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Top Gear: Middle East Special

Top Gear: Middle East Special (or Top Gear: Nativity Special)[1][2] is a 76-minute-long extended episode of Top Gear series 16. The film predates the Syrian Civil War and involves a 1,200-mile (1,900 km) road-trip from Erbil International Airport in Iraqi Kurdistan to Bethlehem, nominally recreating the journey of the Three Wise Men.[3] Their journey takes them across the Middle East via southern Turkey, the cities of Aleppo, Palmyra and Damascus in Syria, then Jerash in Jordan and finally the Mount of Olives.[4][5][6] The journey includes visiting an abandoned theme park,[7] and a stop at Ein Gev on the Sea of Galilee.[8]

"Top Gear: Middle East Special"
Top Gear episode
Ancient Roman Hippodrome chariot racing oval in Jerash
Roman Hippodrome in Jerash used for NASCAR-style racing by the presenters
Episode no.Series 16
Episode SP2
Directed byPhil Churchward
Presented by
Produced by
Original air date26 December 2010 (2010-12-26)
Running time76 minutes
Episode chronology
← Previous
"East Coast Road Trip"
Next →
"Series 16, Episode 1"
Top Gear (series 16)
List of Top Gear episodes

Because it was a BBC production the Top Gear film crew were prevented from crossing the Iran–Iraq border.[9] During filming in Syria, presenter James May suffered a concussion having been knocked over by a tow rope,[3][10] and was collected from hospital by Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond who were wearing burqas as a disguise.[11] The film crew encountered food poisoning, landmines, and border controls.[12] May was greeted by locals using his name in Iraq and Syria.[13] Whilst crossing Syria the presenters discovered they were extremely popular and well known.[14]

The cars purchased with a budget of £3,500 each have number plates from the country of Georgia.[5] Clarkson is driving a Mazda MX-5, Hammond a Fiat Barchetta Riviera and May a BMW Z3.[5] The team arrives sitting in their vehicles inside a Russian Cargo aeroplane which opens the cargo door prior to landing and performs a go-around, before the starting location is revealed as Iraq.[5]

Experiments were made on bulletproofing the car doors.[15] During the trip the cars were decorated in a Bedouin-style,[16] with survival equipment, and one car with bull bars and a large hookah.[16] Hammond's car was fitted with a car stereo that played songs by Genesis non-stop, and was transformed to give the appearance of a nomadic tent.[15] May's BMW was camouflaged using inspiration from the Afrika Corps,[17] and Clarkson's Mazda received a Technicolour Dreamcoat-style paint scheme.[18] During a NASCAR-style rally race at a Roman circus, the Gladiator soundtrack is played along with music from Ben-Hur.[19] Clarkson narrates the words "Peace on Earth, and Goodwill to all men" from the Annunciation to the shepherds as the team are seen passing the Israeli West Bank barrier.[20] The episode ends with the presenters finding a miniature version of The Stig, complete with racing overalls and helmet.[21] The presenters' gifts are a gold-relief medallion, a shampoo bottle called "Frankincense" and a Nintendo DS in-lieu of myrrh.[5]

Along with the Top Gear: East Coast Road Trip it was one of two specials produced in 2010.[22] It was broadcast in the United Kingdom on 26 December 2010 and watched by 5.863 million viewers on BBC Two plus 546,000 viewers on BBC HD.[23] The following-day repeat had a 7-day total of 2.988 million viewers on BBC Two, plus 202,000 on BBC HD.[24] By the end of December 2010, it had been viewed 1.26 million times on the BBC iPlayer.[25] It was scheduled for broadcast in Australia on 8 February 2011 on Channel Nine,[26] and watched by 792,000 viewers.[27] The adventure was included in the "Top Gear – The Great Adventures 1–4" DVD box set released in 2016.[28]

