Top Gear (1977 TV series)
1993–1999 title screen
|Opening theme||"Jessica" - The Allman Brothers Band|
|Ending theme||"Out Of The Blue" (from Blue Moves) - Elton John|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||45|
|No. of episodes||515 (List of episodes)|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Picture format||PAL 4:3 (1977-1998)
720×576 anamorphic 16:9 (1998–2001)
|Original run||22 April 1977– 17 December 2001|
|Followed by||Top Gear|
|Related shows||Top Gear Motorsport|
Top Gear was a half-hour motoring show starting in 1977 on the BBC in the United Kingdom. It was long-lived, and followed by a revamped format starting in 2002, as well as a number of spin-offs, including versions made in the US and Australia.
The original Top Gear started as a monthly television series produced by BBC Midlands, based at Pebble Mill. The 30 minute programmes had a magazine format and were transmitted to viewers in the Midlands region only. Top Gear and its title, was conceived by Executive Producer Derek Smith. 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.
The first programme was broadcast on April 22, 1977, on BBC 1 Midlands at 2215. It was presented by Angela Rippon and Tom Coyne, who was front man of the local evening news programme, Midlands Today. In the first edition, Angela Rippon drove from Shepherd's Bush in London, to the Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham, reporting on driving conditions en route. Other items covered in the first programme were speed traps, fuel economy, strange new road signs and an interview with the Transport Minister. There were nine programmes in that initial series.
The BBC network took Top Gear  and it became a weekly 30 minute BBC2 programme on July 13. 1978. Derek Smith remained as Executive Producer, as did Angela Rippon as presenter along with co-presenter, Barrie Gill. In the first network series, seven of the ten programmes were sub-titled Rippon On The Road, featuring items such as Holiday Driving, Police Driver Training, the MOT test and a Search for a Female Rally Driver. Other items in that series covered drink driving, traffic jams, rust and corrosion, tachographs in lorries the Le Mans 24 Hour Race and the Motor Show.
For the second network series, again of ten programmes, Angela Rippon continued as main presenter. Reporters included Mike Dornan, and Judith Jackson plus Barrie Gill. Subjects covered included child car safety, tyres, CB radio, weighing lorries and junior grasstrack racing. Each week Noel Edmonds tested new cars, while Alec Jones, Chief Instructor of the Institute of Advanced Motoring set a driving problem. In one of the programmes, Noel Edmonds drove his Ford GT40 car round Silverstone.
In 1980, Noel Edmonds took over from Angela Rippon as presenter for two seasons. From 1980 on, a variety of reporters were regularly used including Sue Baker, Frank Page, and Chris Goffey. Other reporters included Gill Pyrah and Julia Bradbury. In 1981 William Woollard became the programme's main presenter. Phil Franklin and Brian Strachan joined the production team at this time.
The Top Gear team was also responsible for a number of other special programmes including coverage of the bi-annual British Motor Show, London Motorfair, and the Lombard RAC Rally. Its coverage of rallying was the only sport not controlled by BBC Sport in London for many years.
The show's opening theme music from the very first programme in 1977, was The Allman Brothers Band instrumental Jessica from their 1973 album Brothers and Sisters (although remixed versions were used after 1999). For much of the original series' lifespan, Elton John's instrumental "Out Of The Blue" from the 1976 Blue Moves album played over the closing credits. The opening and closing titles music were suggested to Executive Producer Derek Smith by his son, Graham who had the two albums at home. He played the tracks to his father and was asked to write down the details, so the tracks could be sourced from the BBC record library.
There continued to be two series through the 1980s of between seven and nine programmes each. In 1986, after producers Derek Smith, Phil Franklin and Brian Strachan left the programme, Tom Ross was the Editor of the programme from 1986 till 1991.
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.
Top Gear Rally Report followed the Lombard RAC Rally each November presented by William Woollard with Barrie Gill and Tony Mason among others. 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.
Despite enduring criticism that the show was overly macho, encouraged irresponsible driving behaviour and ignored the environment, the show pulled in huge audiences becoming BBC2's Top viewed programme with audiences over 5 million from 1988.
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, of 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.
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.
Demise and relaunch
Following many well-known presenters' departure in 1999/2000 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. In 2000, Jason Barlow, from Channel 4's Driven, joined the existing line-up for the final 53 episodes. The programme ran almost continuously between September 2000 and October 2001, and despite regularly being the most watched show on BBC Two, the channel decided the format needed to be dramatically refreshed. However a Top Gear special with Jason Barlow being the only remaining presenter - Vicki Butler-Henderson, Tiff Needell and Adrian Simpson having moved to Fifth Gear— was broadcast in 2002 with coverage of the 2002 Birmingham Motorshow from the NEC.
In 2001 the show was cancelled by BBC bosses in London only to be relaunched in a new one-hour-long, studio-based format made by the BBC in London one year later.
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 Channel 5 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).
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 idea came from producer Andy Wilman and Jeremy Clarkson, who presented the relaunched show with Richard Hammond and Jason Dawe. James May replaced 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.
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, presented by William Woollard, Sue Baker and Tony Mason, 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).
In 1991, when joyriding among British youths was at its peak, Top Gear featured a Joy Riding special. It included an interview with Tyneside woman Joan McVittie, who was actively involved in campaigns against joyriding after her 16-year-old son Mark Wren was killed when the stolen car in which he was passenger crashed in October 1990.
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.
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 Year
Each year, Top Gear announced their Car of the Year. Winners have included:
- 1997 – Ford Puma 1.7
- 1998 – Ford Focus Mk1
- 1999 – Fiat Multipla
- 2000 – Ford Mondeo
- 2001 – Toyota Picnic
- 2002 – Range Rover
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 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, Ford and Alfa Romeo.
Compact Disc Releases
- 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.
- 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).
- Vicki Butler-Henderson made a one-off appearance in 1994, and started presenting the show full time from 1997.
- Birmingham Post April 5th. 1977.
- Radio Times Midlands Edition. April 1977.
- 21 Years of Top Gear, presented by Kate Humble, BBC Two 2000
- Savage, Mark (2006-09-21). "Top Gear's Chequered Past". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
- IMDB – Jeremy Clarkson – Filmography by TV series
- "Application to register the trademark Top Gear" (PDF). Retrieved 2010-12-28.
- "Top Gear too fast for MPs". BBC News. 1999-11-09. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
- ICM Presenters:Brendan Coogan
- "Top Gear host quits after conviction". BBC News. 1999-07-14. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
- Emap Automotive Appoints Jason Barlow as Editor of CAR[dead link]
- "Top Gear Team Switch Lanes". BBC News. 2001-11-15. Retrieved 2010-12-28.
- "Top Gear". Top Gear. Series 37. Episode 09. 1997-02-27. 28:50 minutes in. BBC Two.