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Top Gear
275px-TopGearLogo.jpg
Genre Motoring Action
Presented by Jeremy Clarkson
(2002–)
Richard Hammond
(2002–)
James May
(2003–)
The Stig (Black)
(2002–03)
The Stig (White)
(2003–)
Jason Dawe
(2002)
Opening theme "Jessica"
Composer(s) Dickey Betts
Country of origin United Kingdom
Language(s) English
No. of series 14
No. of episodes 117 and 6 specials
(List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Andy Wilman
Editor(s) Guy Savin
Location(s) Dunsfold Park, Guildford, Surrey, England
Running time 60 min. (approx.)
Production company(s) BBC
Distributor BBC Worldwide
Broadcast
Original channel BBC Two
BBC HD (2009–present)
Picture format 576i, anamorphic 16:9
(2002–09)
1080i (Polar Special 2007, 2009–)[1]
First shown in 1977–2001
Original run 20 October 2002 –
Present
Status Returning series
Chronology
Preceded by Top Gear
Related shows Top Gear (US)
Top Gear Australia
Top Gear Russia
Stars in Fast Cars
Top Gear of the Pops
Top Ground Gear Force
External links
Official website
Production website

Top Gear is a BBC television series about motor vehicles, primarily cars. It began in 1977 as a conventional motoring magazine show. Over time, and especially since a relaunch in 2002, it has developed a quirky, humorous style. The show is currently presented by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, and also features a test driver known as The Stig. The programme is estimated to have 350 million viewers worldwide.[2]

First run episodes are broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two, and since Series 14, also on BBC HD. Top Gear is also shown on Dave, BBC America, BBC Canada, RTÉ Two in Ireland, Channel 9 in Australia (formerly SBS One who showed the program until the end of the 13th series shown in 2009), Prime TV in New Zealand, and a number of other television channels around the world. The popularity of the show has led to the creation of two international versions, with local production teams and presenters for Australia and Russia.[3] Episodes of the Australian version premièred on 29 September 2008 and NBC was holding the American version for broadcast in February or March 2009, as a possible mid-season replacement, but later dropped it from their schedule before production resumed.[4]

The show has received acclaim for its visual style and presentation, as well as considerable criticism for its content and comments made by presenters. Columnist A. A. Gill described the show as "a triumph of the craft of programme making, of the minute, obsessive, musical masonry of editing, the french polishing of colourwashing and grading".

Contents

History

Jeremy Clarkson, who helped the original series reach its peak in the 1990s, along with producer Andy Wilman, successfully pitched a new format for Top Gear to the BBC, reversing a previous decision to cancel the show in 2001. The new series was first broadcast in 2002. Top Gear's studio is located at Dunsfold Aerodrome and business park in Waverley, Surrey. Top Gear uses a temporary racing circuit which was designed for the show by Lotus and is laid out on parts of Dunsfold's runways and taxiways. A large hangar is used for studio recording with a standing audience.

The new series format incorporates a number of major changes from the old show. The running time was extended to one hour and two new presenters were introduced: Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe, with James May replacing Dawe after the first series. The Stig, an anonymous, helmeted racing driver, was introduced as the test driver. New segments were also added, including "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car", "The Cool Wall", "The News", "Power Laps", and one off features such as races, competitions and the regular destruction of caravans and, more recently, Morris Marinas.

In early 2006, the BBC had planned to move the filming site from Dunsfold to Enstone, Oxfordshire for filming of the eighth series of Top Gear, but the move was rejected by West Oxfordshire council due to noise and pollution concerns.[5] Filming of the series went ahead at Dunsfold in May despite not having a permit to do so,[6] with a revamped studio set, a new car for the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" segment, and the inclusion of one of Hammond's dogs, named "Top Gear Dog", in a few studio and film segments of that series.

On 20 September 2006, Richard Hammond was seriously injured while driving a Vampire turbojet drag racing car at up to 314 miles per hour (505 km/h) for a feature in the show. The BBC indefinitely postponed the broadcast of Best of Top Gear and announced that production of the show would be delayed until Hammond had recovered. Both the BBC and the Health and Safety Executive carried out inquiries into the accident.[7] Filming resumed on 5 October 2006.[8] The ninth series began on 28 January 2007 and included footage of Hammond's crash.[9] The first show of the ninth series attracted higher ratings than the finale of Celebrity Big Brother[10] and the final episode of the series had 8 million viewers — BBC Two's highest ratings for a decade.

