20 years ago today, the very first episode of Top Gear was broadcast on BBC Two. The first series ran from 20th October 2002 and finished on the 29th of December 2002, with a total of ten episodes. This series saw the first major reboot of the show since the original Top Gear, which ran from the 70s for forty-five series. Andy Wilman and Jeremy Clarkson came up with the show in the new format, with the famous test track art Dunsfold Aerodrome, the Stig for testing cars, the news segment and the segment called a Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car.
The show debuted on 20th October 2002 and featured Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and not James May – instead, Jason Dawe. When Clarkson was planning the show, he wanted May but he only wanted to be a part of the show if it ended up popular. By Series 2, Dawe was out and May was in.
Back in October last year, the BBC added the entirety of Top Gear UK to iPlayer for viewing, with a good portion if it in the original broadcast format and content it was originally intended to have. You can find Series 1 Episode 1 on BBC iPlayer here.
Looking back, the first series paved the way for what to come, it was popular and had an average viewing figure of 3.3 million each week and this led the BBC to renew it for a second series, which aired not long after in May 2003. James May joined the cast and Top Gear went on for twenty two series, when in its most iconic form, it ended in 2015. From 2016 onwards the show never had that spark and genuineness again. In 2016, Clarkson, Hammond and May launched The Grand Tour which was debuted on Amazon Prime Video.
Since the original trio moved to Amazon, the Top Gear show as we all know it has gone through a lot of weird changes. Chris Evans headed up Series 23, which was interesting to say the least. However, many evolutions later, the current trio with car expert Chris Harris, Paddy McGuiness and Freddie Flintoff is pretty good, it is at least watchable. However, for me and many others, nothing will live up to the 2000s versions of Top Gear, with many laughs and good times.
Top Gear was a very iconic series. The car reviews and opinions expressed on the show changed the narrative of the industry and for many, was part of their childhood – myself included. The earlier series are definitely more car focused, but near the end it did become more about the trio and their road-trips – much like what The Grand Tour is now.
Happy Birthday Top Gear.