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Top Gear is a BBC television series focused on automobiles and presented by hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. As the most watched factual television program in the world, Top Gear has received critical acclaim for its visual style and presentation, though not without some criticism for its politically incorrect commentary.
Top Gear premiered in 1977 as a motoring magazine program. In 2002, the show was revived with hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, Jason Dawe (who was replaced in the second series with James May) and the mysterious test driver The Stig. The new series added additional segments to the show, including “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car”, “The Cool Wall”, “The News”, “Power Laps” and other challenges.
Richard Hammond’s Accident
In September 2006, co-host Richard Hammond was seriously injured after crashing a turbojet-powered race car. While driving at 463km/h (288mph), a tire burst which flipped the dragster over leaving Hammond trapped inside.
On March 27th, 2006, the Top Gear YouTube channel was created, gathering upwards of 754 million video views and 3.8 million subscribers over the next nine years. On September 27th, 2007, the Top Gear Wiki was launched, which accumulated more than 440 entries in the first seven years. On January 1st 2008, TorrentFreak listed Top Gear as the second-most pirated TV series of 2007. On October 13th, 2009, the /r/topgear subreddit was created for discussions about the television series. In June, the @BBC_TopGear Twitter feed was launched. On December 27th, the official Top Gear Facebook page was created. In the following five years, the Twitter feed garnered over 1.5 million followers and the Facebook page received upwards of 14 million likes. On January 23rd, 2011, the official Top Gear Tumblr blog was launched.
Starting in series 6, one of the presenters (usually Jeremy Clarkson) will introduce the Stig before the Power Lap with the following snowclone phrase:
“Some say [myth about The Stig], and [another myth about The Stig]. All we know is, he’s called the Stig.
Said myths usually read like a series of bizarre Chuck Norris Facts and allude to the mystery of the Stig’s identity, his driving prowess, or recent UK news stories.
“Some say he isn’t machine washable, and all his potted plants are called ‘Steve’. All we know is, he’s called the Stig.”
“The Cool Wall,” introduced in the sixth episode of the new series, is a wall on which Clarkson and Hammond place photographs of cars to indicate how “cool” it is. The categories include “Seriously Uncool”, “Uncool”, “Cool”, and “Sub Zero”. According to Clarkson, an important part of each car’s coolness factor depends on how actress Kristin Scott Thomas would react to it.
Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car
“Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car” is a segment on Top Gear in which Clarkson interviews a celebrity and shows a clip of their attempt to drive on the Top Gear test track.
Top Gear has been criticized for its racist comments, homophobic jokes, and promoting irresponsible driving. In December 2010, the presenters made racist jokes about Mexican people and culture when discussing the release of the Mexico-built Mastretta MXT sports car. The BBC sent a letter of apology to the Mexican ambassador to the United Kingdom, but defended the jokes as national stereotyping being an essential part of British humour.
In March 2014, Indian-born actress Somi Guha filed a $1.8 million lawsuit against the BBC for broadcasting a racially derogatory term in an episode of Top Gear. In the episode, Clarkson can be heard saying, “That’s a proud moment, but there’s a slope on it” to which Richard Hammond replies “Yeah, right. It’s definitely higher on that side” (shown below). Guha argued that the term “slope” was used as a racist slur for an Asian person shown walking on the bridge. In April, Top Gear’s executive producer Andy Wilman apologised for the remark.
In May 2014, a clip of Clarkson from an un-aired Top Gear episode in which he seems to mumble a racial slur for black people was leaked to the press. Clarkson initially denied using the word, but subsequently apologized and begged for forgiveness. He also noted that the racial slur was the last straw, and that he would be sacked by the BBC if he made “one more offensive remark, anywhere, at any time.”
The show has also won an Emmy, multiple BAFTAs and other awards over the years. Its popularity has spawned localized versions of the show around the globe, including Australia, Russia and the United States.
Top Gear series 9, episode 6