  1. Top Photo: Series 1 host lineup from left to right: Jason Dawe, Richard Hammond, and Jeremy Clarkson.
  2. Bottom Photo: The presenters from Series 2 onward: James May, Richard Hammond, and Jeremy Clarkson.

A special programme, Top Gear: Polar Special, was broadcast in the UK on 25 July 2007 and was the first episode to be shown in high-definition. It involved a race to the North Magnetic Pole[11] from Resolute, Nunavut, Canada, with James May and Jeremy Clarkson travelling in a 'polar modified' Toyota Hilux, and Richard Hammond on a dog drawn sled. All three presenters had experienced explorers with them, and Clarkson and May became the first to reach the 1996 North Magnetic Pole by car, using the vehicle's satellite navigation. Since 1996, the North Magnetic Pole had moved approximately 100 miles (160 km). The recorded 1996 location is the target used by Polar Challenge and was used by the Top Gear team as their destination; the Geographic North Pole is approximately 800 miles (1,300 km) further north.

On 9 September 2007, Top Gear participated in the 2007 Britcar 24-hour race at Silverstone, where the hosts (including The Stig) drove a race prepared, second hand diesel BMW 330d to come 3rd in class and 39th overall. The car was fuelled using biodiesel refined from crops shown during a tractor review in the previous series.

In 2008, the show was adapted into a live format called Top Gear Live. The tour started on 30 October 2008 in Earls Court, London, moving on to Birmingham in November then at least 15 other countries worldwide. Produced by former Top Gear producer Rowland French[12] the events were described as an 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".[13]

On 17 June 2008, in an interview on BBC Radio 1's The Chris Moyles Show, Hammond and May confirmed that in Series 11 there would be a new "occasional regular host".[14] This was revealed to be Top Gear Stunt Man. The series' executive producer, Andy Wilman, also revealed that future programmes will have less time devoted to big challenges:

"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 70s 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."[15]

Series 14, broadcast in autumn 2009, attracted criticism from some viewers, who perceived that the show was becoming predictable with an over-reliance on stunts and forced humour at the expense of serious content. On 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.[16] However, on 20 December, Andy Wilman admitted that the three presenters were now "playing to their TV cartoon characters a bit too much". He added, "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."[17]

Broadcasts

New episodes of Top Gear are broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two on Sunday evenings at 8:00 pm, unless sporting events such as snooker run into that time, in this case it is shown at 9pm or the week after. Each show is an hour in length with no interruptions for advertisements as the BBC is funded by the annual TV licence.

Repeats of earlier series are currently shown on Dave, cut to 46 minutes to allow it to fit in an hour-long slot while leaving room for advertisements. Since mid-October 2007 the channel Dave has begun showing new episodes of Top Gear only three weeks behind BBC Two. The new episodes are also shown in an edited 46-minute version. Top Gear has been broadcast in other countries either in its original format, in a re-edited version, or with specially shot segments in front of the UK audience. For example, Canvas, the Flemish public broadcaster, picked up the show after the success of the Top Gear: Polar Special programme. The BBC version of the programme is broadcast by RTÉ Two in Ireland. The BBC version is to debut on German television in 2010. The show will air in a dubbed format on Kabel Eins[18].

The BBC also broadcasts edited Top Gear programmes on its international BBC World TV channel. Episodes are shortened to 30 minutes, often leaving dangling references and inconsistencies. Additionally, the original transmission order is sometimes not adhered to, so references to un-aired events are common. The only footage specially shot for the international version is for the end of each episode, when Clarkson bids his goodbye to BBC World viewers, instead of BBC viewers. BBC America also broadcasts repeats of Top Gear, with two episodes shown back-to-back, but with segments edited to allow for commercials.

Recently, BBC World has changed from showing edited versions of the current series to "best of" collections of the previous series. In both cases the BBC World edition mainly features the challenges and races from the normal episodes, with Clarkson's 'stronger' remarks removed. Interviews and "Car of the Year" are generally not shown.

The show's episodes from Series 7, Series 10, Series 11, Series 12 and Series 13 are also available on iTunes. They are edited for content, often pixelating swear words and "bleeping" them out, but the timing indicates they match with the full BBC2 version (with the exception of Series 10, which use the version broadcast on BBC America with up to 10 minutes of content missing).

On 22 September 2009, the BBC confirmed that future episodes of Top Gear (from Series 14 onwards) would be filmed in high-definition and available to view on BBC HD.[1]

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Episodes

Charity specials

As of July 2008, Top Gear has produced three specials for Comic Relief. The first, titled Stars in Fast Cars, was broadcast on 5 February 2005, and starred Hammond and May as presenters, with Clarkson and five other British television personalities racing against each other. It spawned a short-lived series presented by Dougie Anderson.

