Farming is an arduous business. Method, patience and an appetite for manual labour are essential. It is curious then that Jeremy Clarkson, a man famously bereft of these skills, would want to run his 1000-acre farm in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds.
“A man in the village ran it and then he retired,” Clarkson explained to us, a small audience of journalists at the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel this week, “and I don’t know what it was but I just thought ‘I can do that’.” In other words, Clarkson fell foul of that old Top Gear fallacy, “How hard can it be?”
Well, harder than just about anything he’s done, apparently. “It’s bloody hard work, farming, bloody hard work”, Clarkson stressed. “I didn’t drill the fields properly and I put my hand up a sheep’s arse thinking it was its vagina… I’m not a practical man, or a patient one.”
This ham-fisted tomfoolery is the ostensible conceit of Clarkson’s Farm, the broadcaster’s new show on Prime Video, yet it goes some way beyond that. Yes, he does buy a Lamborghini tractor that’s far too big and he does improvise ploughing techniques that are utterly cack-handed, but the eight-part series is in fact a genuine ode to the ‘heartache’ of farming and the various personalities who toil in it.
The personalities tasked with guiding Clarkson are Charlie, a straight-laced agronomist; Gerald, an incomprehensible wall builder; Ellen, a dutiful shepherd; and Kaleb, a 21-year-old farmer whom Clarkson describes as ‘television gold’. Parochial and proud of it, Kaleb has no issue with giving Clarkson earache, especially when ploughing is concerned. Claims of a manual labour allergy may have worked with Hammond and May, but the agrarian folk of Chipping Norton were having none of it. Clarkson discussed this with good humour on the hotel terrace, where we had all been lateral tested and generously refreshed. There were jibes at vegans, Americans and Theresa May – “If she ran through my field of wheat, there’d be a wolf on her tail” – but there was little for his critics to be outraged about. After all, Clarkson was talking about a subject he loves, “It’s a great way of life. It’s the happiest I have been at work in my life”.
This strength of feeling can be felt throughout Clarkson’s Farm. The old bombast is there, but it is incidental to the job at hand and the people who help him realise it. It’s scripted round the edges, of course, but there’s an uncommon authenticity to it, too. When asked if there will be a second season, Clarkson said we’d have to see what the Amazon algorithm says. Well, if even The Guardian admits that it is ‘really good TV’, I think the chances are fairly auspicious.
Clarkson’s Farm is available now on Amazon Prime Video.