It seemed topical so we thought this post might be interesting.  It’s future at this point is not clear, but Top Gear is British television institute about motor vehicles, primarily cars, and is the most widely watched factual television programme in the world.

Many people forget that there have been 67 series to date comprising 689 episodes (this includes 11 specials).  There have also been many presenters over the years.

Early Years

Top Gear started in 1977 as a monthly television series produced by BBC Midlands.  The programme took a magazine style format and initially was transmitted to viewers in the Midlands region only.

The programme covered motoring related issues such as new car road tests, fuel economy, safety, the police, speeding, insurance, second-hand cars and holiday touring.

Presented by Angela Rippon and Tom Coyne, (who was front man of the local evening news programme, Midlands Today), series one ran for nine episodes.

In 1978 the BBC launched the show accross it’s entire network.  Still running for thity minutes, same presenters, different channel now airing weekly on BBC2 where it still airs.  The series ran for ten episodes.  In 1979 Noel Edmunds joined testing new cars, he joined Angela Rippon as presenter for two series in 1980.

Moving On

The show stayed prety much unchanged until 1987, by which time many presenters had come and gone along with the production team.

In 1987, Jon Bentley (more recently a presenter on Channel 5 TV show about technology, The Gadget Show) became one of the show’s producers along with Ken Pollock. In this period new presenters were added including former Formula One driver Tiff Needell, Tom Boswell, Tony Mason and Performance Car Magazine journalist Jeremy Clarkson in late 1988 and the programme saw a massive boost in its audience as it became a more humorous, controversial, and unashamedly more critical show.

By 1988 Top Gear was pulling in weekly audiences of over five million each week and had become BBC2’s most popular programme.

1990’s and Demise

In 1991, the then Editor Tom Ross and the main presenter William Woollard left the show. Around the same time, Quentin Willson, a former used car salesman, joined the team. The 1990s also saw the addition of a new female presenter, Michele Newman, who appeared on ITV’s Pulling Power. Other presenters included Steve Berry, whose speciality was motorbikes, and racing driver Vicki Butler-Henderson, who made a one-off appearance in 1994, and started presenting the show full-time from 1997.  It seemed the show could do no wrong, as audinces continued to grow.

However in 1999/2000 following many well-known presenters’ departure the audience fell from 6 million to under 3 million.  In 2001, Clarkson departed and the BBC decided that the show, despite still being BBC2’s most watched, needed refreshing and so it was cancelled.

All New Top Gear

In 2002 the BBC relaunced the show.  The idea for a new format had come from former host Jeremy Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman.  The new Top Gear studio is located at the Dunsfold Aerodrome, an airport and business park in Waverley, Surrey. Top Gear uses a temporary racing circuit which was designed for the programme by Lotus and is laid out on parts of Dunsfold’s runways and taxiways.  A large aircraft hangar is used for studio recording with a standing audience.

The new format apart from location incorporated a number of changes from the old series.  A studio audience, extended runnimng time to one hour, 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, the regular destruction of caravans, and occasionally Morris Marinas, which cannot appear on the programme without being destroyed (most commonly by a piano landing on the roof).

Presented initially by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe.  Dawe was replaced in the second series of the new format by James May.

The show continued it’s successful run until in March 2015 the BBC announced the suspension of Clarkson over an altercation with a member of the production team, it also meant that the final two sows of the series were cancelled.  On 25th March 2015 it was announced by BBC director general Tony Hall that Jeremy Clarkson’s contract would not be renewed.





Channel: BBC1 (series 1), BBC2 (series 2 onwards)
Original transmission Dates:
22nd April 1977 – 17th December 2001) (original format)
20th October 2002 – present (new format)

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