The second was filmed for Comic Relief's Red Nose Day 2007 fund-raising event, and is titled Top Gear of the Pops. It mixed the show's typical format with music and appearances from artists Lethal Bizzle, Travis, Supergrass, and McFly, who were challenged to write a song including the words "sofa", "administration" and "Hyundai", which they later recorded and included as a B-side to their single "The Heart Never Lies". It concluded with a performance by Clarkson, Hammond and May with Justin Hawkins of "Red Light Spells Danger" by Billy Ocean.

The third, titled Top Ground Gear Force, was broadcast on BBC Two at 10:00 pm on 14 March 2008 as part of Sport Relief. This programme, which borrowed the Ground Force format,[19] saw presenters 'Alan Clarkmarsh', 'Handy Hammond' and 'Jamesy Dimmock May' undertake a one-day makeover of Olympic rower Sir Steve Redgrave's garden, an attempt that failed spectacularly.

Segments

Races

The show regularly features long-distance (or, as Clarkson refers to them, "epic") races.[20][21] These typically feature Clarkson (or one of the other presenters) driving a car against other forms of transport. The challenges usually involve Hammond and May taking the same journey by combinations of plane, train or ferry.

A number of smaller scale 'novelty' races have also taken place that demonstrate various strengths and, more often, weaknesses of cars. These races involve one of the presenters, in a carefully chosen car, racing head-to-head against an athlete in conditions that favour the latter. The programme has also featured a variety of small races, typically lasting a couple of minutes, that pit two similar cars against each other, for example, old and very powerful racing cars against new showroom cars.

Challenges

In the first few seasons, the series featured novelty challenges and short stunt films, typically based on absurd premises, such as a bus jumping over motorcycles (as opposed to the more typical scenario of a motorcycle jumping over buses) or a nun driving a monster truck. No stunt films appeared between series seven and ten, but series eleven saw the introduction of segments with an anonymous stunt man (credited as "Top Gear Stunt Man") performing car jumps.

Starting with series five, many of the show's challenges were introduced with the tag-line "How hard can it be?". These included challenges where the presenters attempt to build a convertible Renault Espace, being roadies for The Who, and participating in the Britcar 24-hour endurance race at Silverstone Circuit.

Starting with series four, one episode of each series has featured a film built around the premise of "Cheap cars", whereby the presenters are given a budget (typically around £1,500, but it has been between £100 and £10,000 depending on the type of car) to buy a used car conforming to certain criteria. Once purchased, the presenters compete against each other in a series of tests to establish who has bought the best car. The presenters have no prior knowledge of what the tests will be, although they typically involve long journeys to evaluate the cars' reliability and fuel economy, and a race track event to determine performance.

Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car

In each episode, a celebrity is interviewed by Clarkson. Then, they and the studio audience watch footage of the guest's fastest lap around the Top Gear test track. The times are recorded on a leader board. For the first seven series of Top Gear's current format, the car driven was a Suzuki Liana.

At the beginning of the eighth series, the Liana was replaced by a Chevrolet Lacetti. Consequently, as the Lacetti is more powerful, the leader board was wiped clean, which has allowed several celebrities to return, including Boris Johnson, now Mayor of London. The format for setting a lap time was also changed: each celebrity is allowed five practice laps, then a final timed lap. No allowance is made for any errors on this final timed lap. Clarkson hinted in the final episode of the fourteenth series that the Lacetti may be replaced with a new reasonably-priced car for the fifteenth series.

Ellen MacArthur set the fastest lap time in the Liana. As of the end of Series 14, Jay Kay is fastest in the Chevrolet Lacetti. His performance in the final episode of series 11 replaced Simon Cowell's at the head of the leader board. Brian Johnson of AC/DC was second with a time of 1:45.9 to Jay Kay's 1:45.8.

There have been several mishaps in the past with this feature. Sir Michael Gambon went around the final corner of the track on two wheels, prompting Clarkson to rename the corner in Gambon's honour. Lionel Richie and Trevor Eve each lost a wheel and David Soul destroyed the clutches of both the main car and the back-up car. Several celebrities have come off the track in practice, with Clarkson showing the footage to the audience.

