It's hard to imagine that Top Gear used to be just another boring and informative car show. What's even more incredible is the fact that Clarkson and company actually managed to turn that car show into one of the most popular TV shows in the world. With the humor, put-downs, anti-Euro remarks, and anti-US views the hosts offered in addition to the car tests, the show quickly became a hit.
There were so many things that had to be right in order for Top Gear to become the success it was towards the end of the Clarkson-Hammond-May era. While it is impossible to get everything right every time, they were helped out by being way funnier when they got it wrong—whether it was intentional or not.
Sadly, what made the show so great was also the very thing that got it into so much trouble. It turns out that non-apologetic, zero-percent political correctness approach isn't everyone's idea of a good time. As the BBC tried to put restraints on Clarkson, they also had to factor in that Top Gear was their biggest cash cow. However, after the fracas, BBC decided against renewing Clarkson's contract and the greatest car show known to man was shelved.
These days, Top Gear consists mostly of the on-screen bromance between Matt LeBlanc and Chris Harris, with Rory Reid acting like some cool kid who is only allowed to drive minivans and hatchbacks. But before the changeover ever happened, there were many hilarious incidents that almost got the show canceled.
24 The 'Fracas'
In March 2015, the BBC announced Jeremy Clarkson had been suspended for a 'fracas' and that the remaining episodes of the series would not be broadcast. Apparently, Clarkson punched a member of the Top Gear staff for not having his dinner ready after a long day of filming. In response to his suspension, more than 1,000,000 people signed an online petition to try to get the BBC to reinstate Clarkson. Later, the BBC announced that they would not renew Clarkson's contract, which finished at the end of March 2015, so he was actually never fired, technically. Top Gear wasn't canceled, but did receive new hosts.
23 The Stig Gets Hit
One day, Ben Collins revealed that he was, indeed, The Stig, which led to one of the most controversial incidents ever to occur on Top Gear. In the "USA Road Trip" special, the presenters branded The Stig a traitor and James May even declared the Stig's true name to be Judas Iscariot. In a challenge mimicking a drive-by, the targets used were cardboard cut-outs of The Stig, and Hammond took special care to shoot The Stig in the back. The drive-by scene led to more than 7,000 people calling Ofcom to complain.
22 The Sloped Bridge
The Top Gear presenters drove across Burma and Thailand in trucks, with the end purpose of building a bridge over the river Kwai...and things didn't quite go as planned. They ended up building a bridge over the Kok River and when it was finished, Clarkson said: "That is a proud moment, but there's a slope on it." After receiving a lot of criticism, Top Gear Executive Producer Andy Wilman responded, claiming they were not aware that the word slope is considered to be offensive, as it's not widely recognized in the UK.
21 Bad Rhymes
There was an unaired version of Jeremy Clarkson reviewing the Toyota GT86/Scion FR-S and the similar Subaru BRZ. In this video, he uses the "eeny, meeny, miny, moe" rhyme to pick between the two cars. Apparently, the original version of this rhyme included quite an offensive word, and Clarkson mumbled through that part of the rhyme. In the aired version of the review, Clarkson switched the word and says 'teacher' instead. He was accused by the Daily Mirror to have said the original rhyme, and after first denying it, once video evidence surfaced, Clarkson issued an apology. Many public figures called for Clarkson to be fired and it ultimately resulted in a 'final warning' from the BBC regarding racist remarks.
20 Every Chris Evans Episode
The show received widespread criticism after Jeremy Clarkson's contract wasn't renewed, which also resulted in the departure of James May and Richard Hammond. The criticism grew stronger after the first episode hosted by Chris Evans was aired, with the new show deemed sub-standard by Top Gear fans. The new cast didn't fit together at all, and everything seemed awkward and fake. BBC eventually got rid of the shrieking Evans, as well as Sabine Schmitz and Eddie Jordan. The show is now hosted by Matt LeBlanc, Chris Harris, and Rory Reid—and it's a massive improvement.
19 Controversy In Germany
During a news segment featuring BMW's Mini concept, Hammond referred to the Mini as being, "Quintessentially British." Clarkson responded by mocking the car, saying they should build a car that's, "Quintessentially German." He suggested turn signals that displayed salutes, "A sat-nav that only goes to Poland," and a "Fanbelt that will last a thousand years." Of course, the government of Germany didn't have a positive reaction to this, and there was plenty of viewers complaining to the BBC Board of Governors. The BBC Governors’ Programme Complaints Committee rejected the protests, saying Clarkson only did it to entertain the audience, not to stir things up with Germany.
