- Looking for the page that previously occupied this article? It has been moved to Top Gear (2002 format). This page will now subsequently be used to describe all formats of Top Gear, in addition to its foreign adaptations.
Top Gear is the name of BBC's award-winning television series about motor vehicles, which originated in 1977 as a conventional motoring magazine show and since a reboot in 2002, has developed a quirky, humourous style which focused on the more light-hearted aspects of motoring, in addition to comedic elements. It is due to this revamp which saw the show rapidly soar in popularity during the '00s, and eventually saw it franchise out to many different foreign territories.
Original format (1977 - 2002)
Top Gear started out in 1977 as a regional monthly show which aired over the course of 9 months and was successful enough to go national in a syndicated format the year after. Success would wane over the coming years however, and was extensively revised from 1986 - 1988, resulting in the arrival of many new presenters such as Jeremy Clarkson and Tiff Needell. The show would pick up a notoriety throughout the 1990s once long-term main host William Woollard left at the end of Series 25 with Clarkson taking over the role of lead presenter, and would attract an audience of millions, peaking at 5 - 6 million viewers per week by Series 39 in 1998. That same year, Clarkson would win his first award from the Royal Television Society as 'Best Presenter'.
During this period of growth, numerous spin-off series would be created with the aim of diversifying the topics which were covered by Top Gear. Arguably the most famous of these, Rally Report, presented by the likes of William Woollard, Steve Lee and Steve Rider, would begin their live coverage of the yearly Lombard RAC Rally of Great Britain from 1984 through to 1998, and then through to 2001 under a variety of different names until BBC lost the rights to WRC coverage from 2002 onwards. During this time, 131 programmes would air in total, comprised of 116 episodes and 15 specials as part of 18 series.
Other spin-off series include The Car's The Star, hosted by Quentin Willson from 1994 to 1999, Top Gear Motorsport, hosted by Tiff Needell from 1994 to 1998, and Top Gear Waterworld, a shortlived spin-off headed by Jeremy Clarkson which centred on boats and other forms of nautical travel. In its later years, the digital-based UKTV network would collaborate with the BBC to produce Top Gear GTi, a lower-budget series which aired daily and had many former alumni of Top Gear, such as Steve Berry alongside part-time presenters such as Louise Brady, who never appeared on the parent show. Segments from the parent show would often re-air in cut forms.
In January 1999, following the conclusion of the show's fortieth series, Clarkson announced that he was leaving, and that in his place would be rival show Driven presenter James May, with Needell assuming the role of lead presenter. May would only last for one series before he, alongside female host Julia Bradbury, were both replaced by Kate Humble. Brendan Coogan, brother of comedian Steve Coogan, would also present during this series, but was dismissed from the programme following a drink-drive conviction.
The last two years of the show marked a gradual decline, with viewership shrinking to less than half of its peak, often beaten in the ratings by Clarkson, the former host's talk show and towards the end of its run, often failing to appear on the Top 30 programmes for BBC 2 altogether, and with the Radio Times often refusing to give an episodic synopsis, opting for a generic description instead. Kate Humble and long-time host Quentin Willson would both leave in 2000, with the final series in 2001 presented by Tiff Needell, Vicki Butler-Henderson, and new recruits Jason Barlow and Adrian Simpson, the latter picked during the previous year over Men & Motors host Richard Hammond.
The 45th and final series of Top Gear would run, occasionally interrupted, throughout the entirety of 2001. It would surprisingly bounce back during the middle of this final run to consistently finish among the top positions of BBC Two's weekly programming for the first time in years, and what was originally intended as a 15-part series would run through to February 2002 with 37 episodes. With its cancellation announced on the 8th of August, 2001, three of the four current presenters, alongside Willson, would negotiate the transfer of their format to Channel 5 with producer Richard Pearson, leaving Top Gear in December and presenting their new show, Fifth Gear, from April 2002. Barlow would be forced to stay on BBC until 2003, as per the expiration of his contract.
Revised format (2002 - 2015)
With many of the presenters and personnel for original format Top Gear having left for Channel 5, the show's two remaining important figures, Jason Barlow and producer Andy Wilman, had begun making plans to relaunch Top Gear later in the year, with the latter contacting former host Jeremy Clarkson, who expressed interest in returning to the programme which had made him famous in the 1990s. Unfortunately, a meeting between Clarkson and Barlow left a sour taste in the veteran presenter's mouth, and Barlow was promptly dismissed from Top Gear not long after, with Clarkson's return officially announced on the 22nd of March, 2002.
Originally intended as a separate programme formatted after his yearly home videos, Carmageddon was to have ran alongside an almost-unchanged Top Gear, but was decided to amalgamate the two shows into one, using the established name as the show's magazine continued to draw high sales figures in spite of the show's axing. In mid-2002, Richard Hammond, who had recently finished filming the ninth series of rival motoring show Motor Week, was brought in for an audition and immediately charmed those present. Despite initially dismissing him upon his replacement by the presenter in 1999, Clarkson and James May had since become good friends, and Clarkson had propositioned May into joining their upcoming show. However, May did not want to be a part of the programme if it was a failure, and declined. This resulted in the appointment of Jason Dawe, a used-car dealer from Cornwall, as the show's third presenter.
