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Hammond's in 00-heaven

WHY can't every episode of Top Gear be as entertaining as this special, which, to mark the release of Skyfall, the 23rd Bond movie, took an affectionate and informative look at 007's cars?

I suspect there's a three-word answer to that: Jerkson and May. Neither the Oaf nor the hairy third wheel of Top Gear were around to spoil the fun, leaving it to Richard Hammond, the only one of the petrolhead trio who appears to have a functioning brain under his bonnet, to take us on whirlwind tour of the weird and wonderful vehicles the world's least secret secret agent has driven in his half-century on screen.

Thankfully, this was as much about the people as the motors, and they had some great stories to tell. Goldfinger director Guy Hamilton revealed that the famous Aston Martin DB5 very nearly didn't make it into the movie. The manufacturers, who hadn't seen the first two Bond movies, flatly refused at first to loan one out.

When they eventually relented, adding the gadgets (machine guns, bullet-proof shield, ejector seat et al) cost the producers £20,000 -- which would have bought four DB5s at 1964 prices, with a few bob left over for martinis, shaken not stirred.

Although the DB5 and other Aston Martins made sporadic appearances throughout the Bond movies (Thunderball, Goldeneye, The Living Daylights and now Skyfall), what's striking is how few truly iconic cars Bond has actually driven over the years.

The first Bond car proper, in the first movie, Dr No, was a sky-blue Sunbeam Alpine, rented for 12 shillings a day.

It wasn't until The Spy Who Loved Me, starring Roger Moore as a more lightweight 007, that Bond got his next great motor: a white Lotus Esprit that could transform itself into a mini-submarine. Needless to say, it couldn't really do that. What you saw gliding smoothly through the water was a model. The bubbles emitted from the back of the vehicle were actually Alka-Seltzer tablets dissolving inside it.

The Pierce Brosnan period was, from a car lover's point of view, the absolute low point. Due to the franchise's reliance on sponsorship and product placement, Brosnan's Bond ended up driving a succession of BMWs.

Okay, so they had the usual gadgets and one of them could actually be driven by remote control, but as Hammond put it: "The world's most deadly secret agent was driving around in a sales manager's car."

Most surprising of all, however, was current Bond Daniel Craig and past Bond Roger Moore's personal favourites. Craig loved the Toyota 2000 GT (although he initially thought it was a Datsun) that appeared in You Only Live Twice, while Moore loved the Citroen 2CV he got to bash around in For Your Eyes Only. So much for brand loyalty.

RnaG@40, a half-hour documentary marking Raidió na Gaeltachta's four decades on air, was full of the kind of blinkered, self-satisfied Gaelgoir guff that's turned so many people off the Irish language.

Whereas TG4 appeals to a wider audience because of the quality of its programming (and also because it's not too elitist to use subtitles or show English-language movies), RnaG, which came about in 1972 as a result of lobbying by the pompously named Gaeltacht Civil Rights Movement, appears to be wilfully stuck in a cultural cul de sac.

Two of its most popular presenters, Eibhlin Ni Chonghaile and Ronan Mac Aodha Bhui, both interviewed here, are younger than the station, but its audience is largely middle-aged to elderly and typified by one listener, who sat knitting while she spoke about how she listens to nothing else.

That's not to say RnaG is totally oblivious to the changing world.

It has a website and a Facebook page, and the playing of English-language pop songs is allowed.

But only after 9pm, by which time, presumably, the core audience has retired to bed with a mug of cocoa and a copy of Peig.


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