There is a separate Formula One drivers' leader board, because of the considerable skill advantage F1 drivers have. The Stig is top of this board, but the presenters consider Lewis Hamilton's time to be more impressive; despite being set on a very wet and oily track, Hamilton's time was only three tenths of a second slower than The Stig's, which was set in dry conditions. In the past Clarkson has told drivers that they may deduct three seconds for a wet lap in the Suzuki Liana, making Hamilton's lap even more impressive. All Formula One times, even those set after the seventh series, are set in the Suzuki Liana.

Power Laps

Top Gear Test Track.

In the Power Laps segment, The Stig completes a lap around the Top Gear test track to gauge the performance of various cars.

The qualifications for the normal Power Lap Board are that the car being tested must be road-worthy, commercially available, and able to negotiate a speed bump[22] (sometimes referred to as a 'sleeping policeman'). There is a separate unofficial board of times for non-production cars, such as the Aston Martin DBR9 Le Mans racer.

Cars that have recorded ineligible lap times on the Top Gear track include the Renault F1 car, at fifty nine seconds (0:59.00), and the Caparo T1, at 1:10.6, both disqualified due to the sleeping policeman requirement, as well as the Ferrari FXX, at 1:10.7, which was disqualified for using slick tyres.

The fastest road-legal car that met the Power Lap requirements has been the Gumpert Apollo with a lap time of 1:17.1.

The Cool Wall

Introduced in the sixth episode of series one,[23] Clarkson and Hammond decide which cars are cool and which are not by placing photographs of them on to various sections of a large board, known as 'The Cool Wall'. The categories are, from left to right; "Seriously Uncool", "Uncool", "Cool", and "Sub Zero". According to Andy Wilman, the show's producer, any given car's coolness factor rested on various attributes that are not necessarily related to the quality of the car itself.[24] For example, Wilman suggests that "fashion cars" such as the Audi TT, PT Cruiser, Jaguar S-Type and Volkswagen Beetle are uncool because they "make a massive impact for five minutes and then look clichéd and vaguely ridiculous."[24] The following criteria appear to apply for different car manufacturers:

  • All Alfa Romeos are automatically cool.
  • Small European cars (Fiats, Peugeots, etc) are automatically cool — unless they win the European Car of the Year award, at which point they become seriously uncool. The presenters also consider the Fiat Panda to be way beyond Seriously Uncool because James May owns one.
  • 4x4s and SUVs are automatically Uncool, though the Hummer is considered cool because of its size and political incorrectness.
  • Supercars are almost always Uncool, though the latest Aston Martins have been put into the DB9 Fridge. Another exception is the Koenigsegg CCX, as it is 'scary' for having nearly killed The Stig during the power lap of the car on the Dunsfold track.
  • The Chris Bangle-designed BMW 3-series range of cars are considered so bland that their pictures have been left on the floor, rather than the Cool Wall (with the exception of the BMW M3).
  • Convertibles are usually cool, with the exception of the aforementioned Uncool '5 minute wonders', particularly the Chrysler PT-Cruiser convertible, which the presenters consider hideous.
  • Cars move depending on which 'cocks' are driving them — the presenters consider 'cocks' to be footballers, footballers' wives, those Clarkson describes as the 'televisual elite' and any other centre of attention for Britain's tabloid press. A case in point was the migration of 'the cocks' from the BMW M3 to the Audi RS4, and the repositioning of each car from the Seriously Uncool to Cool section of the wall, in their respective directions.
  • Cars which any of the three presenters (Clarkson, Hammond and May) own are automatically placed in the Seriously Uncool section of the board.
  • Cars which were previously owned by any of the three presenters, but have now been sold (such as the Ford GT, which was owned by Jeremy but since sold) can be moved back up the wall

On the show, Clarkson has stated that cars were deemed cool by the extent to which he believed they would impress actress Kristin Scott Thomas,[25] and later, BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce. Both have since been the celebrity guest for the Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car feature; when Scott Thomas appeared on the show in series nine, many of her own judgments on which vehicles were "cool" and "uncool" were the opposite to the show's verdicts (her own car being a G-Wiz, previously dubbed "uncool"). Later, when Bruce came on in series 11, her preferred choice of transport — a Citroen Picasso — visibly horrified Clarkson.

In the first episode of series four, a separate fridge section, the "DB9 Super Cool Fridge", on a table to the right of the board, was introduced after Jeremy declared that the Aston Martin DB9 was too cool even to be classified as "Sub-Zero". It initially contained just the DB9, but was eventually joined by the Aston Martin V8 Vantage in the seventh series. At the other end of the scale, James May's car — the Fiat Panda — was placed several metres to the left of the "uncool" side, on a banner at the back of the hangar.

