10 things you didn't know about Top Gear

In years to come historians will divide time thusly: the dark ages and the era of Top Gear. Whilst we shudder to think how society coped without Jezza and the gang here are 10 things you probably didn't know about the show which launched a thousand hatchbacks.

Jeremy Clarkson

1. Clarkson giveth and he taketh away

Although we have Jeremy Clarkson to thank for helping to revive Top Gear in 2002, it was pretty much his fault it was axed in the first place. When he left the show in 1999 to broaden his TV career, the audience fell from six million to under three million and it was soon consigned to the scrap yard.

2. Wheel or no wheel

Ok, we know there are urban legends like Jamie Lee Curtis being born a man and Piers Morgan being a human but this one is actually true. The early presenters of Top Gear, when it was attached to Auntie institution Pebble Mill, included Noel Edmonds and Angela Rippon. Noel Edmonds presented Top Gear – the idea is such a dangerous nugget of telly trivia you mustn't look at it directly. It's like discovering Cilla Black invented satellite dishes.

3. What? No presenter perks?

You might be surprised to know that the presenters don't get any free cars. The Top Gear team work closely with car companies in order to select which vehicles are featured on the show, but strict BBC regulations mean that Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May have to buy their cars from dealers, like us mere mortals.

4. Lotus position

One of the most exciting features of Top Gear is the track, so terrifying at points it's a wonder any of the guest drivers go back to their day jobs. And it's no wonder it can scare the bejesus out of our plucky celebs while testing a motor to its limits – it wasn't just thrown together by the lads one afternoon in between a pint and a pie. The team at Lotus helped design it to be the most fiendish test you can endure in a car since Chris Moyles' drivetime show.

5. A review to a kill

The most extreme example of the Top Gear team's opinions affecting car sales was the Ford Ka. Sales plummeted when Clarkson decided that it "looked like a frog". On the other hand, even more damning statements have not affected sales of the Toyota Corolla and heaps of praise from the team didn't help the Alpine Renault A610.

6. Clarkson's secret shame

Jeremy Clarkson's motormouth may have got him into trouble over the years, whether slightly implying that lorry drivers kill prostitutes or subtly referring to a car as a bit ginger beer. But one thing he's not done, for all his tomfoolery, high-speed and daredevilry, is clock up points on his licence. That's right, Jeremy Clarkson has a clean licence. It's like finding out Mick Jagger's a virgin, isn't it?

7. The waiting vroom

Top Gear's come a long way from those dark, dismal days when the Beeb pulled the plug on it. So far, in fact, that as well as countless awards and a devoted worldwide audience the waiting list to get in and see the filming of the show is now somewhere in the region of one to two years. That's about the same time frame as it'd take Jimmy Carr to get round the track again.

8. A tall tale

The height difference between Clarkson and Hammond is obviously a bit of a running gag - but do you know the total distance between the fellow Yorkshiremen? You do now - an impressive nine inches.

9. Hamsters in need

One incident that took the wind of the lads' sails was Richard Hammond's terrifying high-speed smash while travelling at nearly 300mph in a Dragster. Luckily the Hamster was soon back up and running, but the outpouring of support didn't just go to show how popular the show is – it also raised the whopping sum of £230,000 for air ambulances. Well, £230,001 if you include Clarkson and May's contribution.

10. Driving music

Are you tired of playing air-guitar to the theme tune while wondering 'what is this song, and how can I obtain more of it, perhaps on some sort of portable device?' Help is at hand – the theme tune to Top Gear is 'Jessica' by rawk dudes The Allman Brothers. The seven minute instrumental, from their album Brothers and Sisters, was a hit for the group in 1973. Top Gear initially used part of the original recording, but has since recorded its own version. Whack it on next time you're in a car and literally any journey, however mundane, will become 82% cooler. You may find yourself wearing more mixed denim than usual though.

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