get their messages across, the police have exercised their right to move them on, and all the newspapers have some hilarious front-page photographs of schoolboy-communists being hosed through a fence. Everybody wins. But no. The authorities decided that instead of deploying a fire engine, they would slip into some important-looking body armour and saunter out to the runway to start negotiations.
This would make the officers at the scene feel like Denzel Washington. Never mind that every one of their enticements will have been met with a surly "Eff off, pig" they had a "situation". They were breaking news on Sky. They were leading the traffic reports on LBC. They were heroes. And the longer they could keep it going, the more pats on the back they'd get at the lodge next week.
Yes, they could have picked up the protesters and carried them off to the cells, but here they were with an almost Queen-like power to divert planes and shut the airport or stage a "lockdown", as they will undoubtedly have called it.
So they did. For an astonishing six hours.
We see this kind of thing on the roads as well. They are now patrolled by traffic officers who are not policemen, which means they can get the job with nothing more than a C in GCSE needlework. And yet they have the power to shut a motorway. Which they do. All the time.
If somebody's door mirror falls off in the middle lane, they could wait for a gap in the traffic before running out to retrieve it. But that's no kind of a story at the Harvester that night. Much better to shut the motorway until a trained door mirror replacement officer can be choppered in.
If there's an actual accident, they go berserk. And woe betide anyone who dares to complain. "We are dealing with a serious injury here, sir," they always say.
Well, I'll let you into a secret. "Serious injury" sounds like someone's head has come off, but actually the definition refers to any fracture. Which means that a broken finger is a serious injury. So is a sprained wrist. So is shock. Which means you are sitting there, in a jam, missing a meeting, missing a child's school play, missing dinner, because just up the road someone's thumb is a bit hurty after they bumped into the crash barrier. And because someone in a high-visibility jacket is exercising every scrap of power he's been given. So he can feel important.
Airport security. Same thing. The officer in the Keith Vaz gloves can see you are not going to explode when you board the flight. Because you are Huw Edwards, the Duke of W1A. But he has the power, invested in him by law, to touch your penis, so that's what he does.
I presume all these people are trained. There must be seminars with coffee and biscuits where new recruits are shown the ropes. This is surely the opportunity for someone with a level head and a sense of scale to explain that just because they have the power to do something doesn't mean they are forced to actually do it.
So the next time an estranged father decides to climb Nelson's Column dressed as Batman, the officer in charge of getting him down doesn't automatically shut down the Tube network and evacuate all shops and offices in a two-mile radius. Instead, he pauses for a moment to think: what would the Queen do here? Then he calls for a marksman.
The blame game behind The Great BBC Clear Off (Sept. 18)
Thanks to Ray Donovan, Game of Thrones, The Night Of, Transparent, The Girlfriend Experience, Billions and all the other box sets, I've only seen Bake Off once. And I thought it was extremely weird.
One of the contestants was the impressionist Alistair McGowan, who is contractually obliged to say in every interview that he hates me. But the feeling isn't mutual. In fact, as I watched the judges criticising his baking, I felt rather sorry for him.
"Of course he's no good at it," I bellowed at the screen. "He's an impressionist." Telling a man who does a wonderful Ed Miliband that he's no good at making fairy cakes is like inviting Mary Berry to do heart surgery and then getting a load of doctors to tell her loudly, and on television, that she's made a right hash of it. "You stupid woman. Look at that stitching. It's hopeless."
Then there was the editing. Every time the producers needed to convey a passage of time, they cut to a squirrel busying itself in a tree. I have literally no idea why. But what you got was Alistair McGowan adding a little bit of sugar to something, and then there was a squirrel, and then the judge with piercing blue eyes said: "You've done that all wrong, you thin-faced halfwit."
The other problem with this show is that baking is witchcraft. Seriously, when I put eggs and flour in an oven I sometimes end up with a cake and I sometimes end up with Yorkshire pudding. I can't control that, and anyone who can is obviously sinister and should be thrown into the village pond.
However, despite the cruelty and the squirrel and the sorcery, the programme is very popular, and that's why there's so much brouhaha about the producers' decision to make a ?75m move from the BBC to Channel 4. It's a move that will probably mean that Channel 4 ends up with a tent and some ovens, and the BBC with the show's stars but no actual show to put them on.
