About Top Gear

No longer do you have to actually give two hoots about cars to enjoy Top Gear. It's now the funniest show on the box – a kind of weekly, British version of the Cannonball Run, hosted by three blokes having a laugh (often at each other's expense).

Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May

Lest we forget, Top Gear started out way back in the 1970s, and its original presenters included Angela Rippon and Noel Edmonds. No, this isn't some sick attempt to sully the reputation of an iconic show. It was Rippon, we tell you. Rippon and Edmonds. Admittedly, it did improve a fair bit after that, with the likes of Tiff Needell coming on board, and in the late 80s a certain burly, big-haired, big-gobbed chap by the name of Jeremy Clarkson turned up to give the show a good kick up the backside.

Yet, despite the increasingly witty reviews and occasional accusations of macho posturing from the press, there's no denying that Top Gear version 1.0 was essentially a proper, fact-filled car review show and therefore incredibly dull for anyone who a) couldn't care less about cars or b) wasn't your dad. Eventually, the Beeb couldn't ignore the slide in ratings any longer. They decided that Top Gear was about as unfashionable as Jeremy Clarkson's dress sense, and axed the series in 2001.

Then, just when the guys over at Fifth Gear were settling into their groove as our new petrolhead overlords, came the most unexpected resurrection since Aslan the lion's. We'd love to have been there in the brainstorming sessions that led to the format being rebooted. In fact, we can just see it now: "Hey guys, what we need are fewer reviews and more, you know, exploding caravans!" Sage nods all round, and lo! The new Top Gear was born - a show that bears as much resemblance to its predecessor as the Sex Pistols do to Genesis.

The most startling thing was this: you no longer had to actually give two hoots about cars to enjoy Top Gear. It was suddenly the funniest show on the box – a kind of weekly, British version of the Cannonball Run, hosted by three blokes having a laugh (often at each other's expense). Of course, viewers have since been divided over which presenter is best. Dads and lads like Clarkson, car geeks like James May, and (as long-suffering boyfriends well know) every single female viewer likes Richard Hammond. And everyone's got their favourite stunt - from "car darts" to the time they turned a Reliant Robin into a space shuttle. And let's not forget the car ski jump, which could only have been improved if Eddie the Eagle had been strapped into the driving seat.

There's also the thing of genius that is the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, a segment which actually puts most mainstream chatshows to shame. There's something about talking about cars that always seems to relax the celebs and encourage them to just natter away, almost as if they're down the pub, with the result that even James Blunt came across as a witty and likeable guy. And some of the conversations end up becoming brilliantly random too – like Guy Richie going on about his deep and unlikely passion for, er, "winching".

Of course, Top Gear's also famed for its adventures abroad – from the boys being stuck in the Amazon and having to go all Ray Mears, to the now legendary road trip across America which involved a car emblazoned with the immortal slogan "Man Love Rules OK". Which actually led to a genuine (and genuinely scary) confrontation with the locals. Is there any other show you can imagine skirting so close to the edge? No, we can't either.

Friends of Dave