18 Controversy In Romania
While driving through the countryside of Romania, Clarkson commented on Romania as being, "Borat country, with gypsies and Russian playboys." The Borat movie wasn't received well in Romania, and newspapers claimed Clarkson's comments were "offensive" and "bad publicity for their country." Clarkson also commented, "I'm wearing this hat so the gypsies think I am another gypsy." The ambassador from Romania sent a letter to the producers of Top Gear mentioning his appreciation for the show but also asked for the show to be re-edited for future showings to exclude the offensive material.
17 The Mexican Comment
The BBC was forced to apologize to the ambassador from Mexico after a joke about the Mastretta MXT. May introduced the car as "The Tortilla" and Hammond said the car reflected national characteristics, claiming they were, "Just going to be a lazy, feckless, flatulent oaf with a mustache, leaning against a fence asleep, looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat." May then described the food as "refried sick with cheese on it" and Clarkson predicted they would not get any complaints about the show because the ambassador would be too lazy to do anything about it. He was wrong, and they received a very angry letter from the ambassador of Mexico.
16 Incredible India Incident
After Clarkson made some controversial remarks about India's food, clothing, trains, and history, the BBC received a whole bunch of complaints from viewers. At one point, Clarkson had made fun of the lack of sanitation for poor residents by driving around slums in a Jaguar fitted with a toilet on the back. "This is perfect for India because everyone who comes here gets stomach problems". Another joke involved putting banners with seemingly innocuous slogans on the side of Indian trains. However, when the train cars split, the banners would tear and turn into a new, offensive phrase.
15 The Damaged Tree
While trying to destroy a Toyota Hilux, Clarkson crashed it into a tree. Nothing out of the ordinary there, but the tree belonged to the Churchill Parish in Somerset and the villagers there believed that the damage had been accidental, or that someone had vandalized it... until the Top Gear episode was broadcasted. Once the gentle folk of Churchill Parish learned what had really happened, they were not too pleased. The BBC was contacted and the director of Top Gear admitted guilt, the whole thing ended when the broadcaster paid out compensation.
14 Mentally-Disabled Comments
The BBC was forced to apologize to a number of Top Gear viewers after some comments made during the first episode of Season Nine. Hammond had just returned to the show after his 230-mph crash, and Clarkson asked: "Are you now a mental?" This was followed by James May offering Richard Hammond a tissue "in case he dribbled". The BBC claimed the comments were meant as a joke but also said they realized how the comments could cause offense to those viewers who are mentally disabled or brain-damaged.
13 Train Crash Reconstruction
Jeremy Clarkson's reconstruction of a train crash that occurred in Hibaldstow was criticized due to its insensitivity regarding the Cumbria train crash that occurred two days earlier. The reconstruction was organized by Network Rail as part of its Don't Run The Risk campaign, but the chief executive of Passenger Focus said, "We need to raise awareness of the issue, but now is not the right time." The segment had already been delayed several times due to an earlier fatal crash. The BBC defended their decision to broadcast the episode, claiming that the frequency of level crossing accidents could mean there would never be an "appropriate" time to show it without offending someone.
12 Truckers Are Killers
Once again, it was Clarkson who was criticized, this time for making a joke regarding lorry drivers (truckers) killing women of ill repute. Ofcom received over 500 complaints but said the remark was not in breach of the broadcasting code. Afterward, Labour Member of Parliament Chris Mole wrote a harsh letter to the BBC, saying that Clarkson should be sacked regarding the remarks. In response to the complaints, Clarkson announced he would apologize but later revealed that he was apologizing for not posting the lap time of a car on the previous episode.
11 Scirocco TDI Ads
Clarkson and May were supposed to create a new advertisement for the Volkswagen Scirocco. And as we've all come to expect from the Top Gear trio, it went wrong.
One of their ads saw crowds of people leaving Warsaw in terror on buses and trains because of the imminent German invasion of Poland. Then, at the end of the advert, Clarkson announced "Volkswagen Scirocco TDI: Berlin to Warsaw in one tank." The advert was uploaded to the internet, resulting in angry comments from Polish viewers. Complaints were also received for the remake of a VW commercial in which a suicide was shown on-screen.
10 Albanian Mafia
After airing the third episode of Season 16, the BBC received 600 complaints.
Basically, the trio was on a mission to figure out what was the best car for an Albanian mafia boss and, of course, resulted in some controversy. There was a scene where the presenters used an overweight Albanian in an attempt to find out which of the cars had the biggest trunk and was best suited to haul away a body. It was pretty clear that he was still alive, as he was too heavy to lift and had to crawl into the trunk himself.
The episode was also criticized for claiming Albania is a nest for mafia car thieves.
