Top Gear (2002 TV series)
Top Gear is a British television series about motor vehicles, primarily cars. It is a relaunched version of the original 1977 show of the same name, airing since 2002, and has become the most widely watched factual television programme in the world. Since the relaunch, the conventional motoring magazine programme has developed a quirky, humorous and sometimes controversial style over time, and has become a significant show in British popular culture. During its first 22 series, the programme received acclaim for its visual style and presentation as well as criticism for its content and often politically incorrect commentary made by its former presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May. Columnist A. A. Gill, close friend of Clarkson and fellow Sunday Times columnist, described the programme as "a triumph of the craft of programme making, of the minute, obsessive, musical masonry of editing, the French polishing of colourwashing and grading".
|Composer(s)||Dickey Betts (arr. by Christian Henson)|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||24|
|No. of episodes||191 including 11 specials (list of episodes)|
|Running time||50–65 minutes|
|Original release||20 October 2002– present|
|Preceded by||Top Gear (1977)|
The show's relaunched format was originally hosted by Clarkson, Hammond and Jason Dawe, with Andy Wilman as the show's executive producer, and introduced an anonymous test driver known as "The Stig"; although part of the line-up, "The Stig" has been played by numerous racing drivers over the course of the series. Following the first series, Dawe was replaced by May, and the hosting line-up remained unchanged until 25 March 2015, when Clarkson was informed by the BBC that his contract would not be renewed following an incident between himself and a producer. Following Clarkson's dismissal, his co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May, along with Andy Wilman, announced that they would not return to the show without him, and instead left to work alongside Clarkson to produce a new motoring series that would later be known as The Grand Tour. Following their departure, Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc took over as the new hosts for the 23rd series, with Rory Reid, Sabine Schmitz, Chris Harris and Eddie Jordan joining them in the series when needed. Following negative feedback for the series, Evans resigned, with the BBC choosing to retain the other five presenters and assigning LeBlanc, Harris and Reid as the main hosts for the 24th series.
First-run episodes are broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two and (from series 20) BBC Two HD. From series 14–19, before the launch of the dedicated BBC Two HD channel, new episodes were also simulcast on BBC HD. The series is also carried on cable television systems in the United States via BBC America, in Latin America via BBC Entertainment and in Europe and South-East Asia via BBC Knowledge.
Early years: 2002 – 2005
Following the decision by the BBC to cancel Top Gear in 2001, Jeremy Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman pitched the idea of creating a new format for the show to the broadcasters. Their pitch included conducting power laps of notable cars that were featured, such as supercars and high-performance roadsters, performing some of their car reviews at a fixed site as well as locations across Britain and abroad, the utilisation of a studio for discussions on cars and for other segments with a studio audience present, and the participation of a celebrity guest who would be interviewed on motoring matters and take part in a challenge of setting a lap time in an affordable car. As part of their changes, the show's running time was extended to one hour, the fixed site was located at Dunsfold Aerodrome, an airport and business park in Waverley, Surrey, utilising one of its large aircraft hangars for the studio, and using the runways and taxiways for car reviews. Lotus assisted in the design of a race circuit at the site for use by the programme. While the celebrity segment was referred to as "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car", additional segments were added in – "The Cool Wall", and "The News".
The first series of the new format of Top Gear was broadcast in 2002, with Clarkson, joined by two new presenters – Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe, although only the former typically appeared in most segment along with Clarkson – along with the introduction of a test driver called The Stig, an anonymous, helmeted racing driver who conducted the show's Power Laps. Following the first series, Dawe was replaced by James May, who had previously worked on the old format, while the original Stig portrayed by Perry McCarthy was replaced at the beginning of the third series by Ben Collins. While the show operated in a similar manner to the previous format during the early series, with the inclusion of reading out letters from viewers and conducting interviews, it eventually focused on humour and creating a unique presentation style for the programme, and the inclusion of races between cars or between a car and another form of transportation, challenges involving cheap, second-hand cars, unusual approaches to reviewing cars, and road trips. In most of the early series, the presenters regularly destroyed a caravan.
Changes and growing popularity: 2006 – 2014
In early 2006, the BBC made arrangements to move the programme's film site from Dunsfold to Enstone, Oxfordshire, in preparation for its eighth series, but were forced to change this after West Oxfordshire council rejected their plans on the basis of noise and pollution concerns. As a direct result, the broadcaster ordered that filming continued at Dunsfold during May of that year, despite having no permit to do so, with the eighth series unveiling a revamped studio set. In addition, the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" segment was modified with new rules along with a new car, while Hammond included one of his dogs for the series throughout its studio segments, along with a number of films made for this series and the next.
On 20 September, during production for the ninth series, Hammond was seriously injured while driving a Vampire turbojet drag racing car at up to 314 miles per hour (505 km/h), as part of a planned feature, leading the BBC to postpone the broadcast of Best of Top Gear until a later date, and delaying production on the series until the presenter had recovered. Both the BBC and the Health and Safety Executive carried out inquiries into the accident, with filming later resuming on 5 October. The opening episode of the ninth series, aired on 28 January 2007, included footage of Hammond's crash; while it was not repeated like other episodes in the programme, it attracted higher ratings than the finale of Celebrity Big Brother, providing one of the highest ratings for BBC Two for a decade, alongside the series finale, which attracted around 8 million viewers.
