Best British TV Shows-Top Gear

Best British TV Show for Petrol Heads

Top Gear has been one of the best British TV shows for many years now since its reincarnation and reinvention in 2002 as a rather hipper, trendier, 'laddish' and occasionally controversial show.

It began life as an out and out motoring show in 1977 where every week the latest car models were featured by the hosts.

The show was rather like a review show for cars in which each was given a score and hosts were asked to issue an opinion on the given model.

Over the years it developed into something more pop-culture in nature with a more decadent approach to motoring.

Jeremy Clarkson joined the Top Gear team in 1988 and with his inclusion came a more 'hip' format for the show. He cannot have been totally responsible but love him or loathe him, Clarkson understands what the viewing audience want.

So what makes Top Gear one of the Best British TV shows? Let's find out....

Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May | Source
Top Gear's James May, Captain Slow
Top Gear's James May, Captain Slow
Richard Hammond, 'The Hamster'
Richard Hammond, 'The Hamster'
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Clarkson

Top Gear - 3 Great Presenters

Top Gear has 3 resident presenters every week - Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond.

All three are quite different and have an amazing chemistry - they seem to understand one another very well, constantly taking the mickey out of one another and trying to outdo each other.

James May, or 'Captain Slow' as Clarkson calls him because of his reserved driving style, has been a motoring journalist since the 80s working for The Motorist, Engineer and Autocar. More recently, he has written a weekly motoring column for the Telegraph. James May has also appeared on a number of other TV shows, usually those involving science, technology and astronomy. He is also an accomplished musician.

Richard Hammond's background has mainly been in radio and he worked on a number of radio shows until his successful audition for Top Gear. He is a lifelong motoring fan, a Porsche fanatic and is referred to as 'the Little Hamster' by Jeremy Clarkson, a play on his name and the fact he is quite diminutive in stature.

Jeremy Clarkson is the only original member of the Top Gear cast and is considered the main anchor on the show with a wealth of motoring journalism to his name even before his appearance on the show. His journalistic career began in the North of England; he was born in Doncaster and continued there for a number of years until he became a dedicated motoring journalist, finally making an appearance on Top Gear in 1988.

As a presenting team, they have just the right blend of knowledge, humour and broadcasting nous to give Top Gear the edge over other motoring TV shows in the UK.

But it is the show's format which is the thing which makes Top Gear one of the best British TV shows.

Matt LeBlanc very fast in a reasonably priced car on Top Gear
Matt LeBlanc very fast in a reasonably priced car on Top Gear | Source

Star In A Reasonably Priced Car

One of the weekly features on Top Gear is 'Star in A Reasonably Priced Car' where a celebrity comes on the show and is invited to do a circuit on a track on an old airfield in a 'reasonably priced car' - usually a normal family saloon car. They are trained to undertake the lap under the tutelage of Top Gear's resident 'racer' The Stig (never seen without his helmet off).

The star is racing against the clock and by the end of the series there is a long list in time order of which stars have done which times.

It has become a source of great pride to get a chance to drive the reasonably priced car and get near the top of the list.

Spring 2012's winner was Matt LeBlanc with a winning time of 1.42:1 in a Cee'd car.

You can find out which celebrities did the best times (and worst times too ) by clicking here

Previous winners include Dame Ellen MacArthur, clearly just as fast in a car as in a catamaran!

Koenigsegg CCX
Koenigsegg CCX | Source

The Cool Wall

Another interesting feature of the show is 'The Cool Wall' where Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson decide whether a car is cool or not.

Of course, the cool wall is not just categorised as 'cool' or 'not cool'. Even coolness has to have sub categories.

Hammond and Clarkson get to select 'Seriously Uncool', 'Uncool', 'Cool' and 'Sub Zero'. Since Series 8 a further category, Sub Zero Fridge Bar (it is a fridge to the right of sub zero - meaning 'super,super cool') was added which denoted a further category of coolness that even 'sub zero' could not satisfy.

They stand in front of the live audience and basically debate the coolness or otherwise of any given vehicle. The audience are also asked to pitch in with ideas of their own but woe betide anyone who disagrees with Jeremy Clarkson - he can be very cutting and sarcastic.

