Top Gear - childhood humour or malicious controversy?

cwilko2011 By cwilko2011, 5th Jul 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Film & TV>Documentary

A look into the most popular BBC2 programme of recent years. Looking at the "characters", the ego's, the controversy and the popularity.

Some facts and figures

Top Gear is the most successful programme aired on BBC 2. It averages 6.5million views per episode. (Twice as much as any other programme on BBC)

The highest peak of viewers was in 2008 with 7.74million. (Incidentally, this was the episode in which Jeremy Clarkson made his infamous comments about Lorry Drivers.)

“The male: female viewer ratio is around 60:40, perhaps surprising for a show that features opinionated men charging about in fast cars.”

The audience

Top Gear, though averaging 6.5million viewers, is also prone to the same peaks and troughs that other similar programmes face.

In February 2011, Clarkson, May and Hammond once again caused controversy with their xenophobic comments about Mexicans.

While this was brushed off as “the norm”, the backlash from the Mexican ambassador had a detrimental effect on viewing figures. Following the comments and ensuing complaints, the audience figures fell steeply from 6.5million at the start of the series, to 2.77million.

This is the first time that the comments made on Top Gear have had a measureable effect on viewing figures. Does this then mean that Top Gear’s reign at the top is over? Is it one comment too far?


Top Gear relies heavily on the personalities of its three hosts to retain its popularity.

Ostensibly, it has three middle classed, middle aged men who happen to be car fanatics and are representative of a portion of the country.

Their style of presenting harks back to playground humour and one-up manship. While their humour is often harmless, they also display a distinct intolerance to anyone outside their own demograph.

Throughout the series, there are various comments made. Clarkson’s take on Americans is simply that “Everybody is very fat, everybody is very stupid and everybody is very rude.”


In the original series, there was a mix of male and female presenters. As of 2002, the entire presenting team is wholly male dominated, with women pushed back to the sidelines. Note however that channel 5’s rival Fifth Gear has a female presenter.

Top Gear, has in the past, been criticized for its lack of gender equality. In 2006, Harriet Harman suggested that one of the presenters was excluded and a female presenter introduced. Andy Wilman defended the decision by explaining that it:

“…doesn't make it macho, or exclusatory, it just means one of the show's editorial pillars involves a journey into the male mind, in the same way that the excellent What Not To Wear veers more towards the female mind.”


While there are certain regulatory boards, such as Ofcom, in operation. The BBC, as the producer of Top Gear, deals predominantly with the regulation of its own programming.

Ofcom, in this sense, acts as a mediator between the consumer and the producer. The BBC have enjoyed self-regulation for many years and generally only liase with Ofcom when there are complaints.

Programs produced by the BBC, including Top Gear, are subject to strict parameters set out both by the BBC Trust, ACE (Audience Council England) and in terms of post-airing Ofcom.

Top Gear, since its 2002 reincarnation, has been at the centre of many controversial comments, made almost entirely through its three presenters.

The most current controversy was caused in February 2011, when Richard Hammond commented:

"Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.”

Though the complaints were raised through Ofcom, the BBC responded directly in a statement that:

“it defended the original remarks, saying jokes centered on national stereotypes were part of the humor both of the show and of Britain in general.”



Bbc, James May, Jeremy Clarkson, Mexico, Ofcom, Ratings, Richard Hammond, Top Gear

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author avatar cwilko2011
English Post-grad guy who loves to read.

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