Later that summer, on 25 July, the BBC aired a special edition episode entitled Top Gear: Polar Special. It was one of the first episodes of the programme to be shown in high-definition, and the third special to be produced, focusing on a race to the North Magnetic Pole, at its recorded location in 1996, between a "polar modified" Toyota Hilux and a dog sled. Considerable planning and co-ordination for the filming of the episode was conducted by both Top Gear's production team and Toyota, with both Clarkson and May, driving the Hilux, being the first people to reach the recorded location of the North Magnetic Pole by car. It was one of a number of challenges in which the presenters had to be focused and serious, despite the comedic scenes shown, with another being on 9 September, when the presenters, including The Stig, participated in the 2007 Britcar 24-hour race at Silverstone, using a race-prepared, second-hand diesel BMW 330d, fuelled by biodiesel refined from crops they had sown as part of an earlier feature.
Popularity the show rose to considerable levels, that the waiting list to get a ticket for a recording was extensive, requiring an individual to wait for 21 years before securing a place. On 17 June 2008, Hammond and May revealed during an interview on BBC Radio 1's The Chris Moyles Show, that the eleventh series would feature a new "host" in the line-up, who was later revealed on the programme as "Top Gear Stunt Man", an individual who made few, occasional appearances on the programme. From the twelfth series, feature-length specials were created for the show, each visiting a different part of the world for a road trip using second-hand cars, with a number produced to be aired as a Christmas special. Despite growing popularity, an interview made with the Radio Times by Wilman revealed that future programmes would have less time devoted to big challenges, stating the following:
"We've looked back at the last two or three runs and noticed that a programme can get swallowed up by one monster film – a bit like one of those Yes albums from the 1970s where side one is just one track – so we're trying to calm down the prog-rock side. We'll inevitably still have big films, because it's the only way you can enjoy the three of them cocking about together, but they'll be shorter overall, and alongside we'll be inserting two- or three-minute punk songs."
The success of the programme soon led to a live-version format being created called Top Gear Live; produced by a former producer of the program, Rowland French, the touring show aimed to attempt to "bring the TV show format to life... featuring breath-taking stunts, amazing special effects and blockbusting driving sequences featuring some of the world's best precision drivers". The Live tour began on 30 October 2008 in Earls Court, London, moving on to Birmingham in November before being performed in at least 15 other countries worldwide.
As the fourteenth series was broadcast in late 2009, it attracted criticism from some viewers, who perceived that the programme was becoming predictable, with an over-reliance on stunts and forced humour at the expense of serious content. On an episode of the BBC's Points of View, broadcast 13 December 2009, Janice Hadlow, the controller of BBC Two, rejected such comments, observing that she was still pleased with Top Gear's ratings and audience appreciation figures. However, a week later on 20 December, Andy Wilman admitted that the three presenters were now "playing to their TV cartoon characters a bit too much", adding that:
"It's fair to say this incarnation of Top Gear is nearer the end than the beginning, and our job is to land this plane with its dignity still intact. But ironically, that does mean trying new things to the last, even if they screw up, because, well, it means you never stopped trying."
Nevertheless, a one-off special of the long-running US news programme 60 Minutes featuring Clarkson, Hammond, and May, attracted 16 million viewers in October 2010 (which was the highest audience for the series for that year), highlighting Top Gear's continuing popularity.
Clarkson's suspension, hiatus and "end of an era": 2015
Following the emergence of a video of an unaired take for the nineteenth series, and a complaint of racism made following the Burma Special, in which British broadcasting regulator Ofcom ruled that the show had breached broadcasting rules, the BBC issued a "final warning" against Jeremy Clarkson over his behaviour in recent years on the show. Following the airing of the controversial Patagonia Special over the BBC's Christmas schedule for 2014, the twenty-second series began airing from 25 January 2015, but while it was planned to have ten episodes in it, it was abruptly put into hiatus following the seventh episode, after the BBC suspended Clarkson on 10 March, pending an investigation into allegations that he had verbally and physically abused Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon in a hotel after filming a segment for the series. Later that month, on 25 March, Director-General of the BBC Tony Hall announced that the presenter's contract would not be renewed as a direct result of the incident, and that they would look into "putting out the remaining episodes of the current series" at a later date.
On 1 April 2015, it was announced that the Top Gear Live stage shows were to continue under the banner of Clarkson, Hammond and May Live, following Clarkson's forced departure. On 23 April, James May announced that he would not be returning to the show without Clarkson; on the same day it was confirmed by the BBC that executive producer, Andy Wilman had also left the show following Clarkson's dismissal. Shortly afterwards, Richard Hammond also confirmed he would not be returning to the show. On 16 June, later that year, the BBC confirmed that the trio's final films would air as a compilation on 28 June, anchored by Hammond and May.
New hosts and new era: 2016 – 2017
Following the dismissal of Clarkson from the programme, and the subsequent departure of May and Hammond, the BBC began searching for new hosts to replace them, retaining The Stig as part of the line-up. On 16 June 2015, Chris Evans was confirmed as one of the new hosts, who later claimed that a new format could lead to him presenting the show alone, despite a previous announcement that the broadcaster was holding open audition for his co-presenters; this claim was later unfounded. Although former Formula 1 driver David Coulthard had been widely reported to be joining the programme as a host, this was dismissed as speculation, after he was revealed to be the host of Channel 4's coverage for the 2016 F1 season on 11 January 2016. The following month on 4 February, American actor Matt LeBlanc was revealed to be joining the show as Evan's co-host, with Evans revealing a week later on his BBC Radio 2 breakfast show that he, LeBlanc and The Stig would be joined by Eddie Jordan, motoring journalist Chris Harris, German motor racing driver Sabine Schmitz, and motoring journalist and Sky television presenter Rory Reid.
