…Jeremy will be mildly offensive, James will wear a wooly jumper, and Hammond will indulge in some bad acting. But we’ll still love it.
BBC’s Top Gear began way back in 1977 as a fairly straight-laced motoring magazine, updating the great unwashed on the latest new cars and motoring news (remember; no internet in 1977!). The original show helped to launch the careers of many TV motoring journalists, including the brilliant Tiff Needell and Quentin Wilson, and of course a certain Mr. Clarkson and Mr. May.
Top Gear evolved during these first decades becoming more humorous and politically incorrect, helped largely by the arrival of Quentin and Jeremy whose reviewing style could make-or-break a new car. After a one particularly damning review Peugeot famously declared that they were removing all of their adverts from the BBC – but of course due to the unique way the BBC is funded, Top Gear and everything else broadcast contains no advertising at all anyway. Take that Peugeot!
In 2000 however, the BBC canned Top Gear and sold the production (but not the name) to Channel 5, and Fifth Gear was born. Most of the presenters moved across to the new show and we’ve had to read uninformed ‘This is Fifth Gear you dumb %$@£!’ comments on YouTube (when a video correctly shows old Top Gear) ever since.
The BBC held onto the name for good reason though. In 2002 Top Gear returned, with a new format, new presenters, and – for the first time – an actual studio! Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe fronted this first season, before Jason was replaced by James to give us the genius line-up that has been in place ever since.
Top Gear’s new format has proved wildly successful, with over 350million viewers from 170 countries tuning in every week. And that’s not counting the re-runs showing every hour on Dave.
Such success has led to mistakes though, as Top Gear has become less genuine and more scripted over the years in a quest to recreate past (naturally occurring) glories. It’s also given the presenters an opportunity to make other programmes, and ‘Richard Hammond’s 5 O’Clock Show’ is an abomination that will be forever etched into a dark corner of the televisual hall-of-shame. Thankfully it only lasted a month, and James May’s independent presenting more than makes up for Hammond’s. James even built a house out of LEGO.
So what next for Top Gear? Well there are now live arena shows once a year, spin-offs for Australia, Russia, Korea, America and others, a new DVD each Christmas, and there’s a whole world of slightly crap merchandising. Andy Wilman (Top Gear’s producer) admits the show – at least in its current format – is probably nearer to the end of its life than the start, but we expect to keep watching for little a while yet. Onwards to season 22!
All of the photos in this post were produced by the exceptionally talented Stephan Sander, who has lovingly recreated Jeremy, James and Richard in brick form. He’s also constructed superb Lego models of Jeremy’s Citroen Motorhome, a trio of Jaguar E-Types, three Ferraris, three Lotuses and the famous Top Gear studio – complete with a wonderfully diverse audience! We highly recommend a trip to Stephan’s MOCpage to see all the photos. Back to the studio…