Monday Motivation: Putting Jeremy Clarkson through hell
This is true of even the most light-hearted of stories.
Take Clarkson’s Farm, for instance. It’s an eight-part Amazon series, tracking the ups and downs of Jeremy Clarkson’s hilarious adventures as a greenhorn farmer in the Cotswolds.
Clarkson, as you no doubt know, made his reputation – and a considerable fortune – heading the Top Gear team in a long series of shows about cars. After falling out with the BBC – was he accused of punching a member of the camera crew? – he jumped ship to Amazon, who paid him and his fellow Top Gear team an absolutely astonishing amount of money to make their version of Top Gear for the streaming service’s subscribers.
Clarkson’s popularity was such that he was offered the plum job (more millions) of presenting the latest series – perhaps more than one, I haven’t been watching – of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Awash with money, he splurged on a thousand acre farm in the Cotswolds, and, without knowing a damn thing about it, set himself up as a farmer.
And proceeded to make every mistake in the book. He rejected the advice of a professional mentor, he ignored the guidance that a young local lad that he employed gave him and he tackled projects that had no chance of success.
He was, in short, his own worst enemy.
And then, on top of these many self-inflicted wounds, he was assailed by everything that nature could throw at him: torrential rains during the growing season that left his fields a quagmire; a drought that sucked every drop of moisture from crops desperately in need of it; foxes that killed his chickens; herons that gobbled his trout.
The local council denied him permission to build a farm shop. His dry-stone wall repairer, a Cotswold man, turned out to speak the local dialect so incomprehensibly that neither Clarkson or we, his audience, could understand a word he said.
You see the pattern? Every episode was shot through with conflict of one sort or another. Would the wheat and rape survive the drought? Would he be able to overcome the opposition of the council? Would his farm shop, stocked with dodgy potatoes and little else, attract any customers? Would his lambs survive? Would he gather the harvest before the moisture level of his crops fell below (or rose above) minimum (or maximum) acceptable levels? Would he be able to plug the leak in the pond he’d dug?
And would he, after a year’s strenuous labour, have made any profit at all?
Suspense, remember, is created by posing questions and delaying the answers.
So we’re drawn to the edge of our seats waiting for the answers for these (and many more) questions. Around every issue, conflict arises: between Clarkson and his gloomy mentor; between Clarkson and his sceptical tractor driver; between Clarkson and his girlfriend; between Clarkson and the council; between Clarkson and the very forces of nature…
Add to all these uncertainties his unquenchable spirits and sense of humour and you have a recipe for a wildly entertaining series.
But it’s also deeply instructive for writers working in any genre.