Top Gear (known as Old Top Gear when mentioned on the present version of the show) was a car-based BBC television series produced by BBC Birmingham, broadcast from 1977 to 2001. It consisted of 30-minute magazine format programmes presented by a number of people, including Angela Rippon, Noel Edmonds, William Woollard, and latterly Jeremy Clarkson.

(A Top Gear special, with Jason Barlow being the only remaining presenter, with Vicki Butler-Henderson, Tiff Needell and Adrian Simpson having moved to Fifth Gear, was broadcast in 2002 with coverage of the Birmingham Motorshow.)

In 2002, the show was relaunched in a new one-hour-long, studio-based format.


Top Gear started in 1977 as a local programme made by BBC Birmingham (Pebble Mill) who offered it to BBC2.[1][2] Presenters included Noel Edmonds and William Woollard, with contributions by Frank Page, Sue Baker, Tony Mason and Chris Goffey. The show's theme music was "Jessica" by the Allman Brothers, although remixed versions were used after 1999. For much of the original series' lifespan, Elton John's instrumental "Out Of The Blue" (from the Blue Moves album) played over the closing credits. According to its original producer, David Lancaster, the idea for the name came from the unrelated radio series Top Gear.[3]

Originally, Top Gear was a magazine show reviewing new car models and other car-related issues such as road safety. Other features included classic car events and motorsport, the latter often rallying with Tony Mason, Roger Clark's co-driver. In 1987, Jon Bentley (now a presenter on Five's Gadget Show) became producer and editor. Bentley added former Formula One driver Tiff Needell to the programme, and Performance Car Magazine journalist Jeremy Clarkson in late 1988[4] and the programme saw a massive boost in its audience as it became a more humorous, controversial, and unashamedly more critical show. Between 1988 and 1991, the programme organised a competition each year to find a new rally driver with the prize being entry into that year's RAC Rally.[5] In 1991, William Woollard left the show. Around the same time, Quentin Willson, a former used car salesman, joined. The 1990s also saw the addition of a new female presenter, Michele Newman, who still appears on ITV's Pulling Power. Other presenters included Steve Berry, whose speciality was motorbikes, and racing driver Vicki Butler-Henderson, who joined in 1997.

Among the show's producers were Phil Franklin, Brian Strachan, Jon Bentley and Ken Pollock. Executive producers were Derek Smith, Dennis Adams and Tom Ross.

Despite enduring criticism that the show was overly macho, encouraged irresponsible driving behaviour [6] and ignored the environment, under Clarkson's presentation the show pulled in huge audiences. It became hugely influential with motor manufacturers, since a critical word from the Top Gear team could have a severe negative effect on sales. One such example is the original Vauxhall Vectra which Clarkson said: "I know it's the replacement for the Cavalier. I know. But I'm telling you it's just a box on wheels." However, even more critical statements have not affected sales of the Toyota Corolla and extreme praise did not help the Renault Alpine GTA/A610.

Demise and relaunchEdit

Following Jon Bentley and Jeremy Clarkson's departure in 1999 the Top Gear audience fell from a peak of six million to under three million. Initially, James May took over Clarkson's spot, presenting reviews of the Rover 75 and Lexus IS200, for example. Following Clarkson's departure, the programme was jointly presented by Quentin Willson and Kate Humble, who ran an ongoing test throughout the programme between reports. Brendan Coogan (who had joined in 1998), left the show a year later after being convicted of drunk driving.[7][8] In 2000, Jason Barlow joined from Channel 4's driven, and joined the existing line-up for the final 53 episodes.[9] The programme ran almost continuously between September 2000 and October 2001, and despite regularly being the most watched show on BBC2, the channel decided the format needed to be dramatically refreshed. However a Top Gear special—with Jason Barlow being the only remaining presenter with Vicki Butler-Henderson, Tiff Needell and Adrian Simpson having moved to Fifth Gear—was broadcast in 2002 with coverage of the 2002 Birmingham Motorshow at the NEC.

In 2002, Channel 5 launched Fifth Gear, a car show featuring many of the former Top Gear presenters including Tiff Needell, Quentin Willson and Vicki Butler-Henderson. The show was produced by former Top Gear producer, Jon Bentley. While most of the production team moved from the BBC to Five to create Fifth Gear, Jason Barlow was still under contract to the BBC and went on to front the new programme "Wrong Car, Right Car", which ran for two series and 23 episodes. The name change to "Fifth Gear" was required as the BBC would not relinquish the rights to the Top Gear name (the corporation was—and still is—publishing Top Gear magazine).[10]

After the first series of Fifth Gear was completed, the BBC decided to relaunch Top Gear, but in a new studio-based format as opposed to the magazine format used until the cancellation. The show was again presented by Jeremy Clarkson, joined by Richard Hammond, and Jason Dawe. James May replaced Jason Dawe from the second series onwards of the current format. The pre-cancellation show is referred to as "Old Top Gear" when mentioned on the new show due to the differences in style.


