A programme on the BBC. Originally set up in the 1970s as a straight motoring review programme, it died a death around the turn of the 21st century. It was then resurrected with former presenter Jeremy Clarkson in charge, and has since developed into more of a car-based comedy show. Clarkson has described it as 'what every man would do if he let his inner ten-year-old take control'.
The show's popularity - it is the highest rated programme on BBC2 - is chiefly due to the banter and dynamic between its three presenters:
Jeremy Clarkson - Tall, middle-aged, strongly opinionated, has a way with words. Often takes a refuge in audacity.
Richard Hammond - Short, younger, rural, usually called upon to do the crazier stunts (one of which almost ended in his death).
James May - In between, posh, well spoken, cultured, known as “Captain Slow”.
If these three were left alone they would just spend all their time driving supercars, so the Production Team intervenes with various Challenges. These usually take the form of the three of them having to buy a particular type of used car with a very limited budget, and then see which one performs the best (or at all) through various tests. On two occasions, this was taken to the extreme - the American and African Specials. In both, they had to buy three old used cars and then drive them across either a Godforsaken wasteland devoid of all civilisation, or Botswana.
There are also Races, which originally started as an attempt to prove that, no matter how fast public transport gets, the hassle of being dependent on someone else's schedule means a car will always get you there faster in the long run. This belief is usually confirmed, though often only by a margin of a few minutes.
A regular feature is the 'Star in a Reasonably Priced Car' (pronounced Rrrrreeeeeeeeeesonably Priced Car) in which various celebrities have to set a time on their test track in an incongruously cheap car (originally a Suzuki Liana, now a Chevrolet Lascetti).
The show also has The Stig, its 'tame racing driver', whose role is to drive new cars around the track to set a time. With his face obscured by an opaque helmet, his identity is a mystery. He is usually introduced by Clarkson reeling off two unlikely “Stig facts”, such as “Some say, his breath smells of magnesium, and there's an airport in Russia named after him…all we know is, he's called the Stig.”
The show, and especially Clarkson, often takes a pop at targets as diverse as the British Government, the European Union, absolutely every foreign country (especially the USA and Australia), every car company in the world, and particularly 'eco-mentalists'. Despite its high budget and awards, the presenters are always careful to refer to it self-deprecatingly as “that poky little motoring programme on BBC2”. Similarly, the show's motto has been given as “Ambitious…but rubbish.”
Top Gear has become remarkably successful overseas - in Russia, for example, Clarkson is the second most popular person on TV after a topless newsreader. It has proved so popular in the United States and Australia (presumably they edit out the insults aimed at those countries) that those two have now started making their own versions.