It may not be a serious car show, but every fan of the road has watched at least one episode of Top Gear. This British television classic has wandered all over the world, testing out reasonably priced cars (not for anything you would need to know about them, mind you), pimping out Porsches, playing with supercars, letting celebrities loose on their infamous track, and occasionally blowing things up. Top Gear isn’t a show for gearheads so much as one for anybody who's ever wanted to just have some lighthearted fun with cars.
On the air since the ‘70s, Top Gear has changed significantly over the decades but is best known as being the series where Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May mess around with whatever cars they happen to have that week. Part talk show, part adventure show, and part race show, Top Gear is like nothing else, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Although the presenters have changed many times, Clarkson, Hammond, and May are still the true icons of Top Gear for most fans... and even superfans probably don’t know everything there is to know about the series! From the early days of Clarkson and cars, to the theme song, to the Stig, we’ve got fifteen things you probably never knew about Top Gear.
15The Producer Thinks The Viewers Are Childish
There are plenty of shows out there with producers who will rave about their fans, thanking them for supporting the production and for their loyalty. Not Top Gear, though. Andy Wilman, Executive Producer and someone who has worked on the series for over twenty seasons, caused a bit of a furor when he made some less-than-complimentary comments about his own show’s audience. In a 2014 interview with the Radio Times, Wilman said of recent episodes ‘almost everything we’d filmed was, once again, aimed at people with a mental age of nine’. However, he then went on to clarify that this isn’t meant as an insult (much as it may sound that way), but as a way to provide some escapism into a simpler, more childish kind of happiness, because ‘modern life for adults is, after all, bloody hard’.
1440% Of Fans Are Female
It’s certainly not what some might expect, but Top Gear has almost as many female fans as male ones. Despite being presented mostly by men, who are doing admittedly childish things with fast cars and big guns, Top Gear’s fanbase isn’t overwhelmingly male. In 2006, Top Gear’s Sunday slot nabbed it 36% of the male viewers in the 16-34 demographic, but 40% of the female viewers in the same range. While this doesn’t meant that a clean 40% of people who watch the show are female, it does mean that the viewership is fairly evenly split between the sexes, with plenty of women loving a little motoring escapism, too. It shouldn’t be that surprising, though - women enjoy fast cars, celebrities, and irreverent banter too.
13The Stig Was Originally Going To Be Called The Gimp
One of the fans’ favorite players in the Top Gear world is the Stig, a mysterious stunt driver who is used to test the cars out on the track - necessary because the actual presenters aren’t necessarily talented enough to put up the best possible times. The Stig’s identity is a ‘secret’, and he never shows his face on the show. In reality, there has been more than one Stig over the years, and the name was originally going to be something very different. Ex-Stig Perry McCarthy was approached by Clarkson to be a faceless racecar driver on the show, known only as ‘the Gimp’. Unsurprisingly, McCarthy told him he wouldn’t do it unless they changed the name to something less sexual.
12James May Was Fired For Hiding Rude Messages In Autocar Magazine
The three presenters are known for their childish sense of humor, and especially their refusal to take anything too seriously… including their work at other jobs, it seems! In the early 90s, James May was working for Autocar magazine, when he slipped a secret message into an end of year supplement called 'Road Test Year Book'. The supplement, which featured a range of articles, with the first letter of each one formatted in a large red print. May, who clearly found the project mind-numbing, arranged it so that these first letters spelled out ‘So you think it's really good, yeah? You should try making the bloody thing up; it's a real pain in the arse'. The supplement went to print, the message was noticed, and May was fired.
11A Bolivian Drug Lord Threatened To Kill Them
The Top Gear script editor, Richard Porter, released a book about the series in 2015 titled ‘And On That Bombshell’. The book revealed some never-before-heard stories from the filming of Top Gear, including one about the time that a drug lord threatened to kill them. In 2009, when filming the South American special, the crew were exhausted one night but unable to sleep thanks to the Bolivian drug lord having a loud and wild party. The producer actually went to ask him to turn it down (!), and unsurprisingly, that suggestion did not receive a positive response. Instead, he told the producer that if he so much as tried to turn the music down, the druglord would kill him. A fairly casual threat on his life, but a real one, nonetheless!
10Clarkson Met The Producer At The School He Was Expelled From
It shouldn’t be too much of a shocker to hear that Jeremy Clarkson wasn’t the best-behaved boy in school, growing up. He went to posh private school Repton, in Derbyshire, but was expelled for ‘drinking, smoking and generally making a nuisance of himself'… yup, sounds like Clarkson. Before he was expelled, however, he was friends with Andy Wilman, the future executive producer of Top Gear - a connection that undoubtedly helped him first land the job as Top Gear presenter. That’s not the only racing connection from Repton, either. The Stig’s name comes from a nickname for new kids at Repton, and Adrian Newey, chief technical officer of the Red Bull F1 team also attended the school at the same time.
9Hammond, Clarkson And May Voice A Video Game
The Forza racing game series for Xbox features some familiar voices for Top Gear fans, as the presenters of the show have lent their talents to various versions of the game. Starting with Forza Motorsport 4, Clarkson, Hammond, and May have all appeared in the game (or rather, their dulcet tones have), as has the Top Gear track. Comments from the presenters are heard when selecting cars, for example, lending a little humor to the racing game. However, after Clarkson was sacked from Top Gear after his very public spat with the production, he was also removed from the Forza games, so that Forza 6 included the Top Gear track but not the famous presenter. The recently released Forza 7 also ditched Hammond and May, with the only Top Gear voice coming from Charlie Turner, Editor-in-Chief of 'Top Gear Magazine'.