Top Gear was a title sponsor of the 1987 and 1988 Formula One "Winter Series", the 1990 and 1991 Historic Rally Championships and the 1992 and 1993 British Rally Championships.[5]

Due to the success of the main show, other motoring shows on the BBC also carried the Top Gear name including coverage of the British Motor Show, a show dedicated to motorsport, presented by Tiff Needell, Top Gear Motorsport and the Lombard RAC Rally highlights show Top Gear Rally Report. In September 1993, a spin-off magazine, Top Gear Magazine, was launched, featuring articles and columns from the presenters and additional contributors. The magazine has become the UK's best selling car magazine (as of August 2006).

During the 1990s, Top Gear had a radio spin off, the Top Gear Radio Show, presented by Steve Berry, and available on BBC Radio Five Live.[11]

Since the early 1990s, the annual Top Gear J. D. Power Top 100 survey has consulted thousands of UK residents on their car-ownership satisfaction. For legal reasons concerning the non-commercial nature of the BBC, the actual consultation is now restricted to the magazine format, although the results are still used on the show. The survey is now conducted by Experian.

The Top Gear video game was not associated with the BBC TV series and the BBC won a court case blocking its creators from obtaining a trademark for it.[5]

After Top Gear's success in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a number of competing programmes were introduced, including Channel 4's driven, ITV's Pulling Power, Granada's Vroom Vroom and BBC World's India's Wheels. Some of the presenters on Driven would go on to present Top Gear.

Car of the YearEdit

Each year, Top Gear announced their Car of the Year. Winners have included:

Car surveyEdit

From 1994, the magazine conducted a customer satisfaction survey that was published every April to reveal how satisfying certain cars were to own. The results were announced on the programme, though the full details were only included in the magazine.

The Toyota Corolla was winner of the first four surveys, with the Subaru Impreza winning the survey in 1998 and 1999, and the Subaru Legacy in 2000 and 2001.

The lowest-ranking cars in the surveys were the Vauxhall Frontera in 1994, Ford Escort in 1995, Lada Samara in both 1996 and 1997, Vauxhall Vectra in 1998, Ford Galaxy in 1999 and the Vauxhall Sintra in 2000 and 2001.

In 1998, Škoda was rated as the most satisfying brand of car in the survey and these findings made the headlines—just a few years earlier, the brand had been the butt of many jokes about the sub-standard design and quality of earlier cars. The Japanese manufacturers—particularly Subaru, Toyota, Honda and Mazda—also received high ratings in Top Gear surveys. Similar praise went to BMW, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Volvo. In contrast, many marques received heavy criticism in the surveys—particularly Lada, Fiat, Vauxhall, Peugeot and Alfa Romeo.

Compact disc releasesEdit

  • Top Gear (1994). 2 CD Package. 35 Tracks.
  • Top Gear 2 (1995). 2 CD Package. 36 Tracks.
  • Top Gear 3 (1996). 2 CD Package. 29 Tracks.
  • Top Gear - Comedy Hits (1995). 2 CD Package. 35 Tracks.
  • Top Gear - On The Road Again (1996). 2 CD Package. 36 Tracks.
  • Top Gear - Anthems (1998). 2 CD Package. 38 Tracks.
  • Top Gear Classics - Turbo (1995). 1 CD. 17 Tracks.
  • Top Gear Classics - Baroque Busters (1995). 1 CD.
  • Top Gear Classics - Open Top Opera (1995). 1 CD.
  • Top Gear Classics - Motoring Moods (1995). 1 CD.

VHS releasesEdit

  • 1994 - Super Cars. Presented By Jeremy Clarkson And Tiff Needell (62 min).
  • 1994 - Classic Cars. Presented By Quentin Willson (65 min).
  • 1997 - Fast & Furious. Presented By Jeremy Clarkson And Tiff Needell (77 min).
  • 1998 - Classic Cars: Aston Martin. Presented By Jeremy Clarkson (45 min).
  • 1998 - Classic Cars: Porsche. Presented By Tiff Needell (45 min).
  • 1998 - Classic Cars: Ferrari. Presented By Chris Goffey (45 min).
  • 1998 - Classic Cars: Jaguar. Presented By Quentin Willson (45 min).
  • 1999 - Top Gear: 21 Years. Presented By Kate Humble, preproduction/promotional release (29 min).
  • 2000 - Fast & Furious II. Presented By Tiff Needell, With Clarkson, Willson And Butler- Henderson (72 min).

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

Template:Top Gear

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