Planning for the episode began in January 2010,[29] with the concept of the Baby Stig added later as a plot device to introduce a new Stig following the departure of Ben Collins.[30] The Top Gear convoy included support vehicles for camera crews and the production team,[31] plus a medic and a private security team.[32] Filming took place during October 2010, with the convoy negotiating the Sheikh Hussein Bridge border crossing from Jordan to Israel on 19 October 2010.[29][33][31] Subsequent filming took place in Nazareth with the crew departing via Highway 6.[34] The Kurdistan UK Friendship Association, RUS Aviation (suppliers of the Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane), and the Syrian Automobile club are thanked in the credits.[35]

After the screening of the episode the three main cars joined the World of Top Gear exhibition in the collection of the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu in England.[17][36][37] The cars were exhibited again at the ExCeL London conference centre for Top Gear Live in November 2011.[38][39] Unpainted HO scale and TT scale models were made available for 3D printing.[40]

For the Middle East Special the BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee reviewed two rejected appeals in June 2011,[41] two in July 2011[42] and one in October 2011,[43] noting in all instances that they were "satisfied that the decision not to proceed with the appeal was correct."[41][42][43]

At the time, The Daily Telegraph described it as "one of the best [Top Gear] specials yet."[22] In 2015 the Swiss magazine Watson (de) included the Middle East Special on their top-eighteen best Top Gear moments describing it as the best Christmas Special of all time.[44]


