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Top Gear (2002 TV series)

  (Redirected from Top Gear (current format))

Top Gear is a British motoring magazine, factual television series, conceived by Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Wilman, launched on 20 October 2002, and broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two. The programme is a relaunched version of the original 1977 show of the same name, which looks at various motor vehicles, primarily cars. While the original format focused mainly on review of cars, the 2002 version expanded on this with motoring-based challenges, special races, timed laps of notable cars, and celebrity timed laps on a course specially-designed for the relaunched programme, with its format developing over time to focus on a more quirky, humorous and sometimes controversial style of presentation.[3] The programme has received acclaim for its visual style and presentation, as well as criticism for its content.[4][5]

Top Gear
TopGearLogo.svg
Genre
Created by
Written by
  • Richard Porter
  • Paul Kerensa
Directed by
  • Brian Klein
  • Mark McQueen
Presented by
Opening theme "Jessica"
Composer(s) Dickey Betts (arr. by Christian Henson)
Country of origin United Kingdom
Original language(s) English
No. of series 25
No. of episodes 197 (including 11 specials) (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)
  • Andy Wilman[1]
  • Aurora Mulligan
  • Clare Pizey
Producer(s)
  • Maggie Gibson
  • Kate Shiers-Ghellere
  • Peter McCann
  • Gary Broadhurst
  • Pat Doyle
  • Alex Renton
  • Grant Wardrop
  • Chris Hale
  • Oisin Tymon
Editor(s)
  • Guy Savin
  • Dan James
  • Alex Renton
Running time 50–65 minutes
Production company(s) BBC Studios
Distributor BBC Studios
Release
Original network
Picture format
  • 576i Anamorphic (series 1–13)
  • HDTV 1080i (Series 14–present & Polar Special)[2]
Original release 20 October 2002 (2002-10-20) – present
Chronology
Preceded by Top Gear (1977)
Related shows
External links
Website
Production website

Since 2002, the programme has been presented by several hosts. In its first series, the show's line-up was Clarkson, Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe, with Wilman as the show's executive producer, and introducing anonymous test driver "The Stig", an individual played by numerous racing drivers over the course of the show's history. Following the first series, Dawe was replaced by James May, with the line-up unchanged until the end of the twenty-second series, when the BBC chose to not renew Clarkson's contract on 25 March 2015, following an incident during filming.[6] His dismissal from Top Gear prompted the departure of Hammond, May and Wilman from the programme,[1][7][8] and led to them joining Clarkson in forming a new motoring series.[9] For the twenty-third series, the programme was presented by Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, with them joined by four co-presenters who would make occasional appearances during its run: Rory Reid, Sabine Schmitz, Chris Harris and Eddie Jordan.[10][11] After negative feedback on this series led to Evans resigning from the programme, Harris and Reid became the main hosts alongside LeBlanc, with Schmitz and Jordan making occasional appearances as co-presenters, from the 24th series onwards.

Since its relaunch, Top Gear is one of the BBC's most commercially successful programmes. It has become a significant show in British popular culture,[12][13] with episodes also broadcast internationally in many countries in Europe, North America, South-East Asia and more, making it the most widely watched factual television programmes in the world.[14] Its success has led to various forms of merchandising, including live tours, special DVD editions, and books, as well as spawning a variety of international versions in various countries, including the United States, Australia, South Korea, China and France.

Contents

History

Early years: 2002–05

After the BBC cancelled the original format of Top Gear in December 2001, Jeremy Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman met together to work out ideas for reviving the programme for television. This led to them eventually meeting the broadcaster to pitch the idea of changing it from a motoring magazine format to one that was studio-based. Amongst the ideas that were pitched included: the involvement of a fixed location for car reviews and other films, alongside location across Britain and abroad; putting notable cars through a timed lap of a circuit; the involvement of test driver with veteran racing experience, who handle driving some of the cars for the programme; and the participation of celebrity guest who would be invited to take part in an episode, undertake an interview over motoring matters, such as their car history, and take part in a special challenge to do a timed lap in a designated car. Following the pitch, the BBC decided to green-light the new format, in order to create a programme to compete with Channel 5's new motoring show Fifth Gear, from which several original Top Gear presenters including Tiff Needell, Vicki Butler-Henderson and producer Jon Bentley went to.

