MoD defends time spent on Top Gear stunts

Author: By Jerome Taylor

With a regular audience of more than 5 million viewers (and a further 350
million worldwide) defence chiefs are more than aware of the BBC show?s
potential as a recruiting sergeant at a time when new recruits are very much
in demand.

Which might explain why the Ministry of Defence is so keen to help out on the
show. The sheer scale of the MoD’s cooperation with Top Gear was revealed
last night in response to a Freedom of Information request from the Press
Association which showed that military personnel have been involved in
filming the equivalent of 141 man days, whilst civilian officials spent 48
days working on items for the programme.

Defence officials did not say how much money the stunts with Top Gear had cost
the tax payer and have insisted that they took place within set training
days at no extra expense. Over the past five years equipment worth billions
of pounds has been used in a series of major setpieces which have usually
revolved around soldiers firing at or racing fast cars driven by the show?s
main presenter Jeremy Clarkson.

Ministry of Defence officials quickly defended their involvement in the show
which they said was a valuable way of raising the public?s awareness of what
the armed forces do. But the revelations come at a time when service
personnel are becoming increasingly critical at what they believe is a lack
of critical equipment on the front line in Afghanistan.

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers? Alliance, questioned
whether the Top Gear appearances were a valuable use of the armed forces?
time. ?Given how overstretched the Army?s resources are, you have to wonder
if this is the best use of time, troops and equipment,? he said. ?These
filming sessions may only cost the same as any other training exercise, but
filming Top Gear is hardly the same standard of training as the troops
normally have to pursue. Chasing Jeremy Clarkson round in a tank may be good
fun, but it?s hardly the top priority for military resources at the minute.?

Last week there was widespread anger following the revelation through another
Freedom of Information request which showed that civil servants at the
Ministry of Defence were paid £47m in bonuses during the first seven months
of the financial year.

Keen to avoid similar criticism last night an MoD spokesman insisted that ?in
no circumstances? were resources diverted from operations for the events.

?The filming utilised scheduled training hours and resources which would have
been consumed irrespective of the BBC filming or not, and were therefore
used at no additional cost to MoD,? he said.

?Having these events appear on one of the most popular television programmes
in the UK was an excellent opportunity to raise public awareness of the
Armed Forces and enable greater understanding and support for our sailors,
soldiers and aircrew.?

Officials insist that involving the army in such a prime time show is actually
a very efficient way of advertising the armed forces compared to a standard
television commercial which would cost anything up to £50,000 per 30
seconds.

Top Gear?s most prominent presenter Jeremy Clarkson is a staunch supporter of
the armed forces and became a founding patron of the Help for Heroes charity
alongside his wife Francie and General Sir Richard Dannatt.

Last night the revelation of many military man hours have gone in to Top Gear
was causing much amusement amongst personnel on the Army Rumour Service web
forum. One soldier joked: ?It?s good PR for the army?and a pity they can?t
use real bullets against Clarkson and Co.?

* The armed forces? Top Gear debut began in 2004 with Jeremy Clarkson racing a
Lotus Exige against an Apache helicopter. The idea was to see if the Lotus
could do a lap of the Top Gear test track before the Apache?s sophisticated
missile radar locked on to it. The Lotus did manage to outrun the helicopter
although the pilot later admitted in real life he would have simply switched
to the Apache?s canon and cut the car in half.

n With a top speed of 253.5mph the Bugatti Veyron is the world?s fastest road
car. So Richard Hammond decided to race the RAF?s newest fighter jet, the
Typhoon, in a two mile drag race. The Typhoon won.

n Unable to decide between a Porsche and a Mercedes, in 2005 Clarkson decided
to elist the help of the Irish Guards. He drove through an abandoned
village, they shot at him (with blanks), and whichever car got him through
the village with the fewest confirmed hits would win. In the Porsche
Clarkson was hit six times, in the Mercedes he was hit 13 times.

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