Rules and Regulations

Supercars are always uncool because they are not affordable by the vast majority of car buyers (though the Koenigsegg CCX made it in Series 8, considered too 'scary' to not be cool).

Motorbikes are completely banned from the cool wall.

Cars owned by the presenters are not allowed to be placed on the board.

People carriers are considered uncool.

Small European cars are always cool.

For some reason, American cars are almost always considered uncool.

It needs to be pointed out that the cool wall seems to be something always subject to change depending on Jeremy Clarkson's whim.

It is a popular part of the show because a different car features every week and there are almost always people in the audience with one of the cars so this makes the arguing about coolness that bit more fun.

Road Trips and One-Off Stunts

Top Gear has included a number of road trips in each series of the new format of the show.

These have been very popular with viewers though the 3 presenters often do go too far with some of the vehicles, marking them with flags or logos and slogans which are done, one presumes, to amuse the TV public but often have the effect of annoying the people in the country in which they are travelling. From a personal point of view, I find this type of humour to be a tad 'school boyish' in nature and I sometimes switch off the TV when these segments take a xenophobic turn. It is amazing to think that the show is shown all over the world!

The video featured here shows what happened to them when they deliberately posted messages on their cars in Alabama, one of which was 'NASCAR Sucks' and another read 'Man Love'.

The results of public opinion are there for all to see - they might think twice about taking this tack in future trips abroad?

One of their sillier one-off stunts was to test the stickability of a wig on someone's head when driving a convertible car. But not everyone would find this funny either?

Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson - sometimes loveable, sometimes not!
Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson - sometimes loveable, sometimes not!

Clarkson's Opinions

Wherever you find Jeremy Clarkson, you will find controversy. Even his tone of voice is very distinctive and lends itself well to being expressive and opinionated - check out the Harry Enfield and Paul Waterhouse video of 'Clarkson Island' for their take on his distinctive speech patterns.

He is a man unafraid to express his opinions and he does so frequently on Top Gear. The problem is he is sometimes way off the mark in his judgement. Or it it just that he doesn't care?

Strange then that the BBC recently listed him as their biggest earner - he earns 3 million pounds a year, some of the time just for being annoying!

His most recent 'clanger' is to suggest that public sector workers possibly going on strike over pay and conditions 'should be shot' if they went on strike. This lead public sector union, UNISON to say they would take legal action over his remark which was inflammatory and suggestible.

  • In 1998, Hyundai called him a 'bigoted racist' when he reviewed one of their cars on Top Gear and then said one of their designers had "probably eaten a spaniel for lunch." Now whilst it is known that Koreans eat dog meat, this comment was clearly contrived to cause a stir and it certainly did that.
  • In 2005 he made a mock Nazi salute on Top Gear in a feature on the new Mini car. The show is shown in Germany and Nazi salutes are banned in Germany so he would have been fined for it had the show not been edited.
  • In 2008 he did an ad hoc riff on the show about driving a lorry suggesting that lorry drivers murdered prostitutes (like the Yorkshire Ripper one can only assume?).
  • In 2011, Clarkson, May and Hammond were all admonished for their disgraceful comments about the food and culture of Mexico. They certainly over stepped the mark because it came off as petty and schoolboy humour - it was offensive at every level and the Mexican Ambassador wrote to the BBC to complain about it.

His relationship with the BBC is not just one of presenter and boss - he also owns the international distribution company responsible for showing Top Gear abroad. And whilst there is no doubting his skills as as a presenter and for rejuvenating Top Gear, there is also a question mark over whether any other presenter would have been allowed to get away with some of his more controversial comments.

Most people agree with the assertion that he does a lot of this stuff 'with a twinkle in his eye' but he does have a habit of pushing to see at what point the elastic might snap!

His latest tirade has him calling the British '62 million b***ards' after his tweet about his dog passing away was met with a torrent of abuse - can't really blame him for being upset.

Top Gear - Still Going Strong

Rumours abound every year that Top Gear is in its last series. Usually this follows one of Clarkson's 'errors of judgement' but Top Gear is still going strong and is likely to do so for a number of years to come.

People love to look at new cars coming onto the market. Is there anything more attractive that the flash of steel, colour, tyres and gorgeous interiors which come as a feast for the eyes when looking for a new motor?