Those on the right wing blamed the unholy cock-up on the poor old BBC, saying it should have done more to keep the show where it belongs. And those on the left blamed the naked greed of the producers, saying they should be doing it for love, not cash. The real problem, however, is much more complicated.
Let's say you're a bright young thing working at the BBC and you have a brilliant idea for a new show. You then have a choice. If you take it to your line manager, the show will belong to the BBC and you will make no money from it at all. However, if you leave the Beeb and set up an independent production company, you will own all the rights and soon you will have a yacht. It's not a difficult decision. And because it's not difficult, a lot of very successful BBC shows are not actually owned by the BBC.
Of course you probably imagine that if a show is transmitted by the BBC, then it will be guided and developed by a skilled team of in-house bods and bodesses.
Well, there's a fantastic editorial policy team, which must decide before a show goes out whether it conforms to the broadcaster's standards of taste and decency. But beyond that, no.
In fact I can recall only two occasions in all my 27 years at the corporation when someone from management came along with a suggestion for making the programme better. Once I was told to make a show "a bit more chilli and lemongrass", which I didn't understand. And once we were told that Top Gear had done very well in research to find what shows were liked by ethnic minorities.
"So we were thinking," said the management person brightly, "maybe you should replace James or Richard with someone from an ethnic minority."
My producer and I had a better idea, though. "Since we have performed well in your test," we countered, "why not leave us alone and put a black or Asian kid on a show that has not done quite so well?" They were very pleased with this plan and we never heard from them again.
Have I Got News for You. QI. Never Mind the Buzzcocks. There will be the occasional diktat from on high about the gender of guests, but the show itself? No. This means the BBC has no claim at all to Bake Off. Yes, the Beeb gave it time to blossom, and reaped the rewards when it did. But when the contract was up, the producers the people who actually made it thrive were free to take the best deal on the table. And they have done.
So why, you may be wondering, could the BBC have not matched Channel 4's offer? Ah, well, that's where everything gets tricky. Some are saying that if the management had simply moved Bake Off from the factual department into the far richer entertainment department, which is what it did with Top Gear incidentally, it could have afforded the new price easily.
That's true, but the tabloid newspapers would have been unconcerned with this internal accounting. They would simply have said that the BBC had "squandered" ?75m on a cookery show. And then there would have been a witch-hunt to find the person who'd sanctioned it. And that that is the real problem here.
The producers of Bake Off say they tried to negotiate with the BBC for more than a year but were not getting anywhere. Of course they weren't. Because decision makers these days--and this problem affects all organisations--won't actually make a decision until they're confident they'll get the credit if everything goes well, and someone else will get the blame if it doesn't.
Nothing is committed to email and no one will say: "Right, let's do that," in a minuted meeting. Those Bake Off discussions will have been like a game of pass-the-parcel in a Belfast pub in 1971.
This is what has to change. Bosses must accept that if they give an executive the power to make decisions, that executive cannot subsequently be castigated for making one.
No hills, no lakes; but outside my tent is England's soul (Oct. 2)
The new motoring show that I'm about to start hosting on Amazon is based in a tent that moves around the world. Different views from the windows each week. Different audiences. Different things to talk about.
We filmed one episode in South Africa and that was lovely because out of the windows you could see the high plains where the animals all live and then, way off in the distance, the sprawling city of Johannesburg.
Last weekend we were in California, in the Mojave desert, and that was lovely too because the sky was just so impossibly blue and the landscape was so completely American.
For the third programme we decided we should film in England. But where? What would the global audience want to see out of the windows? In short, what view best encapsulates what we are all about in this country these days? Many would say that the best and most relevant view would feature a wind farm, or some other modern piece of green thinking. Others would suggest that there should be some rehoused badgers. But as we are not making a show for these people and hate badgers and wind farms we decided to put the tent up in London.
That's easier said than done because in London there isn't a lot of empty space that's not being used for something else. The only waste ground really is Hyde Park, but there's no view from any of it that says "England".
Ideally we wanted Tower Bridge and that meant putting the tent on a barge in the middle of the Thames. Which was exactly what we were going to do until someone pointed out that Tower Bridge is currently being restored. So it looks a bit messy. And there'd be workmen, which would mean drills and hammers and noise. So that was the end of that.
The next best option was on top of a car park in Peckham, south London. You can see all the capital's famous buildings from up there but the trouble is that today, in a panoramic vista of this size, the city's famous buildings are rather overshadowed by its not so famous buildings, such as the Shard and the Eye and that curved monstrosity that acts like a magnifying glass and melts people's cars.