After a tumultuous series of pilots which were filmed during August and September of 2002, Top Gear returned in a 60 minute studio-based format on the 20th of October, 2002, and would immediately blitz Fifth Gear in the ratings, often securing double the amount of weekly viewing figures. This format included the addition of an unknown racing driver, named The Stig, and a segment in which celebrities took a reasonably-priced car around the Top Gear test track, which had been designed by Lotus on Dunsfold Aerodrome, next to the studio, which was a former hangar.
Needless to say, Top Gear would be renewed for a second series, but at a cost; one or both of Jeremy Clarkson's co-hosts would have to leave, with the favoured candidate being Hammond, unless the producers found a "hip" and "trendy" presenter to join the show. After further solicitations from the former host, James May finally agreed to return to Top Gear for the relaunched show's second series, which began airing in May of 2003.
After a two-part segment on the toughness of the Toyota pickup proved unexpectedly successful during the show's third series, the stakes were raised for its successor, which premiered in May 2004. With a heightened budget, the-then radical decision to film joint "VTs" (Video Tapes), with all three of the presenters interacting with each other, was decided on by director Richard Porter. This would result in three of the series' most-memorable segments which would serve as the basic formula for the next several series; a race between Clarkson and the other two across France to Monte Carlo, a segment featuring each of the three buying a car for £100, and a segment of the trio taking sports cars on Wales' Pendine Sands.
For the next several series, the show would gradually evolve to incorporate more of these "Challenges", which proved popular enough to merit a DVD series of their own, and a heightened focus on performance-oriented vehicles. Series 7 also saw the show's first special, with the trio heading to Norway to film their own take on the Winter Olympics, airing as the Winter Olympics Special in February 2006. An equally successful Series 8 aired half a year a later.
Unfortunately, Series 9 was marred with many production difficulties, with its filming schedule leaked to website FinalGear, and production ultimately halted following presenter Richard Hammond's near-fatal accident in September 2006. In the end, six episodes would be produced following a massive delay with filming resuming throughout the winter and ultimately concluding in February 2007, a month before the final episode aired. These hardships would prove to pay off massively however, as Top Gear saw a much larger audience tune in each week and marked the beginning of the show posing a major threat in the weekly ratings.
Series 9 was followed by the Polar Special, which saw Jeremy Clarkson and James May reach the 1996 Magnetic North Pole in a Toyota Hilux against Richard Hammond riding a dogsled commandeered by Matty McNair. The following series saw Hammond's return to high-speed driving, with a special "Hamster" helmet designed and donated by FinalGear, as he raced a Bugatti Veyron against a EuroFighter Typhoon. It was this series which saw the trio find the best driving road in the world, a second attempt at building amphibious cars, determining whether or not British Leyland made any good cars, and the show's fourth special, set in Botswana.
After the success of the first ten series, the decision was made to dial down production to an average of 6 episodes per series, rather than the 10 of its predecessors, with the majority of content pertaining to new, affordable cars being axed. Series 11 saw heightened creative control from Wilman and all three of the presenters he produced for, and viewing figures did briefly suffer as a result, with some viewers sending in complaints which would persist throughout the following series.
Although the show had temporarily stalled in its home country, Top Gear was rapidly growing into an international sensation by this point, and its next two series would see the show reach its absolute peak. Often considered the best episode of the entire run of 2002-format Top Gear, 2008's Vietnam Special, the fifth of its kind, saw the trio take to motorcycles across the Asian nation which had only just recently experienced the advent of the car. This would be followed up in Series 14 by an equally acclaimed special in Bolivia, where the trio took three 4x4s a thousand miles through South America.
After many other classic moments such as the 'unmasking' of The Stig as Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher, a 1949-themed Race to the North, Jeremy and James' attempts at producing an effective advertising campaign for the then-new Volkswagen Scirocco, several more cheap car challenges, a second attempt at finding the best driving road in the world, this time in Romania, and a homemade electric car based on the chassis of a scrap TVR, Top Gear started the next decade as television's greatest show as voted for in a poll broadcast on Channel 4.
One series following a transition to 1080i High Definition broadcasts as opposed to the 576i Standard Definition broadcasts of the first thirteen series, Series 15 saw Top Gear open the decade with a new reasonably-priced car, an attempt at taking another Toyota Hilux up an active volcano, an attempt at building a motorhome from three used cars, and in one of the series' most memorable moments, Jeremy Clarkson trying to drive a Reliant Robin from Sheffield to Rotherham; a distance of 14 miles. A-Listers Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Jeff Goldblum would each take a crack at the new Cee'd, and Rubens Barrichello would dethrone The Stig in the old Suzuki Liana.
Following an unceremonious departure from the aforementioned Stig during the time the show was off the air, which then saw Tiff Needell's return to the show for the first time since 2001, the next few series were characterised by the show's ever-increasing notoriety and lust for scandal. The second episode of the show's sixteenth series resulted in the Mexican Comments Controversy, where presenter Richard Hammond made several disparaging comments towards Mexicans when asked for his opinion on the Mastretta MXT. The next episode contained a skit involving the supposed "murder" of an overweight Albanian national which some viewers found to be distasteful.
