Let’s reminisce about the best car show ever. He will return? Even if it does, it will never be the same. How did it work in the golden era?
It was a fixture not only on British programmes, a cash cow for BBC television and, in its golden era, a spectacle that practically the entire motoring world looked forward to. Top Gear – once the best for the motoring enthusiast, now a shadow of its former glory. The show, in its original form, has been on the air since 1977 and has grown into the biggest stars among car-TV people: Jeremy Clarkson, Tiff Needell and more.
He had already experienced the end once before, specifically in 2001, but then producer Andy Wilman together with Clakrson convinced the BBC that if he underwent a thorough transformation, he had a chance of success. Although the first season was a bit embarrassing, after it the moderator Jason Barlow was replaced by James May, but then an incredible machine for entertainment and also money took off. Viewership broke records, everyone wanted to know who the Stig was and millions of viewers around the world eagerly awaited each new episode.
The trio of presenters entertained with their escapades and jokes – they sent the Reliant Robin “into space”, made epic journeys in sports cars or, on the contrary, returned, raced, had fun. However, the often incorrect humor gradually started to hit the wall of political correctness and extra… caution of the public BBC. The last straw was when Clarkson hit one of the crew – his contract was terminated and the whole old gang moved to the Amazon platform for the new show The Grand Tour.
The hole left by the original trio proved too big for successors – the new crew was led by Chris Evans and also included ex-F1 driver Eddie Jordan, racing driver Sabine Schmitz, American actor Matt LeBlanc, the brilliant Chris Harris and surprisingly good newcomer Rory Reid. The show did run, but it couldn’t replicate the magical chemistry between people and cars.
So far, the last era has been running with the trio of Chris Harris, Andrew Flintoff and Paddy McGuiness, and although it certainly didn’t reach the status of the original Top Gear, it found its own way and loyal viewers. The turning point came in December last year when Flintoff was seriously injured while filming the 34th series at Dunsfold Airport – flipping his Morgan Super 3 on a bend and badly bruising his face because he wasn’t wearing a helmet. He had to be airlifted to the hospital. The BBC is now announcing that Top Gear is on indefinite hiatus, whether it will ever return and when is not yet clear.
A personal memory of the golden era of Top Gear
If it weren’t for TG, you wouldn’t be reading this text. The show and its episodes on YouTube were the reason why almost 20 years ago a not-so-diligent CTU student (me) decided that doing something like this with cars would be great fun. After some time, I anchored in the editorial office of the Czech version of Top Gear magazine, which, together with its sister magazine Autocar, represented the British counterpart to the German school of auto-journalism.
I spent eight years translating and writing it, and it was a great school – translating Clarkson’s columns or May’s reports was a difficult challenge, their language, wit, sense of gradation and punchlines were not easy to translate into the Czech environment, as well as working with pop culture references or rhythmic slang, but we did quite well. And have a Top Gear logo on your business card? A dream come true!
We regularly advised our readers where and how to pirate BBC2 online and how to set up ad blockers, because of course these were very dubious sites. Alternatively, where they can find current torrents to enjoy the show in high quality – usually just a few hours after the premiere. When Clarkson quit, it was quite a shock, because he was the driving force behind the magazine, even though he contributed only minimally to it himself.
He simply needed a column in which it stood, for example “I don’t understand dedicated bus lanes. Why should the poor get somewhere before me?’ and thereby sold all the rest of the contents. When his successor Chris Evans wrote his first column, it was a mess. Boring, gibberish, empty bullshit. We preferred not to publish any more from him in the magazine.
Of course, the magazine wasn’t just about Clarkson, May and Hammond – top writers like Paul Horrell, Tom Ford, Piers Morgan and others wrote for it. And to this day, the British original (the Czech mutation ended a few years ago) is a first-class motoring magazine full of epic tests and reports, amazing infographics and breathtaking photos. I am happy and grateful that I could experience this “golden era” with Top Gear.