Production began in mid-2002, with the broadcaster securing the right to use Dunsfold Aerodrome, an airport and business park in Waverley, Surrey, as the programme's fixed location – while its runways and taxiways were allocated for reviews and other films, one of the site's large aircraft hangars was transformed into Top Gear's new studio. To match the proposed ideas for the new format, the BBC gained assistance from Lotus to design a race circuit for use on the programme that would be situated at the fixed location, while editing of films that were recorded for each episode, focused on extending the runtime of the programme to one hour. Wilman took on the role of the show's executive producer, while Clarkson became part of the hosting line-up. Because those who had worked with Clarkson on the original programme had left the BBC to work on Fifth Gear, the production team arranged for him to be joined by Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe. A difficulty found during production, revolved around the show's test driver – neither Clarkson or Wilman could find a racing driver with experience at speaking on-camera. In discussions over this, the pair opted to make the driver silent, and later having their identity concealed. When they recruited Perry McCarthy amongst their possible candidates for the role, his input led to Wilman choosing to nickname the test driver as The Stig.

The first series of the programme premiered later that year, its opening episode airing on 20 October 2002. In its early state, the programme's segments were based on elements on the 1977 version's format, such as conducting interviews with people and reading out letters from viewers, though featured some unique elements based around humour. An example of this was that the presenters regularly destroyed a caravan during the early series. After the first series ended, Dawe was replaced by James May – having originally worked on the 1977 version, he initially declined to be a part of the 2002 format of Top Gear, until its growing popularity later changed his mind. At the beginning of the third series, McCarthy was replaced by Ben Collins for contractual reasons – the change in drivers was notable in the fact that for Collins' version, the Stig's outfit was changed from a black outfit, to a white one. As the programme progressed, the format slowly began to transform, with a focus towards creating a unique presentation style for the programme, which included the addition of new segments, a more unusual approach to reviewing cars, road trips, and more specialised films involving races – either between cars or between a car and another form of transportation – and completing a variety of challenges, most with cheap, second-hand cars.

Changes and growing popularity: 2006–14

In early 2006, the BBC made plans to move the programme's film site from Dunsfold to Enstone, Oxfordshire, in preparation for its eighth series. These were later cancelled, after West Oxfordshire council strongly objected to the planned move, on the basis of noise and pollution concerns.[15] As a direct result, the broadcaster ordered that filming continued at Dunsfold during May of that year, despite having no permit to do so,[16] 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,[17] with filming later resuming on 5 October.[18] The opening episode of the ninth series, aired on 28 January 2007, included footage of Hammond's crash;[19] while it was not repeated like other episodes in the programme, it attracted higher ratings than the finale of Celebrity Big Brother,[20] 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.

With popularity for the show rising to considerable levels, the waiting list to get a ticket for a recording became extensive – an individual seeking a ticket, found that they would be required to wait for 21 years before securing a place.[21] 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,[22] 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:[23]

"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,[24] 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".[25] 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 14th series was being broadcast in late 2009, the programme began to attract criticism from some viewers, over its predictability through the over-reliance on stunts and forced humour at the expense of serious content. On 13 December 2009, controller of BBC Two Janice Hadlow appeared on the BBC's Points of View to reject such comments, purely on the evidence of Top Gear's ratings and audience appreciation figures.[26] However, a week later on 20 December, Wilman admitted that the three presenters were now "playing to their TV cartoon characters a bit too much". His statement included referring to "this incarnation of Top Gear" being close to its end, and that the production team would be working towards keeping its "dignity still intact", while experimenting with new ideas for the programme.[27] 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.[28]

Clarkson's suspension, hiatus and "end of an era": 2015

Towards the end of 2014, the BBC became concerned over Clarkson's behaviour on the programme, including its production. Their concerns were raised by two incidents that year – the first involved an un-aired take from the 19th series emerging on national news media, featuring the presenter;[29] the second involved an investigation into racism complaints by the regulator Ofcom, in regards to the show's "Burma Special", which led to the programme being found in breach of broadcasting rules.[30][31] As a result of these matters, the broadcast issued a "final warning" against Clarkson. The programme then suffered another incident, when production of its next special in Argentina was dogged by major issues that placed the team at serious risk of harm. The controversial incident it created was covered by international news media, but despite the issues faced, the special was later aired as part of the BBC's Christmas schedule for 2014,[32] though with amendments to its ending and the inclusion of an introduction for it.