Filming of the new series included work to change the format, with a small number of segments dropped, the studio receiving a new revamp, and the celebrity segment being redesigned to feature a rallycross-styled challenge. In addition, during an interview with BBC News on 22 February, Evans revealed that only he and LeBlanc would front the show on each episode, whilst their other co-presenter would "come and go as and when required". On 27 April 2016, BBC Three announced it had commissioned a spin-off programme called Extra Gear which would be released online and would bring fans exclusive new footage, interviews, specially recorded films and behind-the-scenes access to Top Gear, with both Reid and Harris hosting the spin-off, which would air after each episode of the twenty-third series. Production delays and scheduling conflicts led to the twenty-third series being aired on 29 May 2016, but with only six of the ten episodes it promised to show. Both the new hosts and new format received mixed feedback from critics and viewers; all were generally negative towards Evans, who was panned for his presentation style and his lack of chemistry with LeBlanc, and disapproved of the show's sluggish pace, the lack of humour in the audience segments, and the overly long "Star in the Rallycross Car" segment, but generally praised the inclusion of LeBlanc, Harris and Reid to the show. Newspaper articles also highlighted that the show struggled with viewing figures, partly blaming the fact that most of it was aired opposite live broadcasts of the UEFA Euro 2016 championships. On 4 July, following the series finale, Evans announced that he would be leaving Top Gear after six episodes.
On 26 September, it was announced by the BBC that following Evans' resignation, all five remaining presenters would stay with the show, with LeBlanc, Harris and Reid becoming the three main hosts for the next series. The show underwent a revamp of its studio, along with its logo and opening titles, while "Star in a Rally-Cross Car" was axed from the show and the previous format revived for the twenty-fourth series, but under a new name entitled "Star in a Reasonably Fast Car".
Much of the show's format is divided up into segments, switching between those filmed within the programme's main studio, and pre-recorded films conducted before the broadcast of an episode; such films include car reviews and major features. The most common segments used in the show are "Car Reviews", "Power Laps", "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car", "Cool Wall", "Challenges" and "Races".
One of the major segments of Top Gear, "Car Reviews" focuses on the presenters conducting a road-test of a car, looking at such factors as ride quality, speed, handling, practicality, and reliability. Their reviews are either conducted on and around Top Gear's test track, or on the roads of Britain and abroad. Such reviews often focus on one car, primarily from well known car manufactures, though occasionally can feature more than one car, can include exotic or foreign cars, and sometimes involving multiple presenters, who compare those being reviewed while voicing arguments about which should be considered worthwhile to own. Although the programme operated in a standard manner in the early series, Top Gear later adopted an approach of reviewing cars, by conducting an unusual test(s) to either put a vehicle through its paces in an arranged scenario, or to demonstrate and showcase an exceptional quality that it exhibited.
This common theme of reviewing cars is noticeable in a number of reviews. An example of this is in the "Toyota Hilux Destruction" film, which was divided up into two parts for the third series, between its fifth and sixth episode, in which Clarkson and May set about proving the strength of a Toyota Hilux pick-up truck, by subjecting it to a number of 'trials'. These included crashing it into a tree, dropping it from a crane, dropping a caravan on it, slamming it with a wrecking ball, tethering it to a jetty in the Bristol Channel and leaving it at the mercy of the sea, setting it on fire, and eventually placing it on top of a tower-block that was set for demolition. As a rule of these trials, it had to be repaired with tools and not have any new parts replacing it, with the exception of the windscreen, yet despite being heavily damaged, it was still driveable, and was later placed on a plinth for this notable quality.
Other notable uses of this unusual approach have included:
- Testing the ride quality of two off-road vehicles, by having a passenger receive a tattoo in each vehicle as it is driven off-road, to see how smoothly it can be done in each.
- Testing a car's handling, by racing it through a shopping centre against a more powerful car.
- Assigning the presenter's mothers with the duty of reviewing a small selection of cars.
- Testing the comfort of a vehicle by chauffeuring a VIP to an event.
Another unusual approach with car reviews was to conduct them in the form of a challenge. Examples of such "review" challenges have included:
- Road-testing cars in the style of "Russian Roulette", in which presenters did not know what they would get to drive, and had to review it in the presence of their owners while driving them and their car back to their home.
- Comparing the practicality of two new vehicles, by operating them as taxi cabs for a night.
- Spending 24 hours within a car, without stepping out of it any point within the time period.
- Taking an off-road vehicle up a mountain in Scotland.
In "Power Laps", a car that has underwent a review, often a supercar, hypercar, high-performance roadster, or hatchback, undergoes a timed lap of the Top Gear test track, in the hands of The Stig. The circuit that is used was designed by Lotus, to test the cars on speed, power, and handling. The segment is often used after the main review of an episode, and mainly involves the car(s) that was featured in the review; in the case of multiple cars being shown, the film either shows their laps one after the other, or alongside each other. Their times are then placed on a Power Lap Board, containing all the times of the cars that underwent a Power Lap. Abbreviations next to lap times, such as "W" for "wet", highlight if they were conducted under certain track conditions.
