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Automobile Adventures: Why Iranians love Top Gear

Mouth meets voice on BBC's Fifth Floor

Mouth meets voice on BBC’s Fifth Floor

For his often bumptious humour, Jeremy Clarkson is hugely popular viewing in Iran. He and his Top Gear team reaches viewers via the lip synched craft of Iranian actors on BBC Persian. By proxy, Mozaffar Shafeie, Clarkson’s official voice over has himself become a celebrity in Iran. When BBC Persian pulled one episode to air Hilary Clinton’s speech, there was an uproar, as there was when the channel decided to air Top Gear USA instead, because according to Iranian viewers “the presenters are not funny.” Perfect directness there, it seems this is what Clarkson has in common with his Iranian fans.

Top Gear's Middle East Special

Top Gear’s Middle East Special

Some of his most feted phrases in Iran include a quip about truffles looking like “pharaoh’s dried testicles” that Jeremy and his fellow presenters were tasting.

But it’s not just the words. Top Gear is daring, farcical, four wheeled escapade across the planet, flirting with seeming danger if not extreme discomfort. In Top Gear, the car and indeed the road, are a symbol of the freedom to explore the possible. For many Iranians, and other closed societies, the car is more than just a vehicle for getting from A to B or a status symbol, it is also the arena in which to test freedoms, otherwise denied. Some girls in Tehran like to get into a cars with strangers, a form of gambling for both driver and “hitcher’, the element of risk is the draw itself.  If society is hemmed in on the streets, certain freedoms are lived outside the home and inside cars. The car is the paradox of the extension of private space, it is transparently public yet remains your personal space. We are reminded of Iranian cinematic classics filmed almost entirely

Mania Akbari in 'Ten'

Negar Azarbayjani’s ‘Facing Mirrors’

in cars: Kiarostami’s Ten for example had cameras on the dashboard, road journey films such as Facing Mirror‘s below and Ten was referenced via the mechanism of dashboard cameras in major parts of Mania Akbari’s 10+4, who herself along with her son had also been the star of Ten.

This BBC article explains why Clarkson and the show are popular, but this the ensuing radio show fails to go any deeper, possibly to protect Mozaffar Shafeie and to this end Clarkson’s quippage provides an apt battering ram for any walls

Boxing Day special. Top Gear's Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson sparked outrage by dressing as women while in Syria. Photo: BBC

Top Gear’s Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson sparked outrage by dressing as women while in Syria. Photo: BBC

between them.  It is his speech that brings them together after all. You can hear this unique meeting of the mouth and the voice for a limited time on this link to the BBC’s radio show Fifth Floor. Clarkson: “I didn’t even know I have a Persian alter ego! So you have to be me, do you smoke 60 cigarettes as day as well?” He entertains his Persian voice, who naturally keeps up with his banter as he delivers his usual jibes: “So has Richard Hammond got a little Persian mouse that is him?

It’s an act says Shafeie, he’s in character when translating Clarkson. Clarkson doesn’t mention in response though, if his performance is also one.

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