  1. ^ "Top Gear: Middle East Special". Top Gear. Series 16. Episode SP2. 26 December 2010. Event occurs at 00:21–00:35. [Jeremy Clarkson] Welcome to a Top Gear Nativity Special. Tonight we are the Three Wise Men, and our challenge is to get from The East to the birthplace of the Baby Jesus here in Bethlehem
  2. ^ Clarkson, Jeremy (3 April 2014). "The Clarkson review: Subaru WRX STI 4-door (2010)". The Sunday Times (Driving supplement ed.). ... in a Top Gear Nativity special, ...
  3. ^ a b "James May hurt during Top Gear stunt". The Daily Telegraph. 23 December 2010. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  4. ^ Ivie, Devon (8 December 2017). "The Grand Tour's Jeremy Clarkson on the One Critic Who Got to His Head and Why He's Not Optimistic About His Legacy". Retrieved 11 December 2017. [Devon Ivie] … filming in Syria and Iraq, what, six years ago? [Jeremy Clarkson] A brief window. We were only 40 kilometers from Mosul then. We drove through Aleppo. I've never forgotten — James May got out of his BMW in Syria and there was a big crowd shouting at him, "Welcome to Syria, Mr. Slowly!" And I went off for a cup of coffee in this little shop and had a fantastic night there. You look at it now, and the cities are simply gone. Erased. … And then we went to Jerusalem. That’s not going to be possible for the next week or two, for sure.
  5. ^ a b c d e Buckland, Damien (8 June 2015). "Top Gear Middle East Special". Top Gear: 1977–2015. p. 291. ISBN 9781326293284. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  6. ^ Roberts, Laura (23 November 2010). "Top Gear presenters follow route of the three wise men for Christmas special". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 23 October 2017. ... drive open-top sports cars through southern Turkey and Syria on their way to Bethlehem in the festive challenge.
  7. ^ McDonald, Andrew (12 July 2016). "Clip shows what it's like to ride on Top Gear rollercoaster from Middle East special". Daily Star. Retrieved 24 October 2017. in the episode the team stop off at an abandoned theme park. Jeremy, ... enjoys a rusty ferris wheel, James, ... plays on the dodgems ... Richard Hammond, ... rides a break-neck speed one-man rollercoaster shuttle.
  8. ^ "Top Gear at the Sea of Galilee". News (in Hebrew). Channel 10 (Israel). 27 December 2010. Archived from the original on 27 December 2010. Ein-Gev עֵין גֵּבCS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  9. ^ Grant, Olly (21 December 2010). "Top Gear in Iraq: bullets, The Stig and 'a few wars'". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 22 October 2017. Iran refused them entry: the BBC is banned there
  10. ^ Burgess, Michael (23 December 2010). "James May Injured Filming Top Gear Stunt". Sky News. Retrieved 23 October 2017. Suffering a severe concussion, ... May said: 'I stood in the line of where the tow rope went taut. ... '
  11. ^ Levy, Megan (29 December 2010). "Top Gear stars cause row after burqa-style stunt". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  12. ^ Porter, Richard (2011). A Top Gear Christmas: A Compendium of Christmas Carnage. Random House. ISBN 9781849901543. Retrieved 25 October 2017. The Middle East: ... path of the Three Wise Men across Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel, ... to the finish line in Bethlehem. Except the Three Wise Men never had to deal with landmines, food poisoning and scary border controls.
  13. ^ Oldham, Scott; Clarkson, Jeremy; May, James (31 October 2016). "We interviewed Jeremy Clarkson and James May about Top Gear, The Grand Tour, Tesla, and autonomous cars". Autoblog. Retrieved 25 October 2017. Jeremy Clarkson: ... Syria, in Al-Raqqah, which basically doesn't exist anymore. ... He got out of the car ... "Welcome to Syria, Captain Slow," ... went into a shop and they were showing Top Gear as we were in the shop. ... Jeremy Clarkson: ... in Iraq. ... James May: ... a burger van, ... in the middle of nowhere. There was this one bloke ... And he said, "Oh, hello James. What are you doing here?"
  14. ^ Qassim, Lubna (21 October 2017). "The UK can still wield its 'soft' power status". Gulf News. Retrieved 24 October 2017. To cite two random examples of the UK's ability to project its culture for powerful diplomatic effect, in "Top Gear's" 2011 Middle East special, the three presenters discovered that not only did Syrians watched the show in their droves, but the presenters were extremely popular.
  15. ^ a b Roach, Martin (5 June 2014). The Top Gear Story – The 100% Unofficial Story of the Most Famous Car Show... In The World. p. 161. ISBN 9781784180904. Retrieved 24 October 2017. they disguised one car as a Bedouin tent, tested out how to bullet-proof car doors and fitted Hammond's Mazda [sic] with a stereo that constantly played Genesis
