Top Gear may try and sell itself as a factual show about cars, but nowadays it’s so much more than that. It’s one of TV’s most recent phenomenons.
For years, it went down this path, full of consumer advice and road tests. Launched in 1977, the show became the by-word for the ‘magazine show’, a trusted source of news and information for decades.
The show went through a string of presenters, but it was in the 1990s when the show hired a controversial presenter by the name of Jeremy Clarkson that the show hit its peak. With his ‘shock-jock’ style of presenting and anarchic sense of humour, Clarkson injected fresh life into the show and made it as popular as it had ever been.
When he left in 1999 though, the show’s ratings plummeted and the BBC called time on the long running series.
Three years later, Clarkson was back to re-launch the show as something entirely different. Now twice as long, based in a studio and with a n incredibly conversational style, this new version of Top Gear was an instant hit. When James May joined hosts Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson for the second series onwards, the show just rocketed in popularity.
The chemistry between the trio of hosts is what keeps the audience coming back again and again. It’s one of the hardest things to create in a hosting team, yet Top Gear effortlessly pulls off the trick. Watching three friends prat about in cars is far, far more enjoyable than watching three people try and force the fun.
Without those three central presences though, the show would be a pale imitation of what it has now become, as Channel 5 discovered when they tried to retrofit the same style onto their show Fifth Gear with tragic consequences.
The show also knows how to make the experience fun and varied though, with a brilliant vaiety of challenges thrown at them. Be it building a car in less time than it takes The Stig to drive from London to the Knockhill race circuit in Scotland to driving across America is a group of terrible jalopies or playing conkers with caravans, the show always manages to make new avenues of fun.
That’s the crucial word when it comes to Top Gear. The fun quality of the show is what drives it on (to excuse the terrible pun) and makes it not only enjoyable to car lovers, but to those without a deep and committed love to limited slip differentials and oversteer.
It’s that crossover appeal that the show has made it into one of the BBC’s most exported shows, with 170 different counties broadcasting the show and a supposed 350 million people tuning in to see the travails of Clarkson, Hammond and May. Heck, the UK channel Dave built their entire schedule around repeats of the show.
And if being the cornerstone for an entire channel isn’t enough of a commendation for a show, then we don’t know what is.
Top Gear returns to our screens on January 27th on BBC Two.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith