Gregg Easteal

Jeremy Clarkson has a well known ability to turn a phrase to fit the occasion.

Jeremy Clarkson has a well known ability to turn a phrase to fit the occasion.

And he didn't let us down. He described it simply as the world's fastest car crash.

He was referring to Richard Hammond's 300mph prang in a jet-powered car on the outskirts of York last week. And as I stood at Elvington airfield preparing the last part of my report on the drama, a thought occurred to me which also crossed many minds.

Has our current craving for extreme television gone too far?

As a member of the viewing public who often settles down with a glass of red on a Sunday night to watch Top Gear, there was a nagging sense of guilt.

After all, it was only a few days ago that the equally irrepressible Steve Irwin discovered tragically on a film shoot that the barbed threat of a Stingray meant business.

As the Hamster's family and friends rushed to his bedside, the do gooders were mustering an assault on the Top Gear production team. There were reports on long-running clashes with health and safety bosses. Pull the plug came the cry.

But although I had asked myself the same questions about the rights and wrongs of extreme television, I'd reached a very different conclusion.

It seems completely unfair to suggest that Hammond and Irwin had been driven into danger by their producers. All the relevant interviews would seem to suggest daredevil presenters do what they do by their own request.

Richard Hammond has an infectious personality that lends itself perfectly to television and loves speed and adventure.

If we salute, rather than sneer at, the antics of people like Ayrton Senna and Scott of the Antarctic why should it be any different with these guys?

We simply have no right to stop these people from pushing themselves to the limit any more than we had to tell the Wright Brothers, Branson, Ellen MacArthur, Amy Johnson, Dr Livingston, Donald Campbell or Sir Edmund Hillary to stop that right now before they hurt themselves.

As long as these characters pose no threat to anyone other than themselves, the only people who have the right to stop them are maybe their families.

Now if Richard Hammond makes a recovery - as it remarkably seems he will - and decides not to put his driving gloves back on again after thinking it through with his wife and children, I will be the first to say fair enough.

But if he decides to take to the track again and push the boundaries with the cameras rolling I'll equally be among the first to break open another bottle of grape on a Sunday night and raise a glass in his honour.

* Gregg Easteal is a reporter on North East Tonight - 6pm weekdays on ITV1.

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