This is a long but excellent read – the history and behind the scenes of TOP GEAR – the greatest TV show ever!! If you do not watch Top Gear on BBC – start immediatly; after reading this entire article
[ via The Gaurdian / autoblog ]
Top Gear isn’t just a TV show: it’s a phenomenon. With its ludicrous stunts, enormous budgets and defiantly non-PC edge, it’s become a global smash hit. What is the secret to its success?
In 1977, the television equivalent of a beige Austin Allegro trundled on to our screens. With its quaint name and features about road safety, Top Gear undertook the serious business of reviewing new cars. In the years since, however, this Allegro of the airwaves has undergone a transformation every bit as dramatic as the family car, exploding into a colourful, snarling great SUV of a television programme.
Top Gear has in fact taken over the world. It is now broadcast in more than 100 countries, claiming a global audience of 350 million. It is the most illegally downloaded show on the planet. Its format, which its makers describe as “crap men adventures with crap cars”, has turned three shabby, middle-aged motoring journalists into global rock stars. This month not only sees a new series but a world tour, Top Gear Live, which will take the show to cities including Sydney, Cape Town, Hong Kong and Amsterdam.
Top Gear is not simply BBC2′s highest rating programme; it is a phenomenon. Schoolboys and teenage girls flock to public appearances by its presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. Even environmentally conscious viewers get guilty pleasure from its ludicrous stunts filmed with enormous budgets. And it’s political: it kicks against what it sees as New Labour’s nanny state (a Downing Street website poll demanding Clarkson become prime minister attracted nearly 50,000 signatures) and does everything in its power to provoke the politically correct sensibilities of the BBC. Barely a month passes without the show crashing into controversy, with Ofcom rulings on its jokes about prostitutes and suicide, and accusations that it is sexist, environmentally reckless and glamorises speeding.
To properly understand the show in its current format you have to go back – perhaps unsurprisingly – to school. It was at the public school of Repton, almost 40 years ago, that a boy called Andy Wilman befriended a fellow boarder with “a massive gob, really bad music taste and massive hair – the full Leo Sayer”: the teenage Jeremy Clarkson. The pair ended up working together on Top Gear, and according to Wilman, now the executive producer of the show, their schooldays have been a profound influence on the revamped model: the presenters behave as if they are still at school and are celebrated and condemned alike for their puerile sense of humour.
The arrival of the motormouth Clarkson in the late 80s shook up strait-laced Top Gear, but audiences declined after he departed in the late 90s. Wilman, a burly, sweary 47-year-old who, when we meet is frantically stitching together the new series in an edit suite in Soho, was actually sacked from the old model Top Gear in 1999. The show looked “fucking old-fashioned” next to new formats such as Changing Rooms, he says now, and after it was finally axed in 2001, he and Clarkson got together over a pub lunch to draw up a manifesto for a brand new Top Gear.
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