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Peter Pan Lyric Theatre

Top Gear’s bottom marks for figures

By Squinter

REGULAR readers of this column will know that Squinter enjoys the occasional punt, so the vagaries of chance are a subject that is of some interest to him. Normally it’s the chances on a Saturday afternoon of this team beating that team, or this nag outrunning that nag. But this week he’s been considering the science of chance in relation to Jeremy Clarkson and the BBC.

Clarkson is famously drinking in the Last Chance Saloon when it comes to his behaviour, having been upbraided by his BBC bosses for getting himself mired in a succession of racist, homophobic and xenophobic controversies. But when it comes to Clarkson, it may well be that the Last Chance Saloon doesn’t call last orders at midnight as it does for the rest of us, but is instead open all hours. For it’s clear that the BBC is loath to sack Clarkson, thereby effectively axing Top Gear, its most lucrative overseas sales property.

Clarkson and co were in Chile and Argentina last week, racing three elderly sports cars along the famed and remote Patagonia Highway for the Top Gear Christmas special. Clarkson’s car, a 1990 Porsche 928, bore the registration plate H982 FKL. He denied this was a reference to the 1982 ‘Falklands’ War. The cars of his co-presenters, James May and Richard Hammond, a Lotus Esprit and a Ford Mustang, respectively bore the numbers 646 and 269, very close to the number of Argentine and British soldiers killed in the conflict (649 and 255). That connection was also denied,

The crew fetched up near the Tierra del Fuego port of Ushuaia, from which the General Belgrano steamed before being controversially sunk by the British with the loss of 323 lives. It wasn’t long before the number plates riled the locals, and after a heated exchange during which stones were hurled and car windows broken – during which Clarkson admitted that he had hidden under his hotel bed – the cars were abandoned and the crew were taken under police escort to the Chilean border.

A BBC spokesman described the episode as “a very unfortunate coincidence.” Clarkson told the Sun, for which he writes a weekly column: “It was just an unbelievable coincidence. I swear on my kids’ lives.”

Up to this point the BBC have refused to say where the cars were bought and from whom in order that inquiries can be made about the number plates. That being so, it’s a case of he-said-she-said and people will be left to judge for themselves which story they choose to believe. So it’s at this point that we must consider the chances of the Top Gear team having bought those cars with those licence plates, without knowing.

Well, Billy Ehrenberg, writing in the London business daily City A.M., did the maths on Clarkson’s car alone. In an equation considering the year of the car, the number sold and the technicalities of the number plate system, he reckons that the odds of such a coincidence having indeed befallen the wretched Clarkson and the BBC are 114,112,500/1. That’s one hundred and fourteen million, one hundred and twelve thousand and five hundred to one, which by another unbelievable coincidence, is almost exactly the odds of winning the Euro-Millions Lottery.

But if you believe that that settles it right there once and for all, then Squinter has to point out in Clarkson’s defence that people win the Euro-Millions Lottery all the time. But of course if you then care to add the other factors such as Hammond and May’s licence plates and the town where the crew stayed, the numbers are going to climb to such astronomical heights as to make a lottery win look like a distinct possibility.

Which brings us to question of who knew? Clarkson said the number plates were on for two days and were removed after mention was made of them on Twitter. So we’re now being asked to believe that on a trip to Argentina none of the crew managed to spot the fact that the controversial presenter’s number plates were in any way themselves controversial.

That can only mean that they’re all incredibly stupid, or that someone is being económico con la verdad. And Squinter knows which one his money’s on.

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