Top Gear is an Emmy award-winning BBC television series about motor vehicles, primarily cars. It began in 1977 as a conventional motoring magazine show. Over time, and especially since a relaunch in 2002, it has developed a quirky, humorous style. The show is currently presented by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, and also features a test driver known as The Stig. The programme is estimated to have 350 million viewers worldwide.
First run episodes are broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC Two, and since Series 14, also on BBC HD. Top Gear is also shown on Dave, BBC America, BBC Canada, RTÉ Two in Ireland, Canvas in Belgium, Nine Network and GO! in Australia (previously on SBS One who showed the programme until the end of the 13th series aired in 2009), Prime TV in New Zealand, BBC Entertainment in Latin America, and a number of other television channels around the world. The popularity of the show has led to the creation of two international versions, with local production teams and presenters for Australia and Russia. Episodes of the Australian version premièred on 29 September 2008 and NBC was holding the American version for broadcast in February or March 2009, as a possible mid-season replacement, but later dropped it from their schedule before production resumed.
The show has received acclaim for its visual style and presentation, as well as considerable criticism for its content and comments made by presenters. Columnist A. A. Gill described the show as “a triumph of the craft of programme-making, of the minute, obsessive, musical masonry of editing, the French polishing of colour washing and grading”.
In November 2005, Top Gear won an International Emmy in the Non-Scripted Entertainment category. In the episode where the presenters showed the award to the studio audience, presenter Jeremy Clarkson joked that he was unable to go to New York to receive the award since he was too busy writing the script for the show.
Top Gear has also been nominated for three consecutive years (2004–2006) for the British Academy Television Awards in the Best Feature category. Clarkson was also nominated in the best “Entertainment Performance” category in 2006. In 2004 and 2005, Top Gear was also nominated for a National Television Award in the Most Popular Factual Programme category; it won the award in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Accepting the award in October 2007, Richard Hammond made the comment that they really deserved it this year, because he didn’t have to crash to get some sympathy votes.
Top Gear presenters have also announced on the show that they have won some slightly lower profile awards. In Series 10, Richard Hammond won the award for the “Best TV Haircut” and James May won the award for the worst. All three presenters have won the award for Heat magazine’s “weirdest celebrity crush” revealed during the news. In series 11, the Stig won an award from the Scouts for Services to Instruction. After revealing that, the Stig was shown “attacking” the Scouts, and the presenters coming to the conclusion that he is either terrified of Scouts or was a Girl Guide.
At the end of 2009 Top Gear was voted best programme of the decade in a Channel 4-commissioned survey, The Greatest TV Shows of the Noughties, ahead of The Apprentice and Doctor Who in second and third places respectively. Industry insiders and television pundits voted; also a thousand members of the public took part in a YouGov poll. The results were broadcast on Sunday 27 December 2009 at 9:00 pm, the same time as the Bolivia Special on BBC Two.
The show and its presenters were often the subjects of criticism. Several times over the course of the show, they were accused of making irresponsible comments on issues such as gay rights, racism and international politics. In 2015, mid-series, during the production, Clarkson and one of the producers of the show had an argument that devolved till punches were thrown. Following the incident, Top Gear broadcasts were suspended and Clarkson’s contract at the BBC was not renewed, ending his tenure on the show.