And love him or hate him, Clarkson has found a winning format which is very, very entertaining and keeps fans loyal to Top Gear series after series. The presenters are all quite different and all bring something to the table in terms of motoring knowledge and personality.

Richard Hammond's brush with death a few years ago in a jet powered car has given him a different outlook on life and viewers, a different opinion of him. James May has been wine tasting with Oz Clarke in France in a very amusing BBC wine show but also entertained us with his shows about science and astronomy. Clarkson guest presents on Have I Got News for You and appears as a guest on other shows but has concentrated his efforts on making Top Gear one of the best, most entertaining magazine style British TV shows ever and even if we feel like his opinions sometimes get in the way, we must all give him praise for creating the Top Gear 'brand' and keeping it so popular.

Many thanks for reading.

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Best British TV Shows-Top Gear Comments 16 comments

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Susan, I think that's what keeps British audiences watching as well - we wonder what they'll get up to next :o), many thanks for your comment.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

unknown spy - thanks for the visit (in spite of having never seen it), I appreciate it :o)

Uninvited Writer profile image

Uninvited Writer 4 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

I love watching this show and I really am not into cars. I just love what they get into :)

unknown spy profile image

unknown spy 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

well Jools, i think this is fun.. :) a well presented idea..though i might say i never seen these tv shows..

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Lesley - a female petrol head eh? It's hubby's favourite show, I'm just along for the ride :o)

Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom

Top Gear is one of my favourite shows - their antics are so outrageous!

I especially like their road trips!!

Great hub and voted up

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

teaches12345, Many thanks for your comment. Top Gear is one of the UK's top shows and when it's not on prime time, its repeats are on a channel called Dave TV through satellite TV so it is always on our soon as I leave the room usually :o)

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

My husband is a faithful fan of this show. I saw the episode with Matt LeBlance and it was very interesting. Also saw Alyce Cooper, that was very interesting. It's a great show to watch and always has some fun to it. Clarkson is a great host and makes the show worth watching.

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Mhatter, thanks :o)

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Paula, Thanks for your comment. Re: No car - I can pretty much walk wherever I need to go. If I am going to the main part of town, it is only a 20 minute walk. If I want to walk along the coast, it's a 30 minute walk. If I want to go to Newcastle or Sunderland (closest two cities) I catch a Metro train, takes 35 minutes. I am very lucky in not really needing a car to get around most of the time.

Your bedtime viewing....Wow! I would be having bad dreams (or dreams about being part of the CSI Team, which I would love) :o)

Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

Thank you for this review.

fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Jools....sounds like an awesome program and the 3 hosts have impressive you have written them up....Are we even able to get British programming here in the US? I suppose there's a British TV station and I'm not even aware of it! I watch TV as a last resort of finding out what's going on in the world.......and once in bed, I fall asleep with the TV set on "timer" to shows on ION, like "Criminal Minds," "Cold Case," "Flashpoint" know...all those sweet, calming and relaxing programs that can lull one to sleep! (and I wonder why I have nightmares.)

You don't own a CAR? Jools, how on earth do you get around? This is amazing to me.... Great hub, my friend.... UP+++

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

Josh, many thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment - I don't even own a car but it is a very entertaining TV show so I end up watching in spite of not being a petrol head :o)

josh3418 profile image

josh3418 4 years ago from Pennsylvania


I have never seen this show, but I think I will check it out! It looks interesting, and I have heard great things about it. Thanks for sharing, I love your reviews, no matter what the topic! Great job here Julie! :)

Jools99 profile image

Jools99 4 years ago from North-East UK Author

James, at last! Someone else who doesn't 'get' Jeremy Clarkson - it is on in our house constantly either on BBC2 or Dave (or Dave+1) and I quite like a lot of the banter and the stars in a reasonably priced car but they go a bit OTT with some of the challenges I think and Clarkson can be a bit rude.

JKenny profile image

JKenny 4 years ago from Birmingham, England

Great article Jools. I used to watch Top Gear a lot, not realy because I have an interest in cars, but because I liked the banter between the presenters, and I also liked the 'stars in the reasonably priced car'. But in the end I just had enough of Clarkson so I stopped watching it. I still though watch repeats of the road trips on Dave, they're always very funny. Voted up etc.

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