Over the course of the past decade, Top Gear has evolved into something much more than a simple motoring programme. The show now revolves around outrageous challenges, celebrity interviews, slapstick comedy stunts and scripted exchanges between the three main presenters, all of which often push the actual cars into the background. It’s a formula that clearly works well. Although the show was originally launched in 1977, it only became the worldwide success it is today after the format was radically revamped in 2002, introducing elements such as The Stig, who have since become stalwarts. With around 350 million viewers in 170 different countries for each episode, Top Gear is currently one of the BBC’s most successful shows.
The Need for Speed
A report by the Department for Transport found that drivers under the age of 35 are heavily influenced by programmes such as Top Gear which glorify driving aggressively at high speed and pours scorn those who are careful to always follow the rules of the road. Although most of Top Gear’s stunts are carried out on private roads, the show is still most popular among the exact demographic of younger drivers who are most likely to be involved in a road accident claim.
The pressure group Transport 2000, which tries to encourage people to manage without their cars as much as possible, has also criticised the programme, claiming it glamorises speed and promotes a yobbish, ‘get out of my way’ attitude towards driving.
The Power of Influence
The ‘Cool Wall’ segment, in which the presenters choose their favourite cars, is heavily biased towards faster, more powerful vehicles. The best vehicles are driven by The Stig and compared to see which can complete a lap of the circuit in the fastest time. Although presenter James May is shown as having more conservative, moderate tastes than the other two, he is regularly the butt of jokes in the show as a result.
This aforementioned need for speed is even apparent even in the ‘star in a reasonably priced car’ slot, in which a celebrity is interviewed and then filmed driving a budget vehicle around a racing circuit. The celebrities are first trained by The Stig and the end result is a demonstration of how to drive a standard car to the very edge of its limitations. Although this happens away from public roads, it is the one part of Top Gear that young, easily influenced drivers can attempt to replicate on their own.
A Victim of its Own Success
In many ways, the show has become a victim of its own success. When the specials and stunts first started, they seemed far more genuine and unplanned. However, it was clear which particular elements – buying ridiculous gifts for one another, two presenters ganging up to perform a practical joke on a third, a navigational disaster than means the team end up in the wrong town – were most popular. These elements now feature in every single special, making them rather boringly predictable.
Despite this, the popularity of the show is as high as ever – it has been responsible for BBC Two receiving its highest ever ratings – and there are no indications that this will change. However, in a world in which petrol prices are constantly increasing and hybrids or fully electric cars are becoming more commonplace, Top Gear is becoming far more about escapism and showing off the capabilities of cars few of its viewers will ever be able to afford than providing practical advice on the current state of the motoring market.
Are you a fellow Top Gear fan? How do you feel about the direction it is taking?
“Hi I’m Leyla, a 25-year-old British blogger and motorsport enthusiast currently writing on behalf of EAD Solicitors. Apart from blogging on various topics, I enjoy indulging in going to gigs and music festivals. Feel free to tweet me about this article @DigitalLeyla”