This was partly due to an acknowledged rule by the presenters that cars owned by themselves cannot be considered cool. In series nine, Clarkson was forced to place the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder in the Uncool section because he had just bought one. He then revealed that he had sold his Ford GT, allowing him to move the car back into the Sub-Zero section.

The humour of this section often lies in Clarkson and Hammond disagreeing over which section a car should be placed in, with Clarkson nearly always winning the argument — sometimes by placing the car at the very top of the wall, preventing the much shorter Hammond from being able to reach it (although in the last episode of series 13 Hammond got his own back by using a scissor lift to place a Nissan 370Z in the Sub-Zero section, which was stopped by Clarkson pressing the emergency stop button, thus he could put the Pagani Zonda Cinque in the Seriously Uncool section). Clarkson sometimes uses more extreme methods such as burning the card depicting the car in question, or once even taking a chainsaw to the wall when Hammond dared to try and place a Ducati 1098 motorbike on the wall. Hammond has occasionally had his revenge: after a series of disagreements with Clarkson's choices, he snatched the card on which a BMW M6 was featured from Clarkson and then ran into the audience, leading to a fight between the two and to Hammond eating the card, preventing it from being used; or during series six, after Clarkson had slipped two intervertebral discs and was unable to bend down, Hammond ended an argument by placing the car in question at the bottom of the board.

The Cool Wall was mostly destroyed in the fire that occurred in August 2007 (reported, tongue in cheek, by Jeremy Clarkson as having been started by their Five rivals, Fifth Gear), and was not used during the subsequent tenth series. The burnt wall was present during episode 3 of series 10, when Hammond was testing the auto-parking Lexus LS 600 next to it. A new Cool Wall was introduced in the second episode of series eleven.

Unusual reviews

A common theme on Top Gear is an approach to reviewing cars which combines standard road tests and opinions with an extremely unusual circumstance, or with a challenge to demonstrate a notable characteristic of the vehicle.

This has included several reviews, including "Toyota Hilux Destruction", featured in series three, episodes five and six. Various methods were employed by Clarkson and May to try to destroy a fourth generation Toyota Hilux, thereby proving its strength. The 'trials' included dropping the Hilux from a crane, setting the vehicle on fire, driving it into a tree, leaving it out in the sea, dropping a caravan on it, slamming it with a wrecking ball, and finally having it hoisted to the roof of a tower-block that was subsequently demolished with explosives. The heavily damaged (but still driveable, without the use of any new parts) Hilux now stands on a plinth in the Top Gear studio.

Another such review featured a Ford Fiesta, after Hammond read out a letter from a viewer complaining that "Top Gear cannot review cars properly any more". Clarkson gave the model a sarcastic, but thorough, appraisal and was then pursued around Festival Place shopping centre in Basingstoke, Hampshire, by a Chevrolet Corvette C6. The Fiesta was then used as a beach landing craft with the Royal Marines.

Occasionally, many cars are featured and reviewed inside one segment. In the "Scooter Road Test Russian Roulette Challenge" of series six, episode nine, Hammond and May worked as ScooterMen[26] in order to road-test as many randomly-selected cars as possible, the catch being that they wouldn't know what they'd be road-testing and have to review the vehicles in the presence of the owners.

Exotic or foreign cars are occasionally also reviewed in unusual ways. In the "VIP Chauffeur" test of series eleven, episode six, May conducted road tests in Japan of the Mitsuoka Orochi and Galue, and used the Galue to chauffeur a Sumo wrestler and his manager to a tournament as a way to test if the car is "Japan's Rolls-Royce".[27]

During its release in 2008, the Dacia Sandero was frequently mentioned as a running gag in the show's News feature, with the presenters' increasingly sarcastic excitement highlighting their opinion that the car was of no real importance to anybody. James May would sarcastically say "Good News! The Dacia Sandero..." and it would follow with a pointless fact about the Sandero. In the first episode of series 14, the crew actually went to Romania, where Sandero is built. While there, Jeremy bought a Sandero for May, but it was promptly crushed by a lorry.

Also in series 14 Clarkson tested the Renault Twingo in Belfast following a complaint from one of the city's residents. Despite catching a cold on the ferry getting there, he admitted he loved the car. However, he did some rather strange things, including driving it "upside down" in the Belfast Sewage System. In a joke gag, Clarkson ended up driving the car into Belfast Lough after an attempt to land it on the HSS Stena Voyager after missing boarding times. Throughout the review it was revealed Ross Kemp was in the boot.