On 10 March 2015, the 22nd series of the programme was abruptly put into hiatus by the BBC. The broadcaster's actions were the result of them suspending Clarkson in order to investigate allegations made against him, over verbal and physical abuse he had committed against one of the show's producers, Oisin Tymon.[33] On 25 March, Clarkson's contract with the BBC was terminated, with Director-General of the BBC Tony Hall announcing that the remaining episodes future were uncertain until the broadcaster could determine how to air them out and complete the 22nd series.[34][35][36] Clarkson's forced departure soon had a considerable impact with the programme, beginning with that year's Top Gear Live – as a result of the BBC's decision, the tour's name was changed to "Clarkson, Hammond and May Live" and announced on 1 April 2015.[37] Wilman later revealed later that month on 23 April that he would be resigning from the programme, along with Clarkson's co-presenters May and Hammond, having stated that they would not continue working on Top Gear without Clarkson;[38][39][7] however, the group consented to making one final episode for the BBC, after it was decided to air the trio's final films as part of special episode, which was aired on 28 June 2015.[40] Following this episode, Hammond, May and Wilman joined up with Clarkson, and subsequently signed a deal with Amazon to produce a new motoring programme in the same vein as their former show, which debuted in 2016 under the title of The Grand Tour.

New hosts and new era: 2016–present

 
The presenters of Top Gear (series 23), from left to right: Rory Reid, Sabine Schmitz, Matt LeBlanc, Chris Evans, Chris Harris, Eddie Jordan, and The Stig

Following the dismissal of Clarkson, and the subsequent departure of May, Hammond and Wilman, the BBC began searching for their replacements. On 16 June 2015, Chris Evans was confirmed as one of the new hosts,[10] with it later suggested he would be hosting the show alone as part of a new format,[41] despite a previous announcement that the broadcaster was holding open audition for his co-presenters;[42] this claim was later dismissed as untrue. Although former Formula 1 driver David Coulthard had been widely reported to be joining the programme as a host, this was dismissed as speculation when he was revealed, on 11 January 2016, to be the new host of Channel 4's coverage for the 2016 F1 season.[43] On 4 February, it was officially announced that American actor Matt LeBlanc was to join the show as Evans' co-host.[44] On an edition of his BBC Radio 2 breakfast show, a week later, Evans revealed that both men would also be joined by Eddie Jordan, motoring journalist Chris Harris, German motor racing driver Sabine Schmitz, and motoring journalist and Sky television presenter Rory Reid.[45]

Filming for the 23rd series soon began in early 2016. While the show still retained the use of the show's presentation style and its test driver The Stig, the format received a number of changes – a small number of segments were dropped, the studio received a revamp to its layout, the celebrity segment was redesigned to feature a rallycross-styled challenge, while Evans and LeBlanc would front the show with the other co-presenters appearing "when required".[46] On 27 April 2016, BBC Three announced that a spin-off programme to Top Gear had been commissioned, entitled Extra Gear. Designed to be aired after each episode of the new series was aired, its format focused on providing exclusive new content online – hosted by both Reid and Harris, the spin-off would consist of new footage, interviews, specially recorded films and behind-the-scenes access to the main programme.[47]

A combination of delays with production and conflicts with scheduling, led to the premiere date of the 23rd series being pushed back to 29 May 2016. In addition, the new series aired with only six of the ten episodes that it promised to show. The new look of the show received mixed feedback from critics and viewers alike – although praise was given for the inclusion of LeBlanc, Harris and Reid, the new format was panned for its sluggish pace, the lack of humour in the studio segments, and the length of time spent on the revamped celebrity segment, "Star in a Rally-Cross Car". The most negative feedback received for the 23rd series was towards Evans' involvement – his presentation style was largely criticised, along with the lack of chemistry he had with LeBlanc. In addition to feedback, several newspaper articles highlighted the fact that the new series struggled to make reasonable viewing figures, with this partly blamed on its broadcast schedule putting it up against live broadcasts of the UEFA Euro 2016 championships. On 4 July, following the series finale, Evans announced his resignation from Top Gear, based on feedback.[48] As a result, the BBC announced on 26 September that, among the remaining five presenters, LeBlanc would be joined by Harris and Reid to become the main hosts for the next series.[49]

