10 Things You Didn't Know About... Top Gear
Since it started all the way back in 1977, Top Gear has gone through many iterations and many presenters, the latest, for series 23 (which you can pre-order on the right-hand side of the page), saw Chris Evans, Matt LeBlanc, Rory Reid, Chris Harris, Sabine Schmitz and Eddie Jordan take the presenting jobs, although it has subsequently turned out that this will be Evans one and only season on the show.
So to celebrate Chris Evans' one season in the hotseat and the history of this British TV institution, we thought we'd have some fun and put together 10 things you didn't know about Top Gear...
Top Gear started out as a regional show, presented by a woman
It's often thought of as the ultimate lads' show, but the first episode of Top Gear, which aired as a regional broadcast in the West Midlands in 1977, was actually presented by none other than newsreader Angela Rippon. At that time, Rippon was already a well-known face on the BBC, having been a presenter on The Nine 'o' Clock News since 1975, but she was also a keen motorsports enthusiast and a motoring correspondent for the AA. Jeremy Clarkson didn't appear on Top Gear until over a decade later in 1988, becoming the show's 16th presenter.
Steve Coogan's brother was one of the show's presenters
Being a friend of Clarkson's, comedian Steve Coogan has appeared on the show several times, but what you may not know is that his brother Brendan was once a Top Gear presenter, co-hosting the show briefly in 1999 after Clarkson's first departure from the series. However, his stint on the show was brought to an end when he was convicted later that year on charges of drink-driving, of all things.
The Top Gear track features in the James Bond film Casino Royale
Eagle-eyed fans of the James Bond film may have noticed a familiar looking aircraft in the background during some of the scenes set at Miami International Airport, many of which were actually filmed at Dunsfold Aerodrome, the former Canadian Air Force base in Surrey which is home to the Top Gear test track. Sitting in the former air base is a decommissioned Boeing 747, which can be seen in the film and is often visible in the background during test laps on the show.
Burt Bacharach has a corner on the Top Gear track named after him
Most Top Gear fans will know that the final corner on the track is named after Michael Gambon, thanks to his near-death experience in a Suzuki Liana, but prior to that the corner was one of several on the track named after musical references. In that case, the final bend used to be known as 'Carpenter's Corner', after the songwriting siblings The Carpenters, but others include 'Bacharach Corner' (the one before Gambon) and 'Crooner Curve', all of which are references to The Stig's supposed preference for easy listening. The other corners 'Wilson' and 'Bentley' are named after former Top Gear presenter Quentin Wilson and one of the show's former producers, Jon Bentley.
Paddington Bear wears red wellington boots because of Jeremy Clarkson's mum
Bizarrely, Jeremy Clarkson's mum Shirley was the first person to manufacture stuffed toys of the famous Marmalade-loving bear from Michael Bond's stories. They initially did this without consent from Bond himself and the author even considered suing Clarkson's parents for copyright infringement, but after a chance meeting in a lift they became friends and he issued them a licence to produce the toys as official merchandise. The illustrations in the early books featured a barefoot Paddington, but when Shirley's toys were fitted with red Dunlop boots in order to make them stand up, the illustrations in the books were changed to match and have since become a permanent fixture on the bear from 'darkest Peru'.
Harry Enfield was the first ever 'Star in a Reasonably Priced Car'
One of the most popular segments on the show since it was re-formatted and relaunched in 2002, the first celebrity to set a lap time on the Top Gear track was Harry Enfield, who posted a fairly dismal time of 2:01. He returned to the show for a second lap in Series 12, posting a much more respectable time of 1:47.9.
The Top Gear theme tune was written as a tribute to legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhart
Many of the more knowledgable Top Gear fans will already know that the music that has featured on the show's opening credits since its first broadcast is a song called 'Jessica', written by the Allman Brothers and named after guitarist Dickey Betts' daughter. However, a lesser-known fact about the song – an instrumental which featured on the band's 1973 album Brothers and Sisters – is that it was written as a tribute to Django Reinhart, mimicking the unique playing style which resulted from Reinhart having only two fingers on his right hand.
The show entered the Guinness Book of Records in 2013
Top Gear entered the record books in 2013 as it was officially named the most widely watched factual programme in the world, being broadcast in more than 200 countries across the planet and reportedly earning the BBC more than £150million in revenues. Globally, the viewership is thought to be in the region of 300 million.
James May was once fired from Autocar magazine for hiding rude messages in the text of his articles
Did you ever do that thing at school where you would try to spell out a rude word vertically using the first letter of each line in your homework assignment? Well, James May did, except he did it while working for motoring periodical Autocar, but was sacked when his editor discovered he had used the magazine's annual 'Road Test Yearbook' edition to spell out the phrase “So you think it's really good, yeah? You should try making the bloody thing up; it's a real pain in the arse."
The dubious honour of the slowest ever lap around the track belongs to Damian Lewis
Everybody wants to be the fastest around the Top Gear track, but nobody wants to be the slowest and for a while it looked like nobody could do any worse than former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, but in 2013 actor Damian Lewis posted an abysmal time of 2:09. To be fair to Lewis, he was driving in a full-on blizzard at the time, but with the show's old format likely to be replaced it could be a title that he holds on to forever.