Significant cars

The programme occasionally celebrates anniversaries of notable vehicles, presenting short review films of non-contemporary cars to highlight why they are historically significant. These reviews are distinct from the various challenges involving old cars, because the subject matter is addressed in a more serious and factual manner. Reviews include:

Car Series & episode
Ford Escort RS1800 Series One, Episode Two
Citroën DS Series One, Episode Three
Bentley T2 Series Two, Episode One
Rover P5 Series Two, Episode Two
Jaguar Le Mans C-Type & Mark 2 Series Two, Episode Four
Triumph TR6 Series Two, Episode Five
GM HyWire Series Two, Episode Nine
BMW M1, M3 & M5 Series Three, Episode Two
Lamborghini Miura Series Three, Episode Four
Lamborghini Countach Series Three, Episode Four
Volkswagen Corrado
VR6 &
Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Cosworth
Series Three, Episode Five
Aston Martin V8 Vantage Series Three, Episode Six
Mercedes-Benz 280SL Series Three, Episode Eight
Aston Martin Lagonda Series Three, Episode Eight
Dodge Charger 440 R/T Series Four, Episode Three
Jaguar XJS Series Four, Episode Six
Rover V8 engine & Rover SD1 Series Four, Episode Eight
Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing Series Five, Episode Five
Maserati Biturbo & 250F Series Six, Episode Two
Maserati Bora Series Six, Episode Three
Aston Martin DB5 & Jaguar E-type Series Six, Episode Five
Ford Transit Series Six, Episode Seven
British racing green & Vanwall F1 Series Seven, Episode Two
Modern control layout Featuring:
Benz Motorwagen,
Royal Enfield quad bike,
De Dion-Bouton,
Ford Model T,
Cadillac Type 53,
Austin 7
Series Ten, Episode Eight
Ferrari Daytona Series Twelve, Episode Five
British Touring Car Championship Featuring:
Jaguar Mark 2,
Ford Falcon,
Chevrolet Camaro,
Ford Mustang,
Leyland Mini,
Ford Sierra RS Cosworth
Series Twelve, Episode Seven

Car of the Year

At the end of each autumn series the hosts present an award to their favourite car of the year. The only criterion for the award is that all three presenters must come to a unanimous choice. Winners have included:

Year Car
2002 Land Rover Range Rover
2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom
2004 Volkswagen Golf GTI
2005 Bugatti Veyron
2006 Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder
2007 Ford Mondeo or Subaru Legacy Outback
2008 Caterham Seven R500
2009 Lamborghini Gallardo LP550-2 Valentino Balboni

Car of the Decade

Decade Car
2000s Bugatti Veyron

Ownership survey

From 2003 to 2006, Top Gear conducted an annual survey which consults thousands of UK residents on their car-ownership satisfaction. The survey asks respondents to score cars on build quality, craftsmanship, driving experience, ownership costs, and customer care. While for legal reasons the survey is now conducted via the Top Gear magazine, the results are still used on the show. The survey, formerly undertaken in conjunction with J.D. Power, is now conducted by Experian. Based on these weighted criteria, the best and worst ranked cars from the survey are:

Year Best Ranked Worst Ranked
2003 Jaguar XJ[28] Volkswagen Sharan[29]
2004 Honda S2000 Mercedes M-Class
2005 Honda S2000 Peugeot 807
2006 Honda S2000 Peugeot 807

Ending credits

For the special episodes, the programme alters the end credits to reflect its locale, replacing everybody's first name with one reminiscent of the area. The first time this was done was for the "Winter Olympics Special"[30] episode, filmed in Lillehammer, Norway, where everybody was named Björn after Björn Ulvaeus, except for Hammond, May and The Stig, who took the names Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid as a reference to the other members of ABBA. The end credits of the American Road Trip episode in series 9 named Clarkson as 'Cletus Clarkson', Hammond as 'Earl Hammond Jr.', May as 'Ellie May May', The Stig as 'Rosco P. Stig' and replaced the first names of all other crew members with 'Billy Bob'.

Furthermore, in the Polar Special all first names in the ending credits were replaced with Sir Ranulph, in reference to the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who had also made an appearance early in the episode. In the African Adventure Special[31] all were called Archbishop Desmond, while for the Vietnam road trip special, everyone's first name was replaced with Francis Ford as a nod to the Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now.

The one regular episode where the credits were tampered with was the last episode of series 8. Reflecting the episode's main challenge, Clarkson, Hammond and May's first names were altered to those supposedly typical of van drivers; Lee, Wayne and Terry respectively.