London therefore was out and so we had a meeting where we decided that this was a good thing. People in provincial England loathe the capital. They think it's full of rapists and burglars and they would hate to see our show being hosted there. Much better to go somewhere else. But where? Country Life magazine once told us that the best view in Britain was of Ted Heath's old house in Salisbury from across the water meadows. But I disagree with this because it's just some grass with ducks in it and, in the background, a big church. What's to write home about? Other expert publications such as the Daily Mail point us in the general direction of the Lake District. And I'll agree that on a sunny day the views from various Cumbrian hillsides can be extremely breathtaking. But this would be the Lake District in November, so it wouldn't be sunny. It would be grey and swirly and bleak.
And, anyway, the truth is that the Lake District is rather overshadowed by other countries' lake districts. New Zealand's, for example, is about 200 times more dramatic. So is Iceland's. Even Croatia's can knock ours into a cocked hat, as anyone who's been to the Plitvice region will testify.
No. We needed something that can only be found in England. This ruled out hillsides and the pimples we call mountains. It ruled out cities such as Birmingham and Manchester too, because you can find places like that all over eastern Europe as well.
This led us inexorably to the centre of Stow-on-the-Wold, in Gloucestershire, with its picture-perfect chocolate-box houses and its mellow-yellow shops. A view like that would cause the audience in America to faint with lust and envy.
But there's a problem. Is it the view of England we want to purvey these days? Red phone boxes and brown beer and vicars on bicycles waving a cheery hello to the local police constable? We are supposed to be a thrusting, independent nation, full of industry and commerce, not a boutique for Chinese tourists.
And there's another problem. In Stow-on-the-Wold there's always the possibility that some morris dancers will turn up. And that sort of thing would make us look idiotic.
As a final nail in the coffin for all England's prettier towns and villages, we'd probably be filming on a Sunday. Which is when all of the local jumper enthusiasts gather in church to inflict their campanology on everyone within 20 miles. You can ask them to shut up, of course, but they will only look incredulous and then carry right on with renewed vigour.
After several weeks of banging our heads on the wall and poring over maps, we decided on Yorkshire. Everyone likes Yorkshire. Advertising agencies always use Yorkshire people for voiceover work because it's reckoned they sound honest. It's why Sean Bean wasn't too bothered that he got beheaded in Game of Thrones he's always going to be able to earn a crust flogging mobile phones and breakfast cereal.
The question we faced was what sort of Yorkshire we wanted to show through the tent's windows. My first impulse was to go for some faded bit of the Industrial Revolution. An old mine, perhaps, or a tumbledown steelworks. But it turned out that these are now all shopping centres and light industrial units.
The Dales? Same problem as the Lake District, really. They look tremendous when the sun's out, but a bit Scandi-drama when it isn't.
Eventually we hit on the idea of Whitby, which seems to us to be about as English as any town in the land. It's coastal, which is only right and proper in an island nation. It was once a great fishing port and now it isn't any more. And it's really, really pretty.
Most important of all, though. No one has ever been anywhere in the world and said: "You know what? This place is just like Whitby."
I cannot for the life of me understand why someone so interested in British history, culture and identity like Clarkson would support a cause as sinister and economically-ignorant as Remain. I suspect unfortunately that he puts his own personal gain above the needs of other citizens struggling to find work, school places, or just getting on the housing ladder. It's the only thing I dislike about him.
Night in the city, and the only sound is my stomach rumbling (Oct. 9)
There's a part of London called Camden that I've always tried to avoid. It's the sort of place that smells quite strongly of weed and is full of small shops selling birdseed and things with skulls on them. On a Sunday morning, people with dirty hair and unusual diets take their guitars to the nearby park and sing dreary songs about the awfulness of Mrs Thatcher and then they stop off on the way home at a cafe that sells drinks that are green and have lumps in them.
The borough sits in two constituencies; one is currently represented by someone called Tulip Siddiq and the other by that ghastly Keir Starmer chap, who, when he was the director of public prosecutions, spent his time persecuting people for saying things he didn't agree with.
Naturally many roads in the borough have a 20mph speed limit, which is routinely broken by all the cyclists, but that's OK because Starmer likes cyclists. If you have a bicycle, you are immune from any kind of prosecution. If you have a car, you are guilty of environmental crimes and starting the war in Syria, and you will be sneered at as you crawl by.