To make amends for its dismal performance, Top Gear underwent a more thorough revamp, which included redoing the studio, and redesigning the show's opening titles. The show's format was refocused on elements developed in early series, a deeper work on chemistry between the presenters, while also revising the celebrity segment – as the arrangement for the 23rd series had proven to be a failure,[50] the segment returned to its original format, though under the title of "Star in a Reasonably Fast Car".[51]

On 31 May 2018 LeBlanc announced he would be leaving the series after the 26th season.[52]

Format

Each episode of Top Gear focus a series of segments, switching between those filmed within the programme's main studio before a studio audience, and pre-recorded films conducted before the broadcast of an episode – these films primarily cover major segments of the episodes, with studio segments often used as links or breaks between them. The most common forms of segments used in the show's history are "Car Reviews", "Power Laps", "Star in a ... Car", "Cool Wall", "Challenges" and "Races".

Car reviews

A major segment of the programme, happening at least once in most episodes, it focuses on the presenters conducting a road-test of a car, looking at such factors as ride quality, speed, handling, practicality, and reliability. These reviews are conducted either on and around Top Gear's test track, or on the roads of Britain and abroad, and often focus on one car, primarily from well known car manufacturers. On a number of occasions, the review may feature more than one car from the same class, as well as include exotic/foreign models, and feature more than one presenter as a way of providing different opinions on the cars being reviewed and putting forth an argument over the model they believe is worthwhile to own.

Although the programme operated in a standard manner in the early series to the original format of car reviews in the 1977 show, it soon began to adopt an unusual 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. An example of this comes from the "Toyota Hilux Destruction" film, divided between two episodes of the third series – to prove the strength of a Toyota Hilux pick-up truck, presenters Clarkson and May set about subjecting it to various, mainly destructive tests to see if it could survive against them and still run, allowing the use of tools for repair but prohibiting the replacement of any components (with the exception of the windscreen). 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.[53]

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.

Power laps

 
The Top Gear Test Track used in Power Laps, along with the show's celebrity segment

This segment focuses on a featured car undergoing a timed lap of the programme's test track, with the car driven by The Stig. Often used after the main review of an episode, it mainly involved the car(s) from the review, though on occasions sometimes featured vehicles that either had been reviewed in a previous episode but couldn't be put on the track due to problems or unfavourable conditions on the track, or were special models (such as racing versions of the car). On occasions when multiple cars did a timed lap, the episode either shows the film of each car one after the other, or alongside each other. After the film is shown, the presenter reveals the time to the studio audience and the viewer – 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:[54]

  • 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"

Another major segment in the programme, featured in the majority of episodes broadcast, the format for this involves a celebrity being invited to take part in a timed lap around Top Gear's test track in a car provided for the segment. They then join the presenters in the studio for an interview, mainly about their car history, their performance in the car and a look back to the highlights from their practice laps. After viewing footage of their timed lap, their time is stated and recorded onto a leaderboard, much in a similar fashion to lap times for Power Laps, including the use of abbreviations to denote track conditions the celebrity faced. In the event that the car being used was put of action by serious mechanical damage during practice sessions, a back-up car would be provided for the celebrity to use to continue practising, and/or to do their timed lap in. Although only one celebrity is involved in this segment, in a number of episodes, including the majority of the eleventh and twenty-third series, it sometimes featured two celebrities taking part, with footage of each timed lap shown one after the other.

From the first series to the twenty-second series, when the show was presented by Clarkson, Hammond and May, the segment was entitled as "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" – its name was derived from the fact that the celebrities drove around the test track in an affordable car available on the market. The segment was often shown during the middle of an episode, and had the celebrities interviewed by Clarkson. The affordable car used in the segment was changed several times, each being replaced after a number of series – because the new car was often different, in terms of engine specifications, power, speed, handling, and other factors, a new leaderboard would be created a direct result. In addition, the introduction of a new car would be reserved for the opening episode, with the celebrity segment pre-recorded before the series began – it featured no interview, and involved a group of celebrities taking part to set a lap time in the new car. Up until the eighth series, the rules of the segment were that celebrities were given a set number of laps to do, with the fastest amongst these being recorded, but from the ninth series onwards, the rules were changed so that they were now given a few practice laps to get to grips with both the car and the track, before conducting a timed lap. In some episodes, the invited celebrity was a F1 driver, with the segment referred to as "F1 Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" – while it stuck to the standard format, the only difference was that the F1 drivers were restricted to the use of the first car used in the segment, which was retained to maintain fairness with those invited.

