Jams May has talked on the Autocar Podcast about when he got fired from the publication in the early 1990s. Talking to Steve Cropley and Matt Prior, he discussed what it was like leaving the publication so quickly.
May currently presents The Grand Tour withy Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond alongside a host of other smaller projects such as the Our Man in... travel series. But he’s had a long and varied career in the automotive industry before this. In 1992, May was working as the Features Editor at Autocar, a respected and well-known automotive publication. As part of his role, May was responsible for creating the Road Test Yearbook, a review of the year’s new cars.
While this may seem like a dream job for a car enthusiast, May found the task to be quite tedious. In order to pass the time and keep himself entertained, May came up with a creative solution: Each article in the Yearbook began with a large red initial, and May used these initials to spell out funny and playful messages. For example, some spreads spelled out words like “YEAR” and “BOOK,” while others contained humorous messages and jokes. James chose the following:
“SO YOU THINK IT’S REALLY GOOD, YEAH? YOU SHOULD TRY MAKING THE BLOODY THING UP. IT’S A REAL PAIN IN THE ARSE.”
On being asked about him being fired, he said:
“It was quite sudden that I wasn’t [working at Autocar]. I had to walk home, that was the biggest hurt of all.
“How long had I been there for? Almost two years. You got used to having interesting cars to drive all the time. There was always a car. I didn’t live that far away, but once I’d been dismissed I had to walk home.”
Focussing on why he was fired so abruptly, he imagined it was something to do with the marketing department:
“I probably embarrassed somebody because the advertising department was a bit hurt about it because they didn’t know and they thought it was slightly taking the piss and therefore insulting their clients.
“But obviously I didn’t think ahead that much while I was doing it, I was just a bit bored so I was mucking about.”
He dived further into the logistics of carrying out such a complicated prank:
“It was a lot of words and it was a lot of dropped caps to doctor. Very occasionally there’d be a story that began with the right letter. The drop caps used to be massive then because this was very much the design vogue in the ’90s.
“But if you plot the whole thing out as I did so I knew which story had to begin with which letter. I wasn’t getting the stories in in the right order, they were just coming in from here, there, and everywhere in drips and drabs so I had to keep a chart and tick them off.
“And to be honest, other people – I hope they won’t mind me saying that – were in on it and would consult their chart and make sure they start their story with the right letter to save me the bother of rewriting the first paragraph.”
May’s work didn’t go unnoticed as readers started mailing in expecting a prize for spotting it, but it was also talked about by The Sun – a British paper who had gotten hold of the story.
“It got in The Sun. I think one of the other problems was quite a few readers spotted it and then wrote in thinking they’d won a prize and were very disappointed that there wasn’t anything. So yes, it was probably all very awkward.”