However, I have been told by my children that at night Camden is very good fun. This is not true, though. At night Camden is shut.
Last Monday I was there looking for something to eat at 10:30pm, and it was genuinely astonishing. Every restaurant and every cafe had already put its chairs on the tables and was being locked up by a bright young Lithuanian who was looking forward to getting home for some lentils and a spot of yoga.
You expect everything to be shut at 10:30pm in a small Dorset village, but this was Camden, supposedly the trendiest part of the trendiest capital city in the whole wide world. I was amazed. And still hungry, so I widened my search to nearby Primrose Hill, which was made famous by Jude Law and Kate Moss, who did something or other there several years ago. This appeared to have no restaurants or cafes at all.
And so, at 11pm, I went into the middle of London, which was shut as well. Even my local Indian was in darkness, and since when did curry houses start putting up the shutters that early? What's going on here? Old people like me, who are usually asleep before Emily Maitlis has introduced Newsnight's first Muslim guest, assume that our towns and cities are vibrant and throbbing until the sun comes up. But it seems they aren't, and my journalistic nose was tweaked by this.
I realise of course that with the war in Syria getting worse and worse and with America facing a dismal choice at the coming election, there are bigger stories, but I set out anyway to discover why London closes at 10.30pm.
It certainly isn't because of staff shortages. The country is drowning in cheap labour that would be willing to knock up a sausage sandwich for customers at four in the morning. And it isn't because there's no demand. My children and yours too never even think about going out till midnight.
So I've done some asking and it seems the problem, invariably, is the neighbours. In every bar and cafe it's the same story. They have to bring customers in from the beer garden at nine because of the noise, and they have to shut completely at 10:30pm for the same reason.
This is stupid. If you're going to live in a city centre you have to accept that from time to time there will be some noises. You're living cheek by jowl with people who have motorcycles and parties and accidents that necessitate an ambulance. And you can't expect the police to tiptoe when they are on their way to the scene of a bomb threat.
I was with friends at their house for dinner last weekend and the couple next door were having a party. Yes, there was music and, yes, there was laughter, but really and truly it wasn't that bad. But at midnight Plod arrived, saying there'd been complaints and it was time for everyone to go home. That's insane.
It's the same story with this Heathrow expansion business. As I understand it, the glide path onto the new runway will bring the Airbus A380s in through my sitting room window and out of the patio doors in the kitchen, but I'm not going to moan because we need more capacity and it has to be at Heathrow because Gatwick only serves Crawley.
And anyway, I won't hear the jetliners because Thames Water is going to spend the next two years digging a big hole down the road so it can make sewers. And I won't hear that either because the local police think that the nearby Holland Park Avenue is a good place to make sure their sirens are working properly. Or at least I think that's what they're doing; it's hard to be sure because of the noise from the helicopters that fly around all the time.
I spoke to one of my angrier neighbours the other day, who was fuming about the squeals of joy that the children make when they walk to a nearby school every morning. He looked dumbfounded and then stormed off when I said the sound of children being happy as they kick leaves is great and that I had no problem with it at all.
True, I don't particularly like the whine of the drills and the constant hammering that punctuate my working day. But as this is the sound of neighbours using their City salaries to oil the wheels of the economy by employing people to fit a new kitchen, I let it slide.
When I'm in London I let everything slide. The traffic is bad because other people want to live there too. Parking tickets are simply a tax for being in a city. And the noise is inevitable.
So if you buy a house next to a restaurant or a pub, accept that there will be some sounds. Live with it. And if you can't, go and live on a moor.
Don't live rough in the city ? a hedge has all you need (Oct. 16)
A proud mother told me last week about her son, who, while working as a bicycle-mounted food-delivery boy in London, was sent one night to the wrong address. As no one back at base had the right address, his controller told him to eat the meal himself rather than let it go to waste.
But he, being a good and proud Jeremy Corbyn supporter, thought it would be better if he gave it away to a homeless person. And so for half an hour he pedalled round London looking for a person sleeping rough, until eventually he found one. Who refused the food because it contained meat. "I'm a vegan," said the down-and-out.
