“Captain Slow” is the nickname appointed to English journalist and television presenter, James May of Top Gear on the British Broadcasting Channel.
May was dubbed this nickname for being at the losing end of nearly every competition held between the three presenters of the hit show, Top Gear, and for his typically tortoise-like slow driving style. Co-presenter, Jeremy Clarkson once exclaimed, “Sorry we’re so slow. James May is driving,” showcasing how fitting May’s nickname really is. But May doesn’t just take it from Clarkson; he can also dish it out, often calling Clarkson a “Pillock” or an “insufferable oaf.”
From choirboy to car guy, James May had what some would call a religious childhood. Born in Bristol, May went to Caerleon Endowed Junior School in Newport. The son of a priest, May spent much of his early years singing in the Whinston Parish Church chorus. As a teenager, he studied at Oakwood Comprehensive School in Rotherham, alongside British actor, Dean Andrews.
May’s journalism career launched in the early eighties when he worked as co-editor for magazines like The Engineer and Autocar. Unfortunately, May encountered a shocking reality when he was let go from the Autocar magazine writing staff in 1992. The reason for his dismissal was due to a prank that May pulled in which he compiled an acrostic, hidden message in one of his segments. He admitted in one interview on British Broadcasting Channel Radio Two that he encoded a hidden message using typography in Autocar magazine’s “Road Test Year Book.” He put together the whole segment, which contained four reviews regarding motoring; May considered the compilation of the book an arduous task, hence the acrostic message he encoded that read something to the effect of calling the work “a real pain in the arse.” He was dismissed shortly thereafter.
Later, he went on to write for numerous other publications, writing his own regular column in The Daily Telegraph and in Car Magazine. His writing abilities grew exceedingly in demand between the mid to late 2000s. In 2006, he composed a book titled, May on Motors, which was a collection of droll and provocative pieces chronicling how certain cars from his past have shaped his exterior image and how other people view certain cars; his internal perception of himself and how automobiles can boost self-esteem. Further, he had a hand in the last published book by prolific motoring author, L.J.K. Setright titled, Oz and James’ Big Wine Adventure (2006), in which May authored the afterword section. Then, in 2007, May helped to present a special tribute to Raymond Frederic Baxter, a famous writer and television host from Britain; the tribute was called Notes From The Hard Shoulder and James May’s 20th Century.
Young at heart, May has demonstrated an insatiable curiosity for all things technological. His playful and almost child-like attitude toward technology can be seen in television programmes like James May’s Top Toys, James May: My Sister’s Top Toys, James May’s 20th Century and James May’s Big Ideas. He attributes the ingenuity of people to the affection for playing with toys, and encourages kids to step away from the all-consuming video games and actually play with toys that involve them in creative play rather than passive gaming. He put this idea into his own words when he said, “For too long now we have regarded the great toys as mere playthings. It’s time to use them to bring people together and achieve greatness. And I bet it’ll be a right laugh as well.”
James May’s 20th Century was a television programme that first premiered on the air on July 10, 2007 on BBC Two. It focused on themes surrounding different advancements and discoveries throughout recent history and how those advances have negatively or positively impacted our lives. The documentary style series only featured six episodes during its run, and faced several negative reviews. One criticism of the programme was that the host, James May was “ill-suited to the task in hand,” while another review attacked the show for lacking originality and merely copying the premises of the hit motoring programme, Top Gear, describing it as “essentially Top Gear, masquerading as something educational.”
Although James May’s 20th Century was a bit of a flop, it did not stop him from pursuing an even more grandiose venture: James May’s Toy Stories. The first episode in the six episode series was featured on BBC Two on Tuesday, October 27, 2009, and showcased how children’s toys from the past could be reworked and used to facilitate creativities and ventures on a grander scale. Often groundbreaking and record-breaking, the episodes were as follows: “Airfix Model,” in which May constructed a large-scale model of a World War II fighter jet by following the technique outlined in the children’s build it yourself plane model set; “Plasticine Garden,” in which May creates a full-blown life-size garden out of the children’s clay, Plasticine; “Meccano Bridge,” in which May makes a complete foot bridge out of a toy, and uses that footbridge to cross a canal in Liverpool; “Scalextric race of Brooklands;” “Lego House;” and the sixth episode, “Hornby, Barnstaple – Bideford.”
One of May’s more interesting television appearances took place in the third season of Gordon Ramsay’s TV show, The F Word. In this episode, May won over Ramsey in an animal penis-eating contest, in which Chef Ramsey greatly struggled.
May’s most iconic television spot was his position as “Captain Slow” on the popular motoring programme, Top Gear, where he served as a presenter along with Jeremy Clarkson and Richard “Hamster” Hammond. One of his most notable segments on Top Gear occurred when May and Clarkson drove in a Toyota Hilux all the way to the magnetic North Pole, nearly setting a world record. Other wacky antics on the motoring show include driving a Suzuki across the jungle of Bolivia, driving over the Andes to the Pacific Ocean, and driving up an erupting volcano in Iceland.
But May is more than just a rough and tough car guy; he also has an artistic side. He attended Pendle College, Lancaster University where he studied music, more specifically, flute and piano. May also has a terrestrial side to his personality, as well as a musical side. On June 21, 2009, British documentary film, James May on the Moon, aired; the documentary was made to celebrate the Apollo moon landings and May is launched into space in a U2 spy plane.
It comes as no surprise that car enthusiast, James May, has a variety of diverse automobiles and motorcycles in his name. He has been the proud owner of many cars including, but not limited to, the following: Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Triumph 2000, Rover P6, Alfa Romeo 164, Jaguar XJS, Range Rover, Fiat Panda, Datsun 120Y, Vauxhall Cavalier, Ferrari, Porshe, Mini Cooper, Citroën Ami, Mazda MX-5. Clad in a leather jacket, May has owned several motorcycles like the Yamaha XJR1300, Moto Guzzi V11 Sport, a Triumph Daytona 675R and even a Guzzi California.
Currently, May resides in Hammersmith, West London, United Kingdom with his longtime partner, Sarah Frater. When asked to describe his life in seven words by The Independent, May listed these: “Random, unplanned, but surprisingly rewarding. And happy.”