Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article is about Top Gear, the television series. For the video game, see Top Gear (video game) and for the Radio 1 music show, see Top Gear (radio show).
Top Gear is a long-running BBC television series about cars, motorcycles and motorsport. When it started in 1977, it was initially not networked throughout Britain, hosted by BBC anchorwoman Angela Rippon.
Starting off as a fairly middle-of-the-road magazine show reviewing new car models and other car-related issues, such as road safety, it saw a massive boost in its audience in the early 1990s when it became more controversial, unashamedly petrolhead-oriented programme, fronted by Jeremy Clarkson. Among Clarkson's contemporary presenters were Quentin Willson, a former used car salesman, Tiff Needell, a keen racing driver, and Vicki Butler-Henderson, also a racing driver.
Despite enduring criticism that the show is overly macho, encourages irresponsible driving behaviour, and ignores the environment, under Clarkson's presentation it pulled in huge audiences. It became hugely influential with the motor manufacturers, since a critical word from the Top Gear team can spell disaster in the sales department; this was most memorable in the case of the Ford Ka, whose sales plummeted when Clarkson decided that "it looks like a frog". However, even more critical statements have not affected sales of the Toyota Corolla; and praise did not help the Alpine Renault A610 .
Every year since the early 1990s the team has named and shamed the worst (and the best) of the year's new cars in the J. D. Power Top 100 survey.
Top Gear has used the Allman Brothers Band song 'Jessica' as its theme tune for many years, so much so that many viewers are unaware that the track exists as a separate entity from the show. Originally the show used part of the orginal recording of the song, although in recent years (and as of the previous series in 2004) it has used a different recording which has different instruments and is not performed by the orignal artists.
After Clarkson left to pursue other aspects of his TV career, the show became more toned down, but still retaining something of its influence. The show's format has been widely imitated since the huge success of the mid-1990s, for example by Channel 4's Driven show, and ITV's Pulling Power. However, without Clarkson its audience fell from six million to under three million. In 2002, the show's remaining presenters moved to Channel Five with a virtually identical show called 5th Gear when the BBC decided to discontinue the show.
After a period of doing other programmes, Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman pitched a new format for Top Gear to the BBC, who consequently brought it back. The new format show, made at Dunsfold Park in Surrey, involves a standing studio audience with whom the presenters interact and with whom Clarkson often good-naturedly argues. There is also a "chat show"-type segment where Jeremy talks to a different guest each week and the video of their on-track performance in a Suzuki Liana is viewed (the subsegment being entitled 'Star in a Reasonably Priced Car').
The current presenters are Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. The credits also mention The Stig as a presenter, although he never speaks a word. As of May 2004, the new format show is in its fourth series.
Due to the good viewing figures of the new format show, it also seems to have been awarded an increased budget as there are several expensive experiments and trips into Europe and to America.
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