And this, of course, reinforces all our middle-class prejudices. Homeless people aren't really homeless. They're just beggars. They've got an Audi parked round the corner. And a half-term skiing holiday booked in Val d'Is?re. And a larder at home full of kale and nuclear-free South African peace crisps. So when we encounter one, we grit our teeth and say as politely as we can that we don't want to buy a Big Issue because we already have that edition at home.
This is because we all know that any sane person would do absolutely everything and anything to not sleep on the streets.
Only last week we read in the tabloids about a man who is currently living with his ex-wife and her new partner. Because lying alone in a small bed in the spare room, listening to your ex make the two-headed beast with her new man, is better than being under an arch.
Children, we are told, are now living at home until they are well into their twenties. Yes, they're told 10 times a day by their parents to sit up straight at mealtimes and to tidy their rooms and to turn the stereo down but this is better than trying to get cosy under a slightly damp copy of yesterday's Daily Star.
Certainly I'd rather sleep with James May than sleep rough on Oxford Street. Not that I'll be faced with the choice, because in my world ? and yours ? things would never be that desperate.
Even if everything has gone completely pear-shaped, everyone knows someone who'd put them up until things get straightened out. A friend. A sister. A brother. And that's before we get to the various charities that'll try to find you a bed for the night.
And yet somehow it's reckoned that more than 3,000 people in England are currently unable to do even that. They have nowhere to go, no friend or relation they can call on and absolutely no money. They therefore have no choice when they become tired of trudging but to find a shop doorway and settle down for the night.
I can't really conceive of how terrible the moment must be when, for whatever reason, you are forced out of your home and you literally have nowhere to go.
However, what interests me is that so many of them decide to head for the bright lights of the nearest city. This seems like madness, because as you sit there, in your dirty underpants, in the rain, you'll be presented with an endless conveyor belt of other people leaping in and out of taxis with their shiny clothes and their bulging wallets and their friends and their big happy smiles.
On every street, through the windows of all the houses, you'll be able to see families at play. The soft lighting. The real fires. The squeal of happy children. Imagine how gut-wrenchingly, heartbreakingly sad that would be.
So why do homeless people do it? Why do they go to the city, with its constant reminders of what they have lost? Why don't they go instead to the countryside? First of all, the countryside is extremely quiet. You aren't woken up every five minutes by road drills and sirens and people slamming car doors.
And the countryside is also extremely big, so it's unlikely you will be woken by a burly security guard and told to move on.
People often say Britain is an "overcrowded little island" but the truth is only about 2% of England has any kind of structure on it. Almost all of it is empty. Certainly you could build some kind of shelter in the woods on my farm and the chances are I'd never know.
You'd never be stabbed or mugged or raped, and no matter what your dietary requirements, you'd be well catered for. Vegans could stick to the abundance of blackberries and apples that are to be found in every hedge. Normal people, on the other hand, could catch a deer or a rabbit or a badger and eat that, under a clear, non-light-polluted starlit sky.
The next day you could take a leisurely stroll to the nearby stream, where you could gather fresh watercress and crayfish, which you could boil in a little milk that you'd swiped from a nearby cow.
There are many thousands of people who save up all year to have holidays such as this, but unlike you they are forced to spend it 2ft away from another caravan. Or under a hopeless piece of canvas. And they have to buy what they need from the campsite shop.
You aren't forced to, because in every single gateway to every single field in all of Britain's countryside there's always a three-piece suite that's been dumped by someone. And often a fridge as well. You could build a roaring fire to keep warm and bathe in a natural spring.
So you'd be well-fed, clean, healthy and at peace. You'd be able to watch the changing kaleidoscope of colour as the seasons rolled by, with nothing to disturb your reverie save for the birdsong and the occasional mournful drone of a distant light aircraft.
Surely this is better than being homeless in the city. Certainly it's better than living in the spare room, sticking your fingers in your ears while your wife bonks your replacement.
In fact, come to think of it, it's probably better than catching the train to work and toiling all day just so you have enough money to call somewhere home.
Blow a billion quid only fatties and idlers need apply (Oct. 23)
After the English riots of 2011, which were so massive and so terrifying that I can't remember where they were or what they were about, or how much damage was done, the British government decided that everyone would go back to an Enid Blyton-style state of contentedness if the nation's poor people were given ?448m.
On paper this looks a promising plan because if someone who is fat and unwashed is suddenly given a large lump of money it's likely he or she will immediately send their child to school instead of letting them do burgling and drugs.
