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'Top Gear' Went to Chernobyl for One of TV's Most Tasteless Ever Hours

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I'm a fan of Top Gear. I know I'm female, and this is wrong, but I like cars and the trio makes me laugh. But last night's episode was one of the most tasteless things I have ever watched on television.

Normally, I enjoy Top Gear. Not the sort of thing I stay in for, or even set to record but, if the channel strays to the familiar strains of the theme, I tend to stay and find myself chuckling at their vehicular nonsense, and even sometimes letting out the odd guffaw. I can easily see why this is the BBC's singular most successful franchise the world over, and the denimed trio mobbed in places from Java to Jerusalem.

I've chuckled when the three got to Vietnam's Halong Bay, and James May was left pedalo-ing in the water like an eccentric inventor abroad. I guffawed at the work of genius that was the reveal at the end of their Christmas special sojourn to Bethlehem. And I'm a reluctant fan of Clarkson, with his strong opinions and power of expression, even if I don't agree with all his sentiments.

I specially enjoy the madcap expeditions, the thinly veiled excuses for three middle-aged men to leave behind their better halves and go on the kind of licence fee-funded, anecdote-laden jollies to leave similar viewers breathless with envy and a feeling of conspiracy.

But last night's overseas outing left me shuddering with distaste, as Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May embarked on a trip to the Ukraine. Their mission - to each drive a clapped-out hatchback across the country.

There was some fun to be had along the way, with the constant refrain of the boring landscape being relieved by the chaps' attempts at self-enlightenment. Cue James May learning magic tricks, and Clarkson ordering breakfast with his new fluent Ukrainian tongue. Cue cabbages being munched on by all.

What made this interesting? Because these chariots are so economical in comparison to today's jet engines, they had to try to run OUT of petrol before they got to the other side.

Which would have been amusing, except the centrepiece of their efforts was Chernobyl. Cue eerie music as the grinning trio contemplated their sojourn to one of Europe's most tragic wastelands.

Some flashback film reel helpfully reminded us that this was where, in 1986, a part of a nuclear power plant exploded, one of the two greatest nuclear accidents in history, forcing the mind-boggling number of half a million volunteers to work tirelessly to contain the damage, and leaving an area of desolation across the former Western USSR and Eastern Europe.

A place where all those volunteering to go back on to the actual site to try to stem the leaks, knew they were destined for an early death, lifelong health problems and, even worse, the risk that their children would be born with cancers and deformities. The pictures from that time are heartbreaking.

And it's not fixed. Those who could, escaped as far away as possible, and the area is seldom visited, until our jaunty chaps thought it would be funny to drive through it. Pausing only to change the rules of the game to one where suddenly running out of a petrol wasn't an option.

I watched, open-mouthed, as the camera men picked up their gear and ran away on the bus, leaving the game trio with - oh, first world problems - only camera assistants to record the antics.

And split my sides if there weren't antics to behold, as Clarkson did, inevitably, run out of petrol and start shouting for help. Because he knew there was help to hand. Because this was a stunt, cooked up for comfy viewers on a rainy Sunday evening. There was always an escape hatch for this complacent, thoughtless bunch - unlike the 53,000 residents of nearby city Pripyat who didn't have the good fortune of a canteen budget and a production crew to carry them.

There was no actual punchline to this extended sketch, unsurprisingly. Even producers who thought this made magical television evidently lost their nerve and contented themselves with cutting back to the studio, and some cheery claps from the easy-to-please audience.

"Why are they applauding that?" Clarkson asked, in mock surprise regarding the reception to his own failure. Why indeed?

What next? More high jinks in the form of a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau ? "Let's see if we can get these cars to run on Zyklon B?" High fives all round. Disgusting.

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