Top Gear is a British motoring magazine show created by Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Wilman and based on the original 1977 series which features a variety of different segments including races, reviews, power laps and the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car", in which celebrities are interviewed and drive time laps.
The show is hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May, a mysterious driver known only as The Stig (who comes complete with helmet) and the Top Gear Dog.
The first season was co-hosted by motoring journalist Jason Dawe, but he was replaced by James May from the second season on.
The show originally aired in 1977, and went through numerous stages before being cancelled in 2000 when ratings for the show fell after host Jeremy Clarkson left the show. In 2002, a new format Top Gear started airing on BBC.
The show often features the following segments, amongst others:
The show has featured a number of races where Jeremy Clarkson races a car against other forms of transport, usually involving Richard Hammond and James May taking the same journey by any combinations of plane, train, ferry or bus.
Top Gear normally reviews one new car, or group of cars, each week. It's became hugely influential with motor manufacturers, since a critical word from the Top Gear team could have a severely negative effect on sales.
The Top Gear reports are not based on facts or figures, but the opinions of the presenters. Group tests normally involve the three presenters debating the merits and weaknesses of each car.
Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car
In each programme, a celebrity is interviewed by Jeremy Clarkson, and focuses usually on car-related topics and often on cars owned by the celebs themselves.
The guest is whisked off to the Top Gear race track where he/she tries to get the fastest lap time in a Chevrolet.
The fastest lap time is held by The Stig, and guests who have attempted to beat his time have included Simon Cowell, Jamie Oliver and Sanjeev Bhaskar.
In the Power Laps segment, The Stig completes a lap around the Top Gear test track to determine the performance of various cars. The car tested is usually the car that's been reviewed in that episode, but occasionally it can be a car from a previous episode.
The Cool Wall
The Cool Wall is a board where Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond decide which cars are cool, and which aren't, and has nothing to do with how good or bad a car is. The categories are Sub Zero, Cool, Uncool and Seriously Uncool.
Initially, part of that "coolness" factor rested on the extent to which the presenters believed each car would impress English actress Kristin Scott Thomas.
BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce replaced Kristin as their notional judge, after Kristin stated in an interview that she owned a Honda, which was deemed to be "Uncool".
The identity of Top Gear's test driver is a secret. Usually. He never speaks nor removes his helmet on camera.
The Stig has also appeared on some of Jeremy Clarkson's motoring specials, such as Heaven and Hell and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, as well as on the BBC's Whizz Whizz Bang Bang, a showwhich constructs children's inventions.
The Stig's name derives from presenter Jeremy Clarkson's days at Repton School, where, according to Clarkson, new students were always called Stig.
The original black-suited Stig was Perry McCarthy, a former Formula 1 British racing driver who appeared in the 2002 and 2003 shows. However, after revealing his identity in an autobiography, he was replaced in Season 3 with a new, white-suited Stig.
In the hiatus following Season 15, racing driver Ben Collins was revealed to be the Stig in a court battle over Collins' impending autobiography, titled The Man in the White Suit.
In Season 16, which debuted in December 2010, Collins was replaced by a second White Stig, whose identity has so far remained secret.
The series premiered in the UK on BBC Two on 20 October, 2002.
Top Gear premiered in South Africa on DStv's BBC Prime channel in 2005, although the exact broadcast date is unknown. Until Season 10 it was known as Top Gear Xtra, a half-hour version of the full show.
Season 10 premiered on BBC Prime on Wednesday 6 August 2008, at 21h30. After four episodes the channel became defunct and was replaced by a new stable of BBC channels, including BBC Knowledge, which picked up the series from Episode 5 on Wednesday 3 September, 2008.
BBC Knowledge had exclusive first-run rights to Seasons 10 and 11, after which BBC Entertainment took over as the first-run channel for Top Gear, with reruns on BBC Knowledge and later SABC3 (which began broadcasting the series from Season 6 in October 2010).
BBC Knowledge later aired earlier seasons of the show in a marathon.
Season 11 premiered on SABC3 on Sunday 21 August 2011, at 18h00. It changed timeslot to Sundays at 17h00 from Episode 3 (which aired on 4 September).
This was the first season to air on BBC Entertainment.