And a child who's read Milton and Chaucer is statistically less likely to throw a brick through a shop window than a child who hasn't. There's no actual proof of this, obviously, but we know it to be so.
The trouble is that, having decided to narrow the gap between Waynetta Slob and Roman Abramovich, the government faced a bit of a problem. Because it couldn't just load ?448m into a van and drive round council estates in the north of England, throwing bundles of it at anyone in a tracksuit. Ministers needed a system so they could work out who was deserving of the money and who was not.
And they decided that this responsibility should be handed over to local authorities, which, again, sounds good on paper. You ask a government minister where all the poor people live in Bolton and he won't have a clue. But people on the borough council will.
There is a problem, however, with this scheme in practice, and it is this: by and large, the people who work for borough councils are just traffic wardens who got lucky.
Think about it. No one grows up dreaming of the day when they can work for the local council. It's what you do when the pox doctor says he doesn't want a clerk any more.
Have you met someone who works for a local council? No. Strike that. It's a silly question, because of course you haven't. You only see them in the town hall, behind a glass partition, below a sign saying: "I am useless at my job. I know that. But if you remind me, you will be prosecuted for verbal assault."
Certainly I wouldn't trust the deputy assistant to the equalities officer on a council to manage a village hall tombola, leave alone the distribution of hundreds of millions of pounds. But that's exactly what the government decided to do ...
After a little while the government started to ask if the councils were happy to have been sent a large amount of money. And it turned out, amazingly, that they were. Thrilled, in fact.
They sent reports to London saying the scheme had been a huge success. And they released figures showing that 90% of about 117,000 families selected to benefit from the handouts had turned their lives around and become model citizens. They really did. They said that 90% had been cured of their sloth and their violent tendencies and had turned over a new leaf.
And what's more, they argued that, having invested ?448m in the scheme, the government had saved ?1.2bn, thanks to a reduction in the cost of policing and providing truant officers and benefits and so on.
Back in Whitehall the government believed them. It really and genuinely thought that ?448m had solved the nation's great divide. It also believed, amazingly, that it had got a threefold return on its investment almost instantaneously. So, figuring that the more it handed out, the more it would save, it decided to give the councils ?900m to share among a whopping 400,000 families. With a net that wide, even Elton John was likely to get a knock on the door asking if he'd like a bit of extra cash.
The way this whole enterprise was being described, you'd imagine the police in places such as Barnsley and Preston were shutting up the stations at night because there was simply nothing to do any more. Naturally, when I read about it, I saw in my mind classrooms full of rosy-cheeked children, all with their hands up, eager to answer the teacher's question. And, outside, parents in well cut jeans talking about the lovely little bar they'd found in Val d'Isere last year.
However, and this will come as a surprise to no one at all, it seems councils may have exaggerated the benefits of having a money distribution van. Because a report released last week found that the scheme had no impact. The people who wrote it actually used those words. It had "no impact". As in: none. Diddly-squat. Zilch.
Nearly half the families who took part in the scheme were still claiming benefits a year and a half later. And you find the same percentage among similar families who did not take part. Truancy levels were no different either. And neither were the numbers being cautioned or convicted of a criminal offence. This means the government has in effect thrown away more than ?1.3bn.
It makes my shoulders sag, because surely by now people with a modicum of intelligence must know that social engineering just doesn't work. Give everyone in the country a quid and by next week two people will be multimillionaires and everyone else will have nothing. That's just a fact.
Give 400,000 jobless fatties nearly a billion quid and by next week all of it will be in the hands of Allied Breweries, Ladbrokes and Pablo Escobar. You can't change that.
We've watched countless leaders in countless countries attempt to level the playing field. And they've all failed. The only reason Jeremy Corbyn's supporters haven't realised this is because mostly they haven't grown up yet. And they haven't been to Cuba. Certainly they haven't realised that some people are born to be rich and some are born to be poor.
Trying to do something about this is as impossible as deciding that life would be fairer if everyone were good-looking. Yes. But some of us aren't. And there's nothing that can be done to change that.
So, Mrs May. Here's a tip. The next time there are riots, don't spray anyone with money. Spray them instead with a water cannon.
Space station or hair salon? I'd let Barbie decide (Oct. 30)
Oh dear. It seems the giant American toy company Fisher-Price has filled the pre-Christmas shelves this year with a doll that drives around in a pink and grey car shouting: "Time for yoga and a smoothie!" Naturally, various people with greasy hair were very cross and asked, out loud, why the doll wasn't dressed in a boilersuit and Birkenstocks. "And why's she in a car? What's wrong with a bicycle?" And that's before we get to the whole issue of why young girls are being taught by this product that their horizons should stretch no further than the local hairdressing salon.