9 Electric Vehicles
When Clarkson presented a segment featuring the Tesla Roadster, it showed the car's batteries running flat after 55 miles. Clarkson said that recharging them would take 16 hours. Following this, he said the car broke down. Tesla Motors claimed it was all a bunch of lies, to which BBC claimed that Top Gear is meant to be entertainment, and Tesla sued. A later episode showed Clarkson and May testing electric cars, and one scene had people pushing the electric Nissan Leaf up a street while Clarkson was making jokes. Nissan later discovered that the charge had been run down to only 40% capacity before the test. Top Gear has received criticism from electric car enthusiasts, newspapers, celebrities, and Nissan due to their views on electric cars.
The Top Gear guys had a few pet peeves, such as caravans (or camping trailers) and the Morris Marina. There were more than a few of these that were blown up, burned to the ground, had pianos dropped on them, and were generally destroyed in the most creative ways possible. For most of us, this was just hilarious and harmless but apparently, that wasn't the case for some camping enthusiast and fans of the Morris Marina. Letters were written and complaints were filed, but the destruction continued until the trio left the show.
7 Burkas And Lingerie
During a conversation about how women were distracting the presenters while they were driving, Clarkson said he had recently seen a woman who was wearing a burka tripping over the pavement, revealing that she was wearing red underwear and stockings. Hammond said that this did not happen, but Clarkson maintained that it was true. Of course, this comment didn't go unnoticed with the press or the viewers, resulting in complaints from some of the more sensitive souls. A Mediawatch spokesperson even said Clarkson "should learn to keep quiet".
6 F430 Speciale Needs
As you can see by now, Clarkson is the one who is most often to blame when it comes to Top Gear controversies, and this one isn't any different. The presenter provoked a few disability charities while comparing two Ferraris, Jeremy Clarkson figured it would be funny to describe the older car as a "simpleton" that should actually be called the "430 Speciale needs" instead of the 430 Speciale. Though some viewers thought the comment was funny, the National Autistic Society definitely didn't think so.
5 Ken Block And Matt LeBlancs Donuts
Some say Clarkson caused all the Top Gear 'scandals' but after Clarkson and company departed, the controversies continued. It really didn't take long before Matt Leblanc was accused of being 'gravely disrespectful' for his involvement in the stunt next to the Cenotaph. Co-host Chris Evans, meanwhile, quickly distanced himself from the whole thing. One Member of Parliament even went as far as saying the stunt should be "career ending" but the BBC defended the decision to film there by saying "The filming took place a respectful distance away from the Cenotaph and it was all agreed with Westminster council in advance".
4 Polar Special
At the end of Season Nine, the Polar Special episode was aired. During the special, Jeremy Clarkson was shown drinking a gin and tonic while driving through an ice field in the Arctic. And of course, this was a problem. Despite the producers' and Clarkson's claims that they were, in fact, in international waters at the time, the BBC Trust believed that the scene could "glamorize the misuse of alcohol" and that the scene "was not editorially justified in the context of a family show."
3 Mountain Discovery
What could possibly be better than exploring Scotland in your 4x4? That was just what Clarkson thought when he drove a Land Rover Discovery from sea level to the summit of Cnoc an Fhreiceadain. Some say he was trying to take the use of cars to new heights, but this might have been too far. Fans of the mushy ground beneath his wheels were outraged, claiming it would take hundreds of years to be regenerated. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland said the stunt was irresponsible and likely to encourage similar destructive behavior on other private estates. The BBC denied they had acted irresponsibly and said permissions were in place.
2 Innocent In Argentina
As they were filming the Patagonia Special in Argentina, someone online said the number plate on the Porsche 928 Clarkson was driving was a reference to the 1982 Falklands War: H982 FKL. For once, they were actually innocent. The Porsche had been registered with the same plates ever since it was first sold in May 1991. With an ever-growing mob waiting for them to emerge from their hotel rooms, the Top Gear crew was forced to flee the country. To top it off, the Argentine ambassador met with the BBC Director of Television to demand a formal apology, but the BBC refused, making it clear that they intended to broadcast the special as a fair representation of the events that occurred.
1 The American Road Trip
Following the broadcast of the American Road Trip special, both the BBC and the UK media regulator Ofcom received complaints in regards to the scene where Clarkson brought in a cow on the roof of his Camaro. Responding to the criticism, the BBC stated that the cow had passed away several days earlier and had not been harmed or injured by the presenter or crew. There was also criticism after a challenge that awarded points if the three presenters could get their fellow co-presenters assaulted. A series of slogans were written on the trio's cars—such as 'Nascar sucks' and 'Country and western is rubbish'—and some viewers felt they had deliberately antagonized the local population.
Sources: Telegraph, BT, and Top Gear.