  16. ^ a b Hardigree, Matt (20 October 2010). "Top Gear Does Israel In Bedouin Beaters". Jalopnik. Retrieved 24 October 2017. The cars, ... look remarkably Bedouin. ... outfitted with survival gear like extra water jugs, brush guards, shovels, and the aforementioned giant hookah.
  17. ^ a b Christian, Andrew (29 December 2010). "Top Gear shows three new cars from The Three Wise Men Christmas Special". 4WheelsNews. Retrieved 24 October 2017. at Beaulieu, three new cars from The Three Wise Men Christmas Special are now on display. ...James' malfunctioning BMW Z3 had a clever camouflage paint scheme, inspired by the work of the Luftwaffe and the Africa Corps.
  18. ^ Top Gear: The Stigtionary. Penguin UK. 6 September 2012. pp. 98–99. ISBN 9781405910149. "the MX-5 ... is not improved by the addition of extra rear wheels or a 'Technicolour Dreamcoat' paintjob...
  19. ^ Harrisson, Juliette (7 August 2013). "Top Gear Middle East Special: Roman Rallying" (blog). Retrieved 26 October 2017 – via Blogspot. Roman circuses were in the shape of flat versions of NASCAR tracks ... The music, ... is the Ben-Hur soundtrack for the introductory bit and the Gladiator soundtrack for the racing
  20. ^ Bailey, Richard (29 December 2010). "Top Gear not very PC?". Motorsport M8. Retrieved 1 November 2017. Clarkson was also critical in his narrative about Israel, referring to it (with no small amount of irony) as a peaceful country while simultaneously there was footage of the high wall it has built around the West Bank to segregate the Palestinians.
  21. ^ "Top Gear special sparks anger from viewers for Baby Stig". Metro. London. 29 December 2010. Retrieved 23 October 2017.
  22. ^ a b "Top Gear's back: from East Coast to the Middle East". Daily Telegraph. 21 December 2016. Retrieved 26 October 2016. foreign extravaganzas as Christmas specials ... For the second programme, which will air on Boxing Day, the trio abandon Britain's wintry climes and head off to the Middle East ... Kurdistan, Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel ... one of the most entertaining specials yet.
  23. ^ Plunkett, John (30 December 2010). "Upstairs Downstairs wins its slot, but Downton Abbey did it better". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 October 2017. Top Gear, BBC2, 8pm, Boxing Day – ... in which Clarkson, Hammond and May followed the path of the three wise men, averaged 5.863 million viewers, a 21.5% share, with another 546,000 on BBC HD. It gave BBC2 a rare ratings victory over ITV1.
  24. ^ Broadcasters' Audience Research Board. Weekly top 10 (Report). Retrieved 26 October 2017. [27 December 2010–2 January 2011] ... BBC HD ... w/e 2 Jan 2011 ... Top Gear (Mon 1848) ... [7 day data (000s)] 202; ... BBC2 ... w/e 2 Jan 2011 ... Top Gear: Middle East Special (Mon 1845) ... [7 day data (000s)] 6,647
  25. ^ Laughlin, Andrew (18 January 2011). "'Top Gear' drives record iPlayer December". Digital Spy. Retrieved 24 October 2017. BBC iPlayer enjoyed a record-breaking December, ... Top Gear continued to dominate the TV requests chart, with the 'USA Road Trip' special attracting 1.29m and the 'Middle East' Special pulling in 1.26m.
  26. ^ Knox, David (1 February 2011). "Top Gear: Middle East special". TV Night. Retrieved 24 October 2017. Nine begins new episodes of Top Gear next week beginning with the 'Middle East' special ... airs Tuesday, February 8, at 8.00pm
  27. ^ Knox, David (14 February 2011). Week 8. TV Tonight (Report). Retrieved 24 October 2017. Tuesday: ... [Rank] 12; [Description] Top Gear; [Station] Nine; [Total] 792,000; [Sydney] 233,000; [Melbourne] 285,000; [Brisbane] 131,000; [Adelaide] 70,000; [Perth] 74,000.
  28. ^ Pritchard, Tom (11 December 2016). "The Giz UK Gift Guide for Fans of Top Gear/The Grand Tour". Gizmodo. Retrieved 24 October 2017. 'Top Gear – The Great Adventures 1–4' ... in this box set, ... the special episodes ... and The Middle East. ... special
  29. ^ a b Teller, Matthew (28 December 2010). "Top Gear, sour grapes" (blog). My blog Quite Alone. Retrieved 23 October 2017. It was last January – Jan 2010, that is – when I first heard that a BBC researcher from Top Gear was interested in having a chat with me about a Christmas special they were planning, ... my Rough Guide to Jordan ... Struck me over weekend that this might also be of interest: Can just imagine the 3 of them racing, Ben Hur-style, around the Roman hippodrome... ... the bizarre dogleg detour which took them from the Sheikh Hussein Bridge into the Golan Heights
