Richard, John, David... who am I?

13th October 2006 at 01:00
Richard Hammond's in a bad way, I told my son as I woke him on the morning after the TV star's crash. I had already checked the morning news.

Bulletins were now using words such as "serious but stable" as opposed to "critical" from the previous evening, where footage of a jet-powered dragster was intercut with library shots of Hammond looking like the cheeky kid you moved to the front row but couldn't help grinning back at.

The Top Gear programme has been a male-bonding thing in our house for a couple of seasons. While I might bemoan the transformation of a programme that was once actually about cars I might conceivably be able to afford, into a high-octane sitcom, it would be churlish not to admit to having laughed at some of the carry on.

It was when one commentator described Hammond as "a better-dressed, better-looking version of John Noakes" that I realised I would have to treat his possible demise with care and sensitivity.

John Noakes was one of my boyhood heroes. In the sixties, we called all our parents' friends Mr or Mrs, or Uncle or Aunt. When Blue Peter came on and the presenters allowed us to refer to them as Val, John and Peter, it was surprisingly empowering.

I actually felt that John Noakes was a pal. He did exciting things, some that I would have liked to do too, others that would have terrified me. I liked him even more because there was no pressure to emulate him. Had my real pals David Brown or Johnnie Ramsay (P4) climbed Nelson's Column, I might have felt bad about my own lack of a head for heights. But when John did it, I once more marvelled at his bravery.

Long after he and his dog Shep moved on from Blue Peter, I saw him being interviewed. At one point, he broke down. Shep had died that weekend. It was impossible not to be moved. Also touching was the revelation from John that the person loved by millions of children wasn't actually him. He claimed it had all been an act: he had assumed a character for the TV show that bore little resemblance to who he was in reality.

How many of us do this in the classroom? Even in my training year, I changed personality more often than David Bowie. Is it healthy to be six different people in a six-period day?

With respect to Richard Hammond, it is to his credit that what you see is probably what you get.

Hopefully, the same is not true of Jeremy Clarkson - or Mr Steele, period five on a Wednesday.

Gregor Steele resents the Top Gear team's knee-jerk aversion to Korean cars

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