In order to qualify for a place on the Power Lap Board, cars that undergo a Power Lap must fulfil certain requirements:
- They must be roadworthy, and make use of standard road tyres.
- They must be commercially available.
- They must be able to negotiate a speed bump
As such, vehicles that do not qualify, have their times mentioned, but do not get included on the Lapboard. Examples of this include the Renault F1 car (0:59.0) and the Caparo T1 (1:10.6), which were disqualified for failing the speed bump requirement; the Ferrari FXX (1:10.7), which was disqualified for using slick tyres; and the Pagani Zonda R (1:08.5), which was disqualified for not being road legal. In addition, non-production cars are also disallowed from the board, such as the Aston Martin DBR9 Le Mans racer.
Star in a car
A recurring segment in Top Gear, "Star in a car" features an invited celebrity partaking in an interview in the studio with one of the presenters, before watching footage of themselves from earlier, in which they set a lap time around the test track in a car provided for the segment, sometimes also seeing outtake footage of incidents in their practice laps, such as failing to successfully get around a corner multiple times, or managing to damage the car in a unique way. After their footage is shown, their times are recorded onto a leaderboard, much in a similar fashion to that of the Power Lap Board. Throughout its broadcast with Clarkson, Hammond and May hosting the programme, the segment was entitled as Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, with celebrities driving an affordable car that was available on the market, with cars being replaced after a number of series; the change of car also leads to a new leaderboard being created as a direct result. Up until the eighth series, the rules of the segment were that celebrities were given a set number of laps to do, and the fastest of these was recorded, but after the introduction of the second car to be used in this segment, the rules were changed so that celebrities were given a few practice laps to get to grips with both the car and the track, before conducting a timed lap.
In some episodes where an invited celebrity was a F1 driver, the segment is referred to as "F1 Star in a Reasonably Priced Car", and such drivers are restricted to the use of the first car, which was retained to maintain fairness with those invited. Although only one celebrity is invited to take part in the segment for each episode, an exception was made for the majority of the eleventh series and a number of episodes, in which two celebrities partook in the challenge. In addition, the introduction of a new car for the segment, done in the opening episode, always leads to a pre-recorded segment which does not include an interview, but instead hosts a small party by the side of the test track, as a group of celebrities each take a turn setting a lap in the new car.
In the twenty-third series, the segment's format was replaced with a new one called Star in a Rally-Cross Car, with two celebrities invited for a longer interview with the presenter to discuss on subjects such as their favourite cars and their first cars, before watching footage of them setting a fast lap in a rally-spec Mini Cooper on a specially modified, rally-cross version of the Top Gear test track. The new circuit retained the usage of some corners such as The Hammerhead and Gambon, but featured off-road sections, including a small jump, and several deep puddles. However, the segment was not well received by viewers and critics, and was axed after the series, leading to the return of the previous format for the twenty-fourth series, but under the new name of Star in a Reasonably Fast Car.
As part of Top Gear's format, every episode has contained at least a number of segments involving challenges. In the first few series, these were focused on novelty challenges and stunts that were typically based on absurd premises, such as a bus jumping over motorcycles as opposed to the more typical scenario of a motorcycle jumping over busses or a nun driving a monster truck. However, these later changed into situations in which the presenters were either competing against each other with a car they chose in a series of tests, or working together to accomplish a goal, with the tagline "How hard can it be?" becoming a common phrase for the introduction of some of the challenges featured on the programme. Challenges that appear in episodes, mainly fall under the following categories:
- "Cheap Car" – The presenters are each given a budget with which to buy a second-hand car, and must adhere to certain criteria associated with the challenge (i.e. the car must be from a particular decade, or not be designed for a certain purpose). These types of challenges are often done as a competition, in that the presenters' choices undergo a series of tasks, which they have no prior knowledge of, that are designed to determine how well each car fares on various aspects, such as reliability and power, with each presenter scoring points based on how well their car did in the task. The winner in such competitions is often the presenter who scored the most points.
- "Car Creation" – The presenters take on the challenge of creating a vehicle, such as a police car, or hovercraft, mainly using a car they feel will be good as the basis for their design. While they mostly work together to create something unique, occasionally they will make their own designs separately and then compete against each other to see whose design is the best. Regardless of the set-up, the presenters' creation(s) will undergo a serious of challenge designed to determine how well it has been made and how well it suits its purpose. Many of the cars created by the presenters, were later displayed at World of Top Gear at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu after their appearance.
- "Car Review" Challenge (see Car Reviews above)
- Car Sports – The presenters create their own versions of sports, using cars as players, with such sports including football, rugby and ice hockey; tennis was also involved, though required a lot of editing. In 2006, a special episode entitled Top Gear Winter Olympics, featured the presenters partaking in a number of winter sport challenges that utilised cars, including a biathlon and downhill slope jumping.
- Specialised – The presenters undergo a specially-designed challenge, in which they attempt to tackle something unique. Such challenges have included participating in the Britcar 24-hour endurance race at Silverstone Circuit, presenting a drive-time radio show, conducting roadworks within 24 hours, and making a televised advertisement for a car.
