Clarkson’s Farm

Jeremy Clarkson is a polarising figure. Indeed, in the case of some people, I’d say even a triggering one. Just the other day, as I celebrated a possible second series of Clarkson’s Farm on Twitter, a (now ex-) podcast listener of mine Tweeted a seven-year-old article about him; a terribly one-sided screed against him, full of quotes by a bloke who hates him. He seemed to want to shame me for liking the guy and also started banging on about why he was sacked from the BBC and didn’t even have that right (it was for punching Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon, if you’re interested in facts, dear former listener). And look at at that, in one paragraph, the review’s derailing. Such is the way of Clarkson.

Clarkson’s Farm – at the time of writing – is the most-watched original content on Amazon Prime. That’s a pretty huge thing, when you consider other content on the service, even including Clarkson’s own, The Grand Tour, made with his Top Gear mates, James May and Richard Hammond. I thought that might have been the most-watched on the streamer rather than a show about, well, farming.

Over the past year, as the series has been coming closer to debuting, I’d been wondering what it was like. Could farming beĀ that interesting, even with Clarkson involved? The simple answer? Yes it can.

Clarkson has lived, on and off, at his farm in Chipping Norton (Oxfordshire), for about a decade. The story runs that he had a farm manager and the farm basically broke even, so as long as it wasn’t costing him anything, Clarkson was happy to let it be and just live there when he felt like it, as a nice escape from London or from travelling the globe with his two car-based shows during that time. That farm manager’s retirement kicks off Clarkson’s Farm, as Jeremy decides to have a go at farming.

Wisely, Clarkson surrounds himself with a team of people who might not be up to the standard of Hammond and May, but give him something to work with on-screen. Kaleb Cooper, helping him in the fields, and Charlie Cooper, helping him in the back office, are the main go-to guys, however, Clarkson’s own girlfriend, Lisa Hogan, shepherd Ellen Helliwell, and stone fence builder/jack of all trades, Gerald Cooper, also wheel on at different times to add something to proceedings. With Gerald, for example, it’s his near-indecipherable accent when telling Jeremy something that is honed in on each time. I’m pretty good with accents, and I only catch about one word in every six or seven that Gerald says.

The series stretches across a year, with each episode largely looking at a particular activity on the farm, including purchasing and learning to use a tractor, raising sheep, starting a farm shop, and bringing in the year’s harvest. Every one of these episodes has laughs, but there’s also a lot of real drama, whether the stillborn death of a sheep or weather out of control. All through the series – but particularly in the last episode – the message viewers are left with is not just, “How hard is farming?” but also, “Who would want to be a farmer?” It’s not a complete downer, however, as despite a back-breaking, genuinely hard slog through 2019 into 2020, Clarkson seems genuinely amazed at the things he’s learned, and decides that living in the country really agrees with him. At 60 years of age at the time of filming, he’s turned another corner in his life and while farming can’t be a long-term pursuit for him at this time, that aforementioned second series might just see him go around again yet.

I’m an unabashed Clarkson fan (sorry, ex-podcast listener), and if you know his standard extremely self-deprecating delivery, it’s only amplified in this series by the fact he’s genuinely out of his depth. He buys the wrong things. He tries to take short-cuts. He lets himself be bossed around by the 20 year old, but far more knowledgeable, Kaleb. I like the guy. When the final episode ended with the main cast sitting around after harvest, there was a beautiful, autumnal feeling in the air. The music swelled. I almost had a moment. Yes, I’d have a beer with Clarkson any time and let him tell stories not just of travelling the world in exotic cars, but now about life on the land, too. Highly recommended.

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