Tears on Top Gear with emotional salute to daredevil great Eddie Kidd, review

Top Gear host Paddy McGuinness with former stunt rider Eddie Kidd - BBC
Top Gear host Paddy McGuinness with former stunt rider Eddie Kidd - BBC

It is now possible to begin and end your weekend on BBC One with Paddy McGuinness. He’s there on Friday evenings hosting A Question of Sport; the less said about that the better. And he’s back on Sunday nights with the 31st series of Top Gear. The BBC clearly thinks we can’t get enough of the guy.

I know a lot of people are unimpressed post-Clarkson Top Gear, and find McGuinness too loud. But in this returning episode he delivered a wonderful little film. It was a tribute to Eddie Kidd, the motorcycle daredevil and Britain’s answer to Evel Knievel.

In a slice of nostalgia for some of us and a primer for others too young to remember, McGuinness took viewers back to the late 1970s, when the Evel Knievel stunt cycle was the coolest toy to have but the man himself was rarely to be seen because – get this, youngsters – there was no such thing as YouTube. Then along came Kidd.

He set a new world record at 16 by jumping 14 double decker buses, jumped the Great Wall of China in 1993 and beat Evel’s son Robbie in a televised showdown. But in 1996 he suffered brain damage during an ill-fated stunt.

McGuinness went to visit Kidd, who now communicates through a carer, and then treated him to a day out: first a drive in an open-top Rolls-Royce, where dozens of motorcyclists paid tribute to him, then to a demonstration by stunt riders who either knew him from old or were inspired by him to take up the profession. It was a moving piece of television.

McGuinness with former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff - BBC
McGuinness with former England cricketer Freddie Flintoff - BBC

And as for the rest of the show? It featured all the positives and negatives of this Top Gear incarnation.

Positive: Chris Harris, who knows his cars – a prerequisite for presenting a car show, you’d think, but then along comes Freddie Flintoff driving an Aston Martin Vantage F1 Edition and cheerily telling us it had “more negative camber and increased compression damping – now, I don’t know what that means but…”

Flintoff still presents like a man concentrating so hard on remembering his lines that you can almost hear the cogs whirring in his brain, and the scripted banter remains a bit cringeworthy. The supercar section threatened to be a bit dull – the TV equivalent of those posters every 10-year-old boy had on their wall next to a picture of Farrah Fawcett – but livened up when three F1 drivers gamely joined in for a relay race.

The bit that won’t leave you, though, is the image of Eddie Kidd, huge grin on his face and fist in the air, as those riders saluted him.