Another part of the show's format was the inclusion of a race in every series by the presenters. Such races (which were sometimes referred to as "epic" by Clarkson) were mainly conducted over long distances, though each fell under a certain category:
- "Car VS. Public Transport" – In this race, one presenter took to driving between one location to another in a car, while the other presenters raced them to the finish line on another form of transport. The general emphasis on such races was to prove that a car could reach a destination much faster than by using the transportation involved in the race. Such races were usually edited to portray the result as close and to conceal the winner until the very end of the race (regardless of the actual closeness of the race).
- Novelty Race – In these races, one of the presenters took to racing a car in a head-to-head race against an unusual opponent. Such races were arranged mainly to demonstrate the various strengths and, more often, weaknesses of cars, with opponents ranging from a marathon runner, to a pigeon and the postal service.
- "Cross City Race" – One presenter takes the car and drives across the city from one point to another, while the others take on a different form of transport and try to beat them to the finish line.
- Motorsport Race – Conducted in the fashion of a motor-racing event, these focused on bringing forth vehicles from a certain class, and racing them around a circuit to determine which one is the best. Such races involved racing drivers in control of the vehicle, and often led to fierce jostling between vehicles, usually resulting in some being knocked out of the race.
- Specialised Race – Not conforming to any of the above categories, these races had unique conditions and rules to them. Such races have included an economy race, in which the presenters chose a car and had to reach a finish line on the amount of fuel their choice could carry, a race between old, very powerful racing cars and new showroom cars, and a race designed with a 1949 theme, between a car, a steam train and a motorbike, to see which was the fastest transportation method from that year.
The Cool Wall
In "The Cool Wall", the segment focused on an argument between two of the presenters over which cars are cool and which are not, placing photographs of these on various sections of a large board divided into a serious of categories: "Seriously Uncool", "Uncool", "Cool", and "Sub Zero". This segment was purely designed for comedy, as it was mainly handled by both Clarkson and Hammond since its introduction in the sixth episode of the first series, and both presenter often argued and attempted to put a car they liked into a category that the other refused to let it be a part of, with Clarkson basing some of his arguments by how the cars would impress actress Kristin Scott Thomas, and later, BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce. Cars were placed into a specific category depending on certain attributes, which, according to Andy Wilman, were not necessarily related to the quality of the car itself. An example of this is that a car considered to be "fashionable" may be deemed uncool if the impact it has is massive but short-lived and the perception of it is that it looks ridiculous. A notable rule of this segment was that the car becomes "Seriously Uncool" if a presenter buys one.
The segment was dropped after the twenty-second series, following the departure of the two presenters.
In 2006, Top Gear featured its first, feature-length, special edition episode, in which the presenters conducted a various challenges related to sporting events used in the Winter Olympics, in which cars took the place of athletes in each event. Following this special, the production team worked on creating additional, feature-length specials, in which the common theme was that the presenters conducted a road trip, mainly using a series of second-hand vehicles that they put through a series of challenges along their journey. The format often saw the presenters conduct a small filmed segment to provide an insight of what they were doing; the exception to this format was Top Gear's Polar Special. A number of specials were designed to be aired as a Top Gear "Christmas Special", with the last three split into two parts. These special are listed below:
|Episode||Title||Hammond's vehicle||Clarkson's vehicle||May's vehicle||Back-up||Budget||Mission|
|Series 9, Episode 3
(11 February 2007)
|US Special||1992 Dodge Ram||1989 Chevrolet Camaro RS||1989 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham||N/A||$1,000||Drive from Miami to New Orleans across four states in
second-hand American cars.
|Series 9, Episode 8
(25 July 2007)
|Polar Special||Dogsled (with Matty McNair)||2007 Toyota Hilux||N/A||N/A||Travel from Resolute, Canada to the Magnetic North Pole|
|Series 10, Episode 4
(4 November 2007)
|Botswana Special||1963 Opel Kadett||1981 Lancia Beta Coupé||1985 Mercedes-Benz 230E||1968 Volkswagen Beetle||£1,500||Travel from the Zimbabwean border to the Namibian border,
a trip of 1,000 miles in second-hand and two-wheel drive cars
|Series 12, Episode 8
(28 December 2008)
|Vietnam Special||1992 125cc Minsk||1981 Piaggio Vespa scooter||50cc Honda Super Cub||American liveried Honda CF50||15,000,000₫
|Travel from Saigon to Hạ Long in eight days on second-hand
|Series 14, Episode 6
(27 December 2009)
|Bolivia Special||1974 Toyota Land Cruiser||1984 Range Rover||1988 Suzuki Samurai||N/A||£3,500||Complete a 1,000 mile trek from the Bolivian rainforest to the
Pacific coast of Chile in four-wheel drive vehicles bought online.
|Series 16, Episode 0–2
(26 December 2010)
|Middle East Special||2000 Fiat Barchetta||2000 Mazda MX-5||1998 BMW Z3||1995 Opel Astra cabriolet||£3,500||Travel from northern Iraq to Bethlehem in second-hand
two seater convertibles.
|Series 18, Episode 0
(28 December 2011)
|India Special||2000 Mini Cooper||1995 Jaguar XJS||1975 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow||1979 Austin Allegro||£7,000||Travel across India from Mumbai to the Chinese border in
|Series 19, Episodes 6 and 7
(3 March & 10 March 2013)
|Africa Special||2002 Subaru Impreza WRX Estate||1999 BMW 528i Touring||1996 Volvo 850R Wagon||1998 Ford Scorpio Ghia Estate||£1,500||Find the true source of the River Nile driving second-hand
|Series 21, Episodes 6 and 7
(9 March & 16 March 2014)
|Burma Special||Isuzu TXD||Isuzu TXD||Hino Ranger||N/A||Unspecified||Cross Burma in second-hand lorries, to construct a bridge over
the River Kwai.
|Series 22, Episodes 0–1
(27 December & 28 December 2014)
|Patagonia Special||Ford Mustang Mach 1||Porsche 928 GT||Lotus Esprit V8||Citroen 2CV||N/A||A 1600-mile trek through Patagonia to the southernmost
city in the world, in order to stage an epic game of car football against Argentina.