Soundtrack

Top Gear has used an adaptation of The Allman Brothers Band's instrumental hit "Jessica" as its theme song since the original series started in 1977. The show used part of the original Allmans' recording of the song up until the late 1990s, but later series and the 2002 relaunch use updated cover versions.

During series 6, May hosted a segment showing nominations for the greatest song to drive to, the final list of ten was voted for by write-in nominations on the Top Gear website, the top five were then submitted for phone vote by viewers of the show. Songs in the top 10 were:

Rank Band Song
10 Fleetwood Mac "The Chain"
9 AC/DC "Highway to Hell"
8 Led Zeppelin "Immigrant Song"
7 Kenny Loggins "Danger Zone"
6 Motörhead "Ace of Spades"
5 Deep Purple "Highway Star"
4 Steppenwolf "Born to Be Wild"
3 Meat Loaf "Bat Out of Hell"
2 Golden Earring "Radar Love"
1 Queen "Don't Stop Me Now"

It included continual complaining from the presenters about the presence of "Bat Out of Hell" on the list (which was leading as of the selection of the top five) and its promotional segment included such visuals as cars being towed away and gridlocked streets. On the other hand, the equivalent "Don't Stop Me Now" segment was the exact opposite, featuring open roads and being described as "a joy" and "a song for life" in the voiceover.

In addition, pre-recorded film segments feature a variety of music clips. Along with classic, contemporary, post-rock and occasional dance tracks, excerpts from film and video game soundtracks are used, including Halo, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Gears of War, Back to the Future, The Matrix, The Guns of Navarone, The Battle of Britain, The Dark Knight, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Command and Conquer: Red Alert, Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

DVD and CD releases

Top Gear has released several collections of "driving songs" on CD. These releases started during the original series run in the 1990s (though this list only reflects releases made during the current presentation format).

Name Release date Notes
Top Gear: The Greatest Driving Album This Year! 10 November 2003 2-CD package
Top Gear: The Ultimate Driving Experience 14 November 2005 2-CD box set
Top Gear Anthems 2007: The Greatest Ever Driving Songs 21 May 2007 2-CD package. The first four tracks are selections from the top driving songs as decided in series six.
Top Gear: Seriously Cool Driving Music 12 November 2007 2-CD package
Top Gear Anthems: The Greatest December 2007 3-CD package, import
Top Gear Anthems 2008: Seriously Hot Driving Music 2 June 2008 2-CD package
Top Gear: Sub Zero Driving Anthems 17 November 2008 2-CD package
Top Gear: Seriously Rock 'N' Roll 2009 2-CD package

A number of DVDs have also been released.