  30. ^ Porter, Richard (22 October 2015). "The Stig Too". And On That Bombshell: Inside the Madness and Genius of Top Gear. pp. 120–121. ISBN 9781409164753. with Ben very publicly out of the white suit ... now we just had to work out how to introduce a new Stig who looked just like the old one. ... Then someone suggested that since the upcoming Middle East special was planned to end in Jerusalem, what if we found a baby Jesus Stig in a lowly stable and claimed this was the birth of the new tame racing driver?
  31. ^ a b Joseph, Noah (20 October 2010). "Top Gear trio spotted filming special in Israel". Autoblog. Retrieved 26 October 2017. crossing westward over the border between Jordan and Israel in a dingy trio of roadsters ... accompanied by convoy of support vehicles for the production and camera crews
  32. ^ Thangevelo, Debashine; May, James (8 February 2011). "We interview James (Captain Slow) May". The Star Tognight. South Africa. Retrieved 25 October 2017 – via Independent Online. May confirms that they were accompanied by a small contingent of private security and a medic on their recent 2000km ... drive through the Middle East, stopping over in Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank.
  33. ^ "טופ גיר מצלמים בישראל" [Top Gear filming in Israel]. Walla! (in Hebrew). 19 October 2010. Retrieved 23 October 2017. שלושת מנחי הסדרה הבריטית – ג'רמי קלארקסון, ג'יימס מאי וריצ'ארד האמונד, נצפו באחד ממעברי הגבול בין ירדן לישראל כשכל אחד מהם נוהג במכוניות רודסטר שעברה ימים יפים יותר
  34. ^ Hartman, Ben (22 October 2010). "BBC's 'Top Gear' car show races through Israel". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 24 October 2017. Mazda Miata driven by Clarkson that had a hookah affixed to its drivers' side door. ... Channel 2 reported that the Top Gear crew was seen filming in Nazareth, before tearing through the hills chased by paparazzi to Highway 6, where they high-tailed it south toward Jerusalem.
  35. ^ "Top Gear: Middle East Special". Top Gear. Series 16. Episode SP2. 26 December 2010.
  36. ^ Knapman, Chris (4 January 2011). "Top Gear cars at the National Motor Museum". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 23 October 2017. the vehicles from the show's Three Wise Men Christmas Special, ... part of the World of Top Gear exhibition at Beaulieu.
  37. ^ Knapman, Chris (23 May 2011). "Top Gear cars on display at Beaulieu". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 24 October 2017. including the three roadsters from the 2010 Three Wise Men Christmas special
  38. ^ "Top Gear Live powers into London!" (blog). Motorious. 26 November 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2017. Top Gear Live is go go go at the ExCel London, ... a few treasured bits of Top Gear TV including the Christmas special convertibles,
  39. ^ Usher, Stephanie (15 November 2011). "Top Gear Live" (blog). Hope, Freedom, Love. Retrieved 24 October 2017. A big fave of mine was seeing the cars they used to go and see Baby Jesus, aka Baby Stig in the Christmas special last year. ... Jeremy's car used in the Christmas Top Gear Special 2010
  40. ^ H0 scale and TT scale models:
  41. ^ a b Editorial Standards Committee (27 July 2011). "Appeals to the Trust and other editorial issues considered by the Editorial Standards Committee" (PDF). Editorial Standards Findings (June 2011 issued July 2011). BBC Trust: 48–51. Retrieved 24 October 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  42. ^ a b Editorial Standards Committee (21 October 2011). "Appeals to the Trust and other editorial issues considered by the Editorial Standards Committee" (PDF). Editorial Standards Findings (July 2011 issued October 2011). BBC Trust: 31–34. Retrieved 24 October 2017. Top Gear: Middle East Special, BBC Two, 26 December 2010 ... The complainant appealed to the Editorial Standards Committee following the decision of the Head of Editorial Standards, BBC Trust, not to accept his complaint on appeal. ... The Committee was therefore satisfied that the decision not to proceed with the appeal was correct. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  43. ^ a b Editorial Standards Committee (22 December 2011). "Appeals to the Trust and other editorial issues considered by the Editorial Standards Committee" (PDF). Editorial Standards Findings (October and November 2011 issued December 2011). BBC Trust: 27–31. Retrieved 24 October 2017. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  44. ^ Baroni, Oliver (25 March 2015). "Der einzige Clarkson-Artikel, den du brauchst: Das sind die 18 besten "Top Gear"-Momente" [The only Clarkson article you need: the best eighteen "Top Gear" moments]. Watson (in German). Retrieved 23 October 2017. 11. Das Weihnachts-Special: ... nach Bethlehem in Budget-Occasions-Sportwagen: Das beste Weihnachts-Special aller Zeiten.

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