At the end of each autumn series, hosts Clarkson, Hammond and May presented an award ceremony, in which they picked out cars on various aspects. While some were serious, others were meant as jokes against cars that the presenters hated. One award given, was to one of the presenters, referred to as "Cock of Year", in which they had conducted a mistake while filming the show for that year, while another was given to the celebrity who drove well, and not necessarily the fastest. The most important award given out in this special segment was "Car of the Year", in which the only criteria was that all three presenters must come to a unanimous choice on the winning car. Past "Car of the Year" winners were:
|2002||Land Rover Range Rover|
|2004||Volkswagen Golf GTI|
|2006||Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder|
|2007||Subaru Legacy Outback/Ford Mondeo
(joint winners – chosen in studio)
|2008||Caterham Seven R500|
|2009||Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 Valentino Balboni|
|2011||Range Rover Evoque|
|2013||Ford Fiesta ST|
On the final episode of the fourteenth series, a special award called "Car of the Decade" was given to mark the end of 2000s, and was awarded to the Bugatti Veyron, primarily as it was the only car worthy of the award.
|Series||Episodes||Originally aired||Average UK viewers
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||10||20 October 2002||29 December 2002||3.40|
|2||10||11 May 2003||20 July 2003||3.16|
|3||9||26 October 2003||28 December 2003||4.03|
|4||10||9 May 2004||1 August 2004||3.48|
|5||9||24 October 2004||26 December 2004||4.15|
|6||11||22 May 2005||7 August 2005||4.21|
|7||7||13 November 2005||12 February 2006||4.61|
|8||8||7 May 2006||30 July 2006||4.45|
|9||6||28 January 2007||4 March 2007||7.45|
|10||10||7 October 2007||23 December 2007||7.00|
|11||6||22 June 2008||27 July 2008||5.94|
|12||8||2 November 2008||28 December 2008||7.32|
|13||7||21 June 2009||2 August 2009||7.17|
|14||7||15 November 2009||3 January 2010||6.32|
|15||6||27 June 2010||1 August 2010||5.76|
|16||8||21 December 2010||27 February 2011||6.33|
|17||6||26 June 2011||31 July 2011||5.38|
|18||8||28 December 2011||11 March 2012||5.11|
|19||7||27 January 2013||10 March 2013||5.17|
|20||6||30 June 2013||4 August 2013||5.31|
|21||7||2 February 2014||16 March 2014||6.49|
|22||10||27 December 2014||28 June 2015||6.49|
|Specials||2||26 December 2015||30 December 2015||1.79|
|23||6||29 May 2016||3 July 2016||3.89|
|24||7||5 March 2017||23 April 2017||3.15|
First run episodes of the programme are shown in the United Kingdom on BBC Two, and also on BBC HD since the fourteenth series, with repeats aired on both BBC Two and Dave, and older series later becoming available on Netflix streaming. The popularity of the programme eventually led to Top Gear being broadcast internationally in 214 different countries by the end of 2014; however the show's publicist has stated that the oft-repeated claim of 350 million viewers per week is "unreliable". Some of the countries where the programme is broadcast, are listed below along with the channel(s) it is transmitted on:
|United States||BBC America|
|Denmark||TV3+ (Denmark), 6'eren
|Malaysia||Media Prima's NTV7
HyppTV's BBC Knowledge
|Czech Republic||Prima COOL|
|New Zealand||Prime TV
|Brazil||Discovery Channel Brasil|
Media releases and marketing
In 2006, Clarkson and Wilman co-founded the company Bedder 6 in partnership with BBC Worldwide in order to handle merchandise production and international distribution for Top Gear. The company earned over £149m in revenue in 2012, prior to a restructuring that gave BBC Worldwide full control of the Top Gear rights.
During the run of the series, several compilations of driving songs have been released. These releases, all double albums, were inspired by similar releases that were made available during the series' original run in the 1990s. Two exclusive compilations have been released – Australian Anthems, a compilation released in celebration of an Australian version of the series being commissioned, and Seriously Rock & Roll: NZ Edition, released in very limited quantities in the UK, which features a range of music from famous New Zealand artists.
|Top Gear: Rock||26 May 1994|
|Top Gear Vol.2||4 May 1995|
|Top Gear 3-Rock Ballads||22 February 1996|
|Top Gear: On the Road Again||20 September 1996|
|Top Gear Anthems||14 September 1998|
|Top Gear: The Greatest Driving Album This Year!||10 November 2003|
|Top Gear: The Ultimate Driving Experience||14 November 2005|
|Top Gear: Anthems – The Greatest Ever Driving Songs||21 May 2007|
|Top Gear: Seriously Cool Driving Music||12 November 2007|
|Top Gear: Anthems 2008 – Seriously Hot Driving Music||2 June 2008|
|Top Gear: Sub Zero Driving Anthems||17 November 2008|
|Top Gear: Australian Anthems||17 November 2008|
|Top Gear: Seriously Hot Driving Anthems||27 October 2009|
|Top Gear: Seriously Rock 'N' Roll||26 November 2009|
|Top Gear: Full Throttle||8 November 2010|
|Top Gear: Anthems 50 Best Driving Songs||18 November 2013|
A number of DVDs have also been released, covering various specials, and series compilations.