Name Release date Notes
Top Gear: Back in the Fast Lane — The Best of Series 1 & 2 27 October 2003 Includes highlights from series 1 and 2.
Top Gear: The Best of Series Three and Four TG magazine (April 2004) Issued with Top Gear magazine, containing 33 minutes of footage from the third and fourth series, some of which was originally unbroadcast.
New Jaguar XK & Aston Martin V8 at the Ring TG magazine (May 2005) Issued with Top Gear magazine, an hour-long DVD narrated by Richard Hammond and presented by German Top Gear presenter Sabine Schmitz.
Top Gear: Revved Up 6 June 2005 Contains highlights from series 3–5, along with outtakes and other unbroadcast material.
Top Gear's 007: The Best Car Chases TG magazine (September 2005) Issued with Top Gear magazine, containing 37 minutes of clips from 13 James Bond films.
Top Gear: The Races TG magazine (March 2006) Issued with Top Gear magazine, containing 33 minutes of three Top Gear races featured during series 1–7.
Top Gear: Winter Olympics 5 June 2006 Contains Winter Olympics Special from series 7, outtakes and additional footage.
Top Gear: The Collection 18 December 2006 Contains Revved Up, Winter Olympics and Back in the Fast Lane.
Top Gear: The Challenges TG magazine (May 2007) Issued with Top Gear magazine, a compilation of Top Gear challenges.
Top Gear's Greatest Movie Chases Ever TG magazine (July 2007) Issued with Top Gear magazine, containing 45 minutes of clips from ten classic car chase movies.
Richard Hammond's Top Gear Interactive Challenge 12 November 2007 Interactive DVD presented by Richard Hammond, containing Top Gear-style quizzes, challenges and competitions.
Top Gear: The Great Adventures 3 March 2008 Includes the Polar Challenge (Director's Cut) and American Road Trip specials, featuring additional material and outtakes.
Top Gear: Planes, Rockets and Automobiles TG magazine (April 2008) Issued with Top Gear magazine and containing 45 minutes of clips mostly taken from The Challenges 2 DVD.
Top Gear: The Challenges 2 2 June 2008 Second compilation of Top Gear challenges, including outtakes and additional material.
Top Gear Polar Special: The Director's Cut 20 October 2008 Extended cut of the Polar Special, only available on Blu-ray Disc.
Top Gear: The Challenges 1 & 2 Collection 10 November 2008 Contains The Challenges and The Challenges 2.
Richard Hammond's Top Gear Interactive Stunt Challenge 14 November 2008 Interactive DVD presented by Richard Hammond, containing Top Gear-style quizzes, challenges and competitions.
Top Gear: The Great Adventures Vol. 2 23 March 2009 Includes Botswana and Vietnam Road Trip specials (the former in an extended cut), featuring audio commentary, deleted scenes and photos.
Top Gear: The Best of The Stig TG magazine (April 2009) Issued with Top Gear magazine, containing 60 minutes of footage.
Top Gear: The Complete Tenth Series 21 April 2009 Includes all ten episodes from the tenth series (only released in the US, Australia and Canada).
Top Gear: Collection 2.0 28 April 2009 Includes The Challenges Vol. 1 and The Great Adventures Vol. 1 (only released in Australia).
Top Gear: The Challenges 3 8 June 2009 A third selection of challenges, taken from series 10–12.
Top Gear: The Great Adventures Collection 16 November 2009 A box-set containing the previous four Great Adventures along with new bonus features.
Top Gear Uncovered: The DVD Special 16 November 2009 Presented by Richard Hammond and containing previously unbroadcast material.
Top Gear: The Complete Eleventh Series 12 January 2010 Includes all six episodes from the eleventh series (released in Australia, The US and Canada).
Top Gear: The Complete Twelfth Series 12 January 2010 Includes all seven episodes from the twelfth series and the Vietnam Special (released in the US and Canada).
Top Gear: The Great Adventures 3 22 March 2010 Includes The Bolivia Special and The Romania Special from Series 14 and Bonnivlle Special from Series 12.

Awards and nominations

In November 2005, Top Gear won an International Emmy in the Non-Scripted Entertainment category.[32] 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 since he was too busy writing the script for the show.

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.[33] 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 and 2008. 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.[34]

Top Gear presenters have also announced on the show 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.[35][36][37]

Criticism

Top Gear has often been criticised for content inside programmes by the public and Ofcom. Most of these 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) offensive remarks,[38] promoting irresponsible driving,[39] environmental issues,[40] ridiculing Germans[41][42] and homophobia[43] have generated complaints from people, groups, and government.

Clarkson himself has been critical of the BBC over handling of the programme. In the February 2006 issue of Top Gear magazine, Clarkson 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 show with snooker (which Clarkson labelled as "drunk men playing billiards"), despite Top Gear having considerably higher viewing figures.[44]

International productions

United States

In January 2006 the official Top Gear website ran a feature about the filming of an American version of the show, produced by the Discovery Channel.[45]

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 show would focus on American cars and include American celebrities.[46] The Sun reported in July, however, that plans for an American version had been shelved, partly over Clarkson's misgivings about spending several months in the U.S., away from his family.[47]

In June 2008, NBC announced it ordered a pilot episode for an American version of Top Gear, to be produced by BBC Worldwide America[48], and presented by television and radio host Adam Carolla, stunt driver Tanner Foust, and television carpenter Eric Stromer.[49] To date, NBC has not placed the programme on its schedule, holding it as a spring/summer season replacement.[50]

In February 2009, Jeremy Clarkson (while in Australia during an interview about the Top Gear Australia spin-off), commented that the U.S. version of the show had been "canned". He went on to say that the Americans "don't get it".[51]

In February 2010, it was announced that cable channel History had picked up the series and ordered between 10 and 12 episodes.[citation needed]

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 show, other than that it would have a distinct Australian style.[52] SBS ran a competition to find hosts for the show, 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.[53] James Morrison replaced Charlie for the second season of Top Gear Australia. Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson added, "I'm delighted that Top Gear is going to Australia."[54] 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! stations.[55]

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. Initially, 15 episodes were scheduled.[56] It was revealed on 20 December that the pilot, branded Top Gear: Russian Version, was filmed for broadcast on 22 February 2009.[57] The format is similar to its British counterpart, with three hosts: Nikolai Fomenko, Oscar Kuchera, and Mikhail Petrovsky.[citation needed]

References

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