8Clarkson Is Nearly A Foot Taller Than Hammond
There are plenty of running jokes on Top Gear about the presenters, but one of the biggest (pun intended) is about the height difference between Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond. The teeny-tiny Hammond is referred to as the ‘Hamster’, and routinely made fun of for his height (all in good fun, of course), but did you know that he’s actually almost a foot shorter than his co-star? Clarkson is six foot four inches, while Hammond is only five foot five. That makes the Hamster a whopping eleven inches shorter than his co-host… no wonder it’s a running joke. James May, for those interested, clocks in at five foot nine, putting him neatly in between Hammond and Clarkson.
7The Track Was Designed By Lotus
The Top Gear track is a huge part of almost every episode, a racetrack designed to put any car (and driver) through its paces, with a series of intense and difficult turns. The presenters drive the track, of course, but they aren’t the only ones; TopGear’s resident professional driver, The Stig, takes cars out on the track as well, and celebrities are also allowed to let loose on it in order to try and beat previous celebs who have been interviewed on the show. It’s not just any old racetrack, though. Top Gear’s track was designed with the help of Lotus, who created the ‘Chicago’ corner, a steady state corner that is notoriously difficult to take.
6The Show Raised Nearly A Quarter Million For Air Ambulance
In a series where the presenters are routinely pulling dangerous stunts at incredibly high speeds, it’s no wonder that someone eventually got injured. In 2006, a stunt went horribly wrong when Hammond was trying to set a land-speed record in a jet propelled car. After one of the tires blew, Hammond was left in a coma for two weeks, leaving him with minor brain damage. There was some good that came from this horrific accident, however, as the news that Hammond had been taken to hospital in an air ambulance inspired fans of the show to raise money for Yorkshire Air Ambulance, who saved him. Nearly a quarter of a million pounds (230,000) was raised after the crash, allowing them to purchase a helicopter outright.
5The Theme Song Is By The Allman Brothers
Even if you have watched every episode of Top Gear, you may still not know the actual song that opens the show each time. The distinctive theme song is actually a version of ‘Jessica’ by The Allman Brothers Band, from their album ‘Brothers And Sisters’, released in 1973. Early episodes of Top Gear used the original recording of the song as their theme, before recording their own version that became the better known theme for the show. According the blog of an ex-employee of Top Gear, there was talk of changing the theme song during a revamp, but Jeremy Clarkson was having none of it, and demanded to keep Jessica on the show. The suggested new tune was heavily electronic and totally different, and we’re pretty happy that Clarkson put his foot down on that one.
4Clarkson Was Willing To Chauffeur A Tiger
Jeremy Clarkson is willing to do pretty much anything to make the show great (except tone himself down, of course…). EP Andy Wilman has revealed that he was even willing to be shut in a car with a Bengal tiger, without any kind of division between himself and the big cat. During one segment, they were filming a road test of the Range Rover Evoque in Death Valley, and decided that Clarkson should be acting as chauffeur. Wilman thought it would be ‘funny’ if it wasn’t an actual person being driven around, but a tiger - and Clarkson was apparently on board! It didn’t end up happening, but it seems that the presenter was happy to risk being mauled in a car in Death Valley, all for the ratings.
3Top Gear’s First Presenter Was Female
Given the number of Top Gear fans who are female, there have often been calls for better female representation on the show - a female host, female drivers, really anything to balance out the overwhelming maleness of the series. What many fans don’t realize is that the original Top Gear host was a woman: Angela Rippon. Rippon hosted the show for two seasons from 1978 to 1979. She’s not the only female on Top Gear, either. Top Gear has had over forty different presenters and reporters featured on it since it first launched, and many of these throughout the decades have been women. Although the golden trio tend to overshadow the others, they aren’t the only ones. Even the recently rebooted Top Gear features a female host: racing driver Sabine Schmitz.
2The Top Gear Track Has Been In A Bond Film
The Top Gear track doesn’t do race days or other big events (primarily because it is a figure eight, which is designed for solo drives, not multi-car races), but it does often appear in films and other TV shows when not in use for Top Gear itself. The track (and recognizable Dunsfold Aerodrome) have appeared in the Bond film Casino Royale (in 2006), as well as in The Da Vinci Code, and a range of other blockbusters. Some of these show the track as a racing track, while others use it as a backdrop for different car chase scenes, that can be filmed safely on the track, rather than an actual public road. However, unless the hangar in the background is pictured, you would never know which shots are filmed at the track.
1It Was The World’s Most-Watched Show In 2013
Top Gear has attempted to break various records over the years; official land speed records, and unofficial, more personal records and lap times. However, the show as a whole is also a record-breaker, as it rode into the Guinness Book Of World Records in 2013 as the most watched factual TV show in the entire world. At the time, Top Gear was watched in 212 territories around the globe, and in 2015 that grew to 214, with an estimated global audience of 350 million. Obviously, the show’s viewership has fluctuated over the years, but this record is no small feat for a series that started as a little BBC Midlands car program in the ‘70s. Unfortunately, however, since Clarkson left the series, it seems that viewership is plummeting - and may never reach this peak again.
Sources: The Telegraph, The BBC, The Examiner
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