REVIEW: The Grand Tour: Loch Ness
Episode 11: Italian Lessons
(Amazon Prime, available now)
* * * *
by Margaret Chrystall
"Look out, Nessie!" the publicity material for The Grand Tour’s two Loch Ness episodes began.
But it was another national treasure, Sir Chris Hoy MBE, who should have looked out before agreeing to go anywhere near presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May – especially in the section of their show they call "Celebrity Brain Crash".
Put it this way, now we know why The Grand Tour team needed to hire boats from local residents …
Jeremy Clarkson tapped into the running gag of trying to bring a celebrity guest into the studio – it started in episode one when actors Jeremy Rimmer, Armie Hammer and presenter Carol Vordermann supposedly died in dramatic stunts.
And it’s The Grand Tour’s tongue-in-cheek response to the alleged efforts of the BBC to stop them taking the Top Gear feature Star in a Reasonably Priced Car feature to their new show.
So we see Sir Chris appearing rowing across a serene loch, Jeremy Clarkson says: "The great thing is Loch Ness is a peaceful lake with no hazards at all – we may get a guest to the studio…"
But without spoiling the moment, it doesn’t end well.
A sunny December day on Loch Ness – when filming took place – makes a stunning backdrop to an enthusiastic audience in the tent. And with an image of an Irn Bru can on the road in the opening credits, they were always going to take the mickey out of Scotland.
It’s part of Jeremy Clarkson’s DNA to wedge in some supposedly light-hearted xenophobia and sure enough the trio of presenters get into the banter that’s been the core of their car show success – whether that was Top Gear for the BBC or The Grand Tour with Amazon Prime’s big budget and huge ambitions.
First they take a look at why Scotland’s record on creating winning inventions makes for a huge list – including everything from lime cordial and beta blockers to the US Navy – compared to other countries.
Clarkson explains it simply: "If you’re from Mexico or Italy, you wake up and say ‘I think I’ll go to the beach’. If you’re Scottish you’d say ‘It’s damn cold, I’ll go to the shed and invent something!’."
And they win some Scottish friends back too with their comedy take on "the Andy Murray effect" where a sportsperson once successful instantly stops being Scottish and become British.
But locals looking out for more from the local area in episode 11 might be a bit disappointed.
Apart from the tent footage and the opening credits where three classic cars drive along a lochside road, passing a sign saying ‘Loch Ness welcomes Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and Brian May’ – another running joke where one of the presenter’s names is usually misspelled up front – all the action comes from elsewhere.
Richard Hammond goes to the English "Eboladrome" to open the episode’s Italian theme, testing the Fiat Abarth 124 Spider.
Then the presenters head off to the North of France to take care of some of Amazon Prime’s £165 million budget with the odd big stunt involving a flying car landing on a boat.
And as the Italian Lessons – the title of the show – continue, the presenters test three Maseratis they’ve paid for themselves and mock James May who has a broken arm, including adding a knob (yes, that kind of knob) to his steering wheel.
Adventures include manoeuvring their Maseratis with no power steering through the narrow streets of Normandy’s historic village of Honfleur and carrying out a drag race with its share of unfortunate smashes.
But it’s all done in dreich, grey weather that wouldn’t look out of place in the Highlands.
So what’s in store for next Friday’s second Loch Ness episode?
The title currently available reads "Censored To Censored".
A trip to Germany is already known to be one of the segments, but whether Nessie survives The Grand Tour experience, we’ll have to wait and see.
And on that bombshell, as Clarkson used to say, bring on episode 12.