It was made plain that the days of Barbie being an improbably shaped mutant are over and that she's now available with an astronaut outfit. Maybe she also comes with a giant 1970s-style lady garden.
I don't know about that and I'm not sure it would be a good idea for a chap of my age to go into a toy shop and check. I tried putting "Barbie bush" into Google but all I got was a lot of references to a former first lady in America.
Now, I want to make it very plain at this point that I'm fully supportive of the feminist cause. Just the other day, as I fastened my seatbelt and sat up straight and turned off my phone and did all the other nonsense that's required before a plane can take off, a lady came on the speakers to say she would be our pilot for the journey.
This caused the man in the seat next to me to begin a tirade that would have been only mildly amusing had he been a guest star on Terry and June 30 years ago.
There were many jokes about periods and premenstrual tension and how she'd undoubtedly hung her handbag on the lever that would soon be needed to raise the undercarriage.
And all of them were so hilarious that after a while I fixed him with my special angry stare and told him, quite loudly: "Shut the f*** up."
Doubtless this snippet will come as a surprise to the lady from the Daily Mail who, while interviewing me last week, asked if our new Grand Tour programme on Amazon Prime would be as macho as Top Gear was when we were at the BBC.
My blood, I'm ashamed to say, went all fizzy because Jean-Claude Van Damme is macho. A 50-calibre machine-gun is macho. Call of Duty is macho. But three badly dressed old men falling over and being useless are not macho. "We're as macho," I said despairingly, "as Last of the Summer Wine."
And she smiled the smile of someone who'd done her research by reading Jan Moir, Amanda Platell and Sarah Vine, all of whom assume James May, Richard Hammond and I spend all day scratching our scrotums and grabbing women by the nether regions. Because we are men. And that's what men do when they are left to their own devices.
It's possible, I suppose, that on a footballer's stag night some men do still remark on a woman's parking prowess, but in the world where I live, talking about this sort of stuff is as old-fashioned as wearing a ruff.
It seems that Fisher-Price shares these views because in a leaked reply to one of the people who complained about its yoga-loving, smoothie-filled doll, a spokesman woman said: "You're absolutely right. We could have done a better job."
And then, in a general defence of its Little People dolls, she went on to promise that next year the company would offer "both female and male characters in professional and community service roles such as servicemen and women, doctors and dentists". So that's all right, then.
Except it isn't, actually, because it's all about choice. Surely a girl can look at all the exciting opportunities that lie ahead in the world of science and engineering and social work and decide she'd rather spend all day having her hair done and reading the sidebar of shame at Mail Online. In the same way as a man can decide that rather than be a forklift truck driver or a nurse, he'd rather spend his days on a park bench, drinking cider and mumbling angrily at passers-by.
I'm quite serious about this, really. If we insist that all women are strong and capable of mending a diesel generator, then we will end up looking down our noses at those who want to wear pretty clothes and go to the gym. And we shouldn't.
I see problems with toddlers too. At the moment, if you unleash a collection of girls and boys into a playroom full of toys, the girls will pick up the dolls and the teddies and the boys will zoom around with the cars and the spaceships. Are we supposed to tell them that they've got it all wrong? Let us examine, shall we, the case of Kate Middleton. I do not know whether she is an intellectual powerhouse or if she's capable of replenishing the hydraulics in a Lamborghini tractor's power take-off system. Maybe she speaks fluent Latin. Maybe she doesn't.
What matters is that she's become a duchess, which means she spends her days smiling at old ladies while wearing a frock with lead in the hem to stop it blowing up and causing what would then be described in the Mail as a "wardrobe malfunction".
Do we mock her for that? Do we say that she has failed in life because she should be working as a fitter in the petrochemical industry? My elder daughter, who is a committed, passionate and extremely verbose feminist, runs a blog called Pretty Normal Me, on which she argues that whoever you are, or whatever you do, or however you look, you're fine. I agree with that completely.
So if you are thinking of buying your young daughter a doll for Christmas, you can and probably should choose one with a forest between its legs and tool belt around its waist.
The only trouble is, I don't think she'll want to play with it very often.