These controversies came to a head in May 2014, when it had been revealed that in an outtake for Series 19, Episode 3, Jeremy Clarkson appeared to mumble a particular racial epithet whilst humming the words to "Eeny Meeny Miny Moe" as he chose between the virtually-identical Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ. At the end of the year, this was followed by the Slope Controversy, where an archaic epithet for an Asian person seemed to have been used by Clarkson. This led to the decision to place Clarkson under a "final warning" technicality, where any further infraction would result in his dismissal and the termination of his contract with the BBC.
With viewer retention beginning to struggle in an era where online streaming had started to supplant traditional television, with Series 20 averaging at a paltry 4.83 million in the fourth episode, the decision was made by the Top Gear team to embrace digital media for its twenty-second series, which premiered in January 2015. A Red Button exclusive episode simulcast on the official website, Facebook and YouTube, Top Gear presented its first and only live episode on the 18th of January, one week before Series 22's premiere. Titled An Evening With Top Gear, radio host Christian O'Connell and an attentive crowd asked the trio of Clarkson, Hammond and May various questions about the upcoming series, in addition to several preview clips being teased throughout.
The first six of a planned ten episodes would air as planned, but behind the scenes tensions began to fray. Following a late-night filming session for the studio segments of Series 22, Episode 7, in a move which some have since speculated to have been deliberate, Jeremy Clarkson burst into a tirade against Oisin Tymon, a long-term producer, before assaulting him over a catering-related dispute. Clarkson would report the incident himself a day later, but would end up dismissed as a result of his actions. Top Gear was then placed under hiatus for the next three months, before an eighth final episode referred to as the "The Big Send Off Special" compiled footage from the planned episodes together in one extended finale. Clarkson would return to provide voiceover work where necessary, but would not appear in the studio, instead replaced by an elephant bearing the same forename as himself.
Despite offers to increase the salaries of remaining presenters May and Hammond, both would leave alongside producer Andy Wilman, and would eventually sign a contract with Amazon Prime to produce rival show The Grand Tour, which premiered in November the following year.
Revamped Format (2016 - present)
Series 23 (2016) Chris Evans Era
In 2015, The BBC announced that Jeremy Clarkson's contract with the show would not be renewed, thus effectively firing him. It was later announced that Richard Hammond, James May and Producer Andy Wilman had all quit the show. On June 16th of that year, It was announced that Chris Evans would take the helm and be the lead presenter for Series 23, In October it was announced that filming of the series had commenced and that the series was set to be broadcast in May 2016. After months of speculation on who would join Evans on the show. On February 11th, Evans stated that The Stig and Matt LeBlanc would join him in fronting the new series. A few days later a promo picture was released revealing the rest of the new team, Joining Evans and Leblanc were Chris Harris, Sabine Schmitz, Rory Reid and Eddie Jordan. Evans and LeBlanc would present every episode with the rest of the team appearing when needed. Once the Series premiered, The responses from fans and critics were abysmal. Chris Evans and his presenting style was heavily criticized every episode which seemingly led to him getting less and less screen time as Series 23 progressed.
to be continued...
Series 24, 25, 26 (2017 - 2019) Matt LeBlanc Era
Once it was announced that Evans had left the series, Matt LeBlanc led the show along with Chris Harris and Rory Reid with guest appearances by Sabine Schmitz and Eddie Jordan. With Series 24 beginning 5th March 2017, 25 beginning 25th February 2018 and 26 beginning 17th February 2019. S24 saw some more changes to the show itself such as revamping the show's studio, logo, and opening titles, and the return of its previous celebrity format, though with some minor changes which included a faster car than those previously used on the show. Throughout S24 the team headed to the US, Dubai, Germany and more... With S25 airing the next year, the team (All returning from previous series) went to Norway, Isle of Man, Japan, and the USA. In the season finale LeBlanc stated that they would be back "Later in the year" However later the BBC announced that Series 26 would be the final for Matt LeBlanc and Rory Reid. This Series contained many films shot for S25 and most if not all of the studio scenes were done at the same time as S25 for unknown reasons. In S26 they head to Spain, Sri Lanka and more. With the Season 26 finale, Viewers were given a small teaser to the new look of Top Gear with Chris Harris alongside Freddy Flintoff and Paddy McGuinness, The response was certainly not warm however that would definitely change.
Series 27 - now (2019 - present) Harris, Flintoff and McGuinness
to be continued...
- Main article: Top Gear on Discovery
One of the first markets in which Top Gear was an unexpected success was the United States, of which many citizens were illegally downloading clips and episodes through sites such as FinalGear due to a lack of local distribution rights. This lead to the Discovery network buying the broadcasting rights for the first five series and condensing them down into a heavily edited sole series which was a mild success, but was not renewed. In February 2005, the trio of Clarkson, Hammond and May met American fans for the very first time and filmed brand new studio segments, of which most have since been lost. They also redubbed many lines to appease the American fanbase, using American terms such as "trunk" instead of "boot" and "coupe" instead of the accented "coupé".