During Evans short-lived tenure as the show's host, the twenty-third series saw the segment renamed as "Star in a Rally-Cross Car".[55][56] While it stuck to the same format as "Reasonably Priced", it featured a number of changes. The first change was that the interview, conducted with Evans, was much longer, with the celebrities involved discussing what was their favourite car in a certain field and the studio audience voting on which one they preferred. The second change, which was the primary reason for the change in name, was that celebrities drove around a specially modified, rally-cross version of the Top Gear test track – while it used the majority of the circuit, it featured two off-road sections and a small jump – in a rally-spec Mini Cooper. After the series ended, the segment received negative feedback and criticism from viewers and critics, and was dropped from the programme as a result.[57]

From the twenty-fourth series onwards, the segment's format was revised, and renamed as "Star in a Reasonably Fast Car".[51] While similar in format to "Reasonably Priced", in that celebrities were interviewed about their car history and did a timed lap around the test track, it featured a number of changes. Apart from the car being much faster the segment was split into two parts – the celebrity joined much earlier in the episode, discussed their car history with LeBlanc, Harris and Reid, gave some feedback on a film that had been shown prior to footage of their timed lap, and viewed footage of a practice lap in which Harris tutored them on how to get around the circuit in the new car, before the footage of their timed lap. This was altered slightly in Series 25, with it returning to only one part with the training run still shown.

Challenges

 
Jeremy Clarkson's '"Toybota"' Hilux pick-up truck from the amphibious cars challenge.

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.[58]
  • "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.

Races

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)[59][60] 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,[61] 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,[62] 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.[63] 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 22nd series, following the departure of the two presenters.

Specials

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 available in-country.
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₫
(about US$1000)
Travel from Saigon to Hạ Long in eight days on second-hand motorcycles.
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 British-built vehicles.
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 estate cars.
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.[64]
Series 22, Episodes 0–1
and 0–2
(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.

Award ceremony

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:

Year Car
2002 Land Rover Range Rover
2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom
2004 Volkswagen Golf GTI
2005 Bugatti Veyron
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
2010 Citroën DS3
2011 Range Rover Evoque
2012 Toyota GT86
2013 Ford Fiesta ST
2014 BMW i8

On the final episode of the 14th 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.

Episodes

SeriesEpisodesOriginally airedAverage UK viewers
(in millions)
First airedLast aired
11020 October 2002 (2002-10-20)29 December 2002 (2002-12-29)3.30
21011 May 2003 (2003-05-11)20 July 2003 (2003-07-20)3.16
3926 October 2003 (2003-10-26)28 December 2003 (2003-12-28)4.03
4109 May 2004 (2004-05-09)1 August 2004 (2004-08-01)3.48
5924 October 2004 (2004-10-24)26 December 2004 (2004-12-26)4.15
61122 May 2005 (2005-05-22)7 August 2005 (2005-08-07)4.21
7713 November 2005 (2005-11-13)12 February 2006 (2006-02-12)4.61
887 May 2006 (2006-05-07)30 July 2006 (2006-07-30)4.45
9628 January 2007 (2007-01-28)4 March 2007 (2007-03-04)7.45
10107 October 2007 (2007-10-07)23 December 2007 (2007-12-23)7.01
11622 June 2008 (2008-06-22)27 July 2008 (2008-07-27)5.94
1282 November 2008 (2008-11-02)28 December 2008 (2008-12-28)7.32
13721 June 2009 (2009-06-21)2 August 2009 (2009-08-02)7.17
14715 November 2009 (2009-11-15)3 January 2010 (2010-01-03)6.69
15627 June 2010 (2010-06-27)1 August 2010 (2010-08-01)6.25
16821 December 2010 (2010-12-21)27 February 2011 (2011-02-27)7.19
17626 June 2011 (2011-06-26)31 July 2011 (2011-07-31)6.42
18828 December 2011 (2011-12-28)11 March 2012 (2012-03-11)6.07
19727 January 2013 (2013-01-27)10 March 2013 (2013-03-10)6.58
20630 June 2013 (2013-06-30)4 August 2013 (2013-08-04)5.31
2172 February 2014 (2014-02-02)16 March 2014 (2014-03-16)6.49
221027 December 2014 (2014-12-27)28 June 2015 (2015-06-28)6.49
Specials226 December 2015 (2015-12-26)30 December 2015 (2015-12-30)1.79
23629 May 2016 (2016-05-29)3 July 2016 (2016-07-03)3.89
2475 March 2017 (2017-03-05)23 April 2017 (2017-04-23)3.15
25625 February 2018 (2018-02-25)1 April 2018 (2018-04-01)3.11