Top Gear on Facebook
The book Top Gear: 100 Fastest Cars was released in 2012.
Awards and nominations
In November 2005, Top Gear won an International Emmy in the Non-Scripted Entertainment category. In the episode where the presenters showed the award to the studio audience, Clarkson joked that he was unable to go to New York to receive the award because he was busy writing the new script.
Top Gear has also been nominated in three consecutive years (2004–2006) for the British Academy Television Awards in the Best Feature category. Clarkson was also nominated in the best "Entertainment Performance" category in 2006. In 2004 and 2005, Top Gear was also nominated for a National Television Award in the Most Popular Factual Programme category; it won the award in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011. Accepting the award in October 2007, Richard Hammond made the comment that they really deserved it this year, because he didn't have to crash to get some sympathy votes. On 20 January 2010 Top Gear was once again nominated for a National Television Award, in the category "Best Factual Programme" however, they lost out to Loose Women.
Top Gear presenters have also announced on the programme that they have won some slightly lower profile awards. In Series 10, Richard Hammond won the award for the "Best TV Haircut" and James May won the award for the worst. All three presenters have won the award for Heat magazine's "weirdest celebrity crush" revealed during the news. In series 11, the Stig won an award from the Scouts for Services to Instruction. After revealing that, the Stig was shown "attacking" the Scouts, and the presenters coming to the conclusion that he is either terrified of Scouts or was a Girl Guide.
At the end of 2009 Top Gear was voted best programme of the decade in a Channel 4-commissioned survey, The Greatest TV Shows of the Noughties, ahead of The Apprentice and Doctor Who in second and third places respectively. Industry insiders and television pundits voted; also a thousand members of the public took part in a YouGov poll. The results were broadcast on Sunday 27 December 2009 at 9:00 pm, the same time as the Bolivia Special on BBC Two.
Top Gear has often been criticised for content inside programmes by some members of the public and by Ofcom. Most of the criticisms stem from comments from the presenting team; however, other aspects of the programme have been underlined as unsuitable. Incidents and content ranging from (but not limited to) remarks considered by some viewers to be offensive, promoting irresponsible driving, ridiculing environmental issues, Germans, Mexicans,[dead link] and Poles, and alleged homophobia have generated complaints. British comedian and guest of the programme Steve Coogan has criticised the programme, accusing it of lazy, adolescent humour and "casual racism".
The programme has also been accused of misrepresenting vehicle manufacturer Tesla in an episode first aired in 2008. The firm took Top Gear to court for libel and malicious falsehood after it suggested one of its Roadster vehicles had run out of power after only 55 miles. On 19 October 2011, the High Court of Justice in London rejected Tesla's libel claim, claiming the series is an entertainment programme and not an information programme.
Clarkson himself has been critical of the BBC over their handling of the programme. In the February 2006 issue of Top Gear magazine, he voiced his opinion that the BBC did not take Top Gear seriously. He has also commented on his dislike of BBC bosses for choosing the length of the series and for often replacing the programme with snooker (which Clarkson labelled as "drunk men playing billiards"), despite Top Gear having considerably higher viewing figures.
In March 2014, Indian-born actress Somi Guha made a formal complaint to BBC for $1.8 million, for a racist term used after building a bridge over the Kok River in the Burma Special. Upon its completion, Clarkson said, "That's a proud moment, but there's a slope on it", and Richard Hammond added, "Yeah, right. It's definitely higher on that side". This led to complaints that "slope" is a derogatory term for an Asian person. In April, Top Gear’s executive producer Andy Wilman apologised for the racist remark. In July 2014 Ofcom ruled that the BBC had breached broadcasting rules by including this offensive racial term. In May 2014, there were complaints and calls for Clarkson to be sacked after it was revealed that he recited "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe; catch a nigger by his toe" as a children's rhyme on an unaired take from the show. Clarkson denied having used the word, then apologised when a previously unbroadcast clip revealed him doing so.
Top Gear also received extensive criticism in late October 2014 during filming of an episode for Series 22 in Argentina. The presenters and the associated film crew were chased out of the country by angry protesters allegedly throwing rocks at the team. This was in protest against the number plate, H982 FKL, on Jeremy Clarkson's Porsche 928 GT, which was believed to make reference to the 1982 Falklands War. The BBC maintained that the index number was pure coincidence.
The show also received widespread criticism after the sacking of Jeremy Clarkson, and subsequent departure of James May and Richard Hammond. The criticism continued for the first episode of the following series, hosted by Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc.
