Clarkson rants about caravans (again) in Top Gear motorhome special

The trio are known for their mock-loathing of caravans

by Marcus Dubois and Holly Tribe

Regular watchers of Top Gear will be familiar with the caravan’s star role as pantomime villain. The team behind the hugely popular motoring show have enjoyed a love-hate relationship with the vehicles over the years, and a caravan is often used for comedy stunts. It all started in the third season when a stuntman for the BBC programme challenged the record set by Channel Five’s Fifth Gear…for the number of caravans a Volvo estate could jump over. The stunt ended in comic failure however when the car nosedived off the ramp, destroying three caravans.

Years later the trio of Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond seemed to be warming to the lifestyle after a special episode where the trio took a camping trip to Dorset. The show ended in more wanton destruction however, with a staged chip pan fire ending in the caravan burning to the ground. And last year their latest stunt backfired when they turned a caravan into an airship, and it promptly crashed into a field near a busy road.

Last weekend was yet another instalment in poking fun when Clarkson, May and Hammond bought vehicles to turn them into caricatures of motorhomes. The show’s producers set the challenge to create designs of such superior quality that “it would rid the country of “the motorhome menace”. The presenters would then drive their self-built constructions to a caravan park in Cornwall.

A tower block on wheels

The trio’s imaginations ran riot when designing their motorhomes. Richard Hammond converted a classic Land Rover Defender by adding a stone-effect extension complete with a working toilet affixed to the passenger seat. And taking inspiration from US RVs he installed slide-out side panels to house a games room and pop-up library.

James May (aka ‘Captain Slow’) surprisingly opts for the fastest mode of transport: a Lotus with accommodation inspired by ‘pioneer aviator lightweight design’. (Or in other words, a roof box with a sleeping bag). Clarkson however takes it to literally another level with a three storey construction atop his Citroen. A minimalist white box that could have come from Grand Designs, it featured a ground floor Japanese contemplation area, two hammocks upstairs and full cooking facilities with a grill. Yet predictably it became an unwieldy monster when in transit.

“Wouldn’t we be happier in a caravan?”

Once on the road, an unending catalogue of disasters unfolded: near misses with bridges, collapsing walls, and snaking that would turn the strongest stomach of even the hardiest caravanner. Despite Clarkson’s publicised hatred of caravans, as he struggled on the motorway in his three-storey monstrosity (with reams of traffic backing up ) he wondered aloud if he wouldn’t be happier towing one of the caravans he ridicules. “I don’t think we’ve sped up caravanning, have we?” he muttered to co-presenter Richard Hammond.

Once on the campsite itself the challenge unravels completely as the only ‘motorhome’ still standing belongs to James May. Hammond’s roof had fallen in on his ‘pop-up library’, whilst Clarkson’s three-story rig had totally capsized. And as is tradition, the climax of the show saw yet another recreational vehicle destroyed after being hurled off the side of a cliff. Clarkson co-signed the experiment as a “wretched failure” before adding: “Britain will continue to be strangled by the glass fibre menace of the caravans.”

“Clogging up the British countryside”

Of particular interest was where Clarkson took a predictable pop at caravanners. “As we know, caravans are a menace. We all know that. And the reason for this is very simple. Nobody who tows a caravan has had any training. Which means they’re a bit frightened. Which means they drive slowly. And that means they clog up the British countryside all summer long.”

We spoke to the Caravan Club, the UK’s largest providers of caravan training, to find out what they thought of Clarkson’s assertion that caravanners are untrained and nervous road users. Head of PR Nikki Nichol said “As everyone is aware, Top Gear is an entertaining motoring magazine programme and caravanners like a laugh as much as the next person. However we would like to point out that The Caravan Club puts 2,500 willing caravanners through its training courses every year. But then again, why let the facts get in the way of a good story!”

No mod cons?

Later Clarkson showed further ignorance of the lifestyle during an interview with Andy Garcia where the Hollywood star revealed he owns a 34-foot Airstream trailer. While initially seeming enthused with the comment “the thing about an Airstream is, it looks very good”, he then countered this by claiming owners were forced to relieve themselves in a bucket. Of course many are aware that all modern Airstream trailers feature fully-fitted bathroom suites.

Perhaps the boys on Top Gear should leave recreational vehicles to the thousands of caravanners who know what they’re doing.

What did you think of the show? Click here to watch the episode of Top Gear (broadcast Sunday 18 July)