Broadcast

First run episodes of the programme are shown in the United Kingdom on BBC Two, and also on BBC HD since the 14th 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".[65] Some of the countries where the programme is broadcast, are listed below along with the channel(s) it is transmitted on:

Country Channel
United States BBC America
Canada BBC Canada
Ireland RTÉ Two
Setanta Ireland
Netherlands Veronica
Belgium Canvas
Sweden Kanal 9
Denmark TV3+, 6'eren
BBC Entertainment
BBC Knowledge
Finland MTV3
MTV3 Max
FOX
Malaysia Media Prima's NTV7
HyppTV's BBC Knowledge
Indonesia B Channel
Australia Nine Network
GO!
Czech Republic Prima COOL
Hungary Viasat3
Viasat6
M2
RTL Spike
New Zealand Prime TV
TV3
India BBC Entertainment
AXN India
Greece Skai TV
Brazil Discovery Channel Brasil
Pakistan 24 News HD

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.[66][67]

Music compilations

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.

Name Release date
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

DVDs

A number of DVDs have also been released, covering various specials, and series compilations.

Top Gear on Facebook

In August 2011, the BBC announced that full-length Top Gear episodes will be available to purchase with Facebook Credits and watch on Facebook.[68]

Books

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.[69] 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.[70] 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.[71] 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.[72][73][74]

Controversies

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,[75] promoting irresponsible driving,[76] ridiculing environmental issues,[77] Germans,[78][79] Mexicans,[dead link][80] and Poles,[81] and alleged homophobia[82] 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".[83]

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.[84][85] 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.[86]

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.[87]

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.[88] 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.[89] In July 2014 Ofcom ruled that the BBC had breached broadcasting rules by including this offensive racial term.[90] 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.[91] Clarkson denied having used the word, then apologised when a previously unbroadcast clip revealed him doing so.[92][93]

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.[94]

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.[95][96][97]

International versions

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 Studios:

Australia

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.[98] 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.[99] 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."[100] 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.[101] 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.[102] Eventually, Top Gear UK and Top Gear Australia met up and challenged each other. Top Gear Australia was cancelled in September 2011.

Russia

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.[103] Initially, 15 episodes were scheduled.[104] It was revealed on 20 December that the pilot, branded Top Gear: Russian Version, was filmed for broadcast on 22 February 2009.[105] 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.[106]

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.

United States

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.[107] The pilot featured Bruno Massel as one of the hosts, but was not picked up by the network,[108] 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.[109] 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.[110]

NBC announced it ordered a pilot episode for an American version of Top Gear, to be produced by BBC Worldwide America.[111] The pilot, filmed in June 2008, was presented by television and radio host Adam Carolla, rally driver Tanner Foust, and television carpenter Eric Stromer.[112] 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.[113] 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".[114]

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.[115] The series began production in August 2010, with a premiere on 21 November 2010.[116][117] A trailer was released in early August showing footage of the hosts simulating a "Moonshine run".[118] Tanner Foust remained as a host, and was joined by comedian/actor Adam Ferrara and racing analyst Rutledge Wood.[119] 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.[120]

South Korea

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.

Past presenters are Kim Kap-soo, Jo Min-ki, Park Jun-gyu and Yeon Jung-hoon, with the current presenters being Ryu Si-won, Danny Ahn, and Kim Jin-pyo. The fourth series was launched in April 2013.

China

The first attempt at a Chinese Top Gear was in 2011.[121] Fifteen minutes of the pilot leaked before the airdate but was promptly removed at the BBC's request.[122]

In May 2014, BBC announced that it has signed a deal with Honyee Media to produce a local version of Top Gear in China.[123] 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.

France

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.[124]

Filming was at the end of 2014 and in January 2015 on the aérodrome de Brienne-le-Château near Troyes.[125]

The first series consists of 10 episodes[125] including three made of highlights of the series.[126]

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).[127]

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