The popularity of the original UK series, eventually led to the creation of a number of international versions, each with local production teams and presenters, all made under licence from BBC Worldwide:
On 19 November 2007, it was revealed that a localised Australian series of Top Gear would be produced by the Special Broadcasting Service network in conjunction with Freehand Productions, BBC Worldwide's Australasian partner. This announcement marks the first time a deal has been struck for a version of Top Gear to be produced exclusively for a foreign market. No indication was given as to the exact makeup of the series, other than that it would have a distinctly Australian style. SBS ran a competition to find hosts for the series, and in May 2008 confirmed that the presenters for the Australian programme were to be Charlie Cox, Warren Brown, Steve Pizzati and a local 'cousin' of The Stig. James Morrison replaced Charlie for the second series of Top Gear Australia. Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson added, "I'm delighted that Top Gear is going to Australia." It was announced that the Nine Network had secured the rights to the local and UK versions from 2010 on both its Nine and Go! (digital TV) stations. On 20 June 2010, it was announced that actor and comedian Shane Jacobson and Top Gear Australia magazine editor Ewen Page would join a returning Steve Pizzati to present the programme which premiered on 28 September 2010. The Australian version has received lacklustre reviews. Eventually, Top Gear UK and Top Gear Australia met up and challenged each other. Top Gear Australia was cancelled in September 2011.
On 14 October 2008, the Top Gear website confirmed that a Russian edition of the programme was scheduled for production by the end of that year. Initially, 15 episodes were scheduled. It was revealed on 20 December that the pilot, branded Top Gear: Russian Version, was filmed for broadcast on 22 February 2009. The format is similar to its British counterpart, with three hosts: an ex rock guitarist Nikolai Fomenko, an ex-MTV Russia VJ Oscar Kuchera, and a former automotive journalist Mikhail Petrovsky.
After only half of the first series, broadcasting of the Russian version ceased due to viewers' criticism. The channel switched to broadcasting the British version of the series from then on.
First news of an American version of Top Gear surfaced in January 2006, when the official Top Gear website ran a feature about the filming of an American version of the series, produced by the Discovery Channel. The pilot featured Bruno Massel as one of the hosts, but was not picked up by the network, which later began running edited versions of Series 1–5 of the UK original.
In April 2007, the BBC reported on a Sun story that Top Gear had been in talks about creating an American version. The current presenters would remain as hosts, but the series would focus on American cars and include American celebrities. Plans for an American version were eventually shelved, partly over Clarkson's misgivings about spending several months in the U.S., away from his family.
NBC announced it ordered a pilot episode for an American version of Top Gear, to be produced by BBC Worldwide America. The pilot, filmed in June 2008, was presented by television and radio host Adam Carolla, rally driver Tanner Foust, and television carpenter Eric Stromer. However, following the failure of a car-themed drama, NBC did not place the programme on its schedule, indicating it planned to hold it as a spring/summer (2009) series replacement. Eventually, NBC dropped the series. In a February 2009 appearance in Australia, Jeremy Clarkson commented that the U.S. version of the series had been "canned".
The series found new life in February 2010, when it was announced that the History cable channel had picked up the series and ordered between 10 and 12 episodes. The series began production in August 2010, with a premiere on 21 November 2010. A trailer was released in early August showing footage of the hosts simulating a "Moonshine run". Tanner Foust remained as a host, and was joined by comedian/actor Adam Ferrara and racing analyst Rutledge Wood. The show has now aired 62 episodes across 5 seasons.
In January 2016 a seven part compilation show of racing segments from all 22 UK series, presented by Matt Le Blanc, began airing on BBC America titled Top Gear: The Races.
On 20 August 2011, the first series of the Korean version of Top Gear, produced by the XTM Channel, was aired with 13 episodes. On 8 April 2012, the second series of 10 episodes began.
In May 2014, BBC announced that it has signed a deal with Honyee Media to produce a local version of Top Gear in China. On 13 November 2014, the first series of the Top Gear China premiered on Shanghai Dragon Television, presented by Cheng Lei, a veteran Chinese TV presenter, Richie Jen, a Taiwanese singer and actor, and Tian Liang, a former Olympic gold-medalist in diving.
A French version of Top Gear began in 2015 on RMC Découverte, NextRadioTV's free-to-air channel. It is presented by the actor Philippe Lellouche, the professional driver Bruce Jouanny and Yann Larret-Menezo, an electronic music artist and journalist.
The first episode, broadcast on 18 March 2015 at 20:45, broke RMC Découverte's audience record with 966,000 viewers (3.6% audience share).
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motoring show Top Gear, is also recognised in the 2013 volume. The BBC Two fixture holds the record for the world's most widely-watched factual TV programme, having now been broadcast in 212 territories.
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James May: Alan Partridge once said that Lexus is Japan's Mercedes-Benz, in which case the Mitsuoka Galue could be, but this is only a hunch, Japan's Rolls-Royce.
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Jeremy Clarkson: No train can be faster than cars, not possible okay? And to prove the point I organised an epic race.
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Jeremy Clarkson: And now it is time for one of our epic races, you know the sort of thing where a Bugatti races across the Alps against a truffle, or a McLaren-Mercedes races a power boat to Oslo.
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- Top Gear at TV.com
- Top Gear at BBC Online
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- Top Gear magazine UK website
- Top Gear on BBC America
- BBC News article on Top Gear's history (21 September 2006)
- List of Cars appearing on Top Gear courtesy of IMCDb
- Needcoffee.com post and BBC Worldwide America press release regarding the American version (15 January 2008)
- Top Gear on UKTV
- World of Top Gear at National Motor Museum, Beaulieu