Richard Porter: The Good and Bad Ideas of Top Gear

Richard Porter: The Good and Bad Ideas of Top Gear

Good Ideas

The Stig

The tame racing driver thing came from Jeremy, as a lot of Top Gear ideas did. Professional racing drivers are boring, he said, and all you want to see them do is drive. Our man won’t speak or show his face, saving the audience for hearing him drone on about tyres and how ‘the guys’ did ‘a good job’ like all the F1 jockeys do every other week. When the mute driver idea was first suggested, along with the original name of ‘The Gimp’ which the BBC told us we couldn’t use, I wasn’t sure it would work. I was happy to be proved very wrong on that score and went on to spend ages every week thinking of new and ever-more absurd ‘some say…’ introductions.

America Special

We never meant to start the tradition of a yearly special. Like many things on the show, it came about entirely by accident when we went off to shoot an American road trip and came back with so much useable footage that the finished item was given an entire programme to itself. This was the one in which Jeremy beat the heat with an in-car shower, Richard almost crashed his pick-up into an alligator infested swamp and James literally couldn’t give away his Cadillac. It’s probably most remembered, however, for the things the presenters wrote down the sides of each others’ cars and the unexpectedly angry reaction this prompted in a rural petrol station. I’m quite proud to say that the whole slogans thing was utterly idiotic and completely my idea. Sorry.

Hiring James May

James wasn’t part of the presenter line-up for the first series. We brought him in for series two and, given his reputation for getting lost, used to claim he couldn’t even show up for the first series on time. When we hired May we liked him because he was clever and funny and he had lots of unusual ideas, like making an item on how he’d bought a cheap Bentley and how you absolutely must not do the same because it would ruin your life. What we didn’t completely realise at first is how well he would complete the trio, providing a brilliant counterpoint to Jeremy’s bluster and Richard’s excitability, all wrapped up in a nice comfy jumper.

Bad Ideas

The Dog

We were having one of our regular ideas meetings when James May piped up with an unusual suggestion. ‘Could we get a dog?’ he asked. Everyone laughed and immediately agreed that yes, we could and should. So we did. No one had really thought beyond the basic idea that dogs are nice and having a dog around would be fun. The dog we ended up with was very sweet but spent most of her time sleeping or getting car sick, neither of which were ideal for her role in life. Plus, we didn’t really know what to do with her. We couldn’t very well send her off on her own to test a new Nissan. After a series or so we gave in and quietly retired her from the programme. She went off to live happily with Hammond where she remains to this day.

The India Special

The Top Gear specials were at their best when they had a clear point. Usually it was a simple challenge such as, you must drive from point A to point B in normal cars across difficult terrain, thereby proving that you don’t need a 4×4. For the India special we forgot that simplicity and came up with a stupid concept based around a ‘trade mission’ which saw the presenters meandering about the country with no purpose beyond unamusing mucking about. As a result, the finished show was pointless and a bit annoying. It’s a shame really. India is a fascinating and amazing place whereas the Top Gear India special was neither.

The Game Show

Every so often we would assume people were bored of Top Gear in its current form and so we’d desperately try to think of some new gimmick to make it more interesting. That’s how the game show segment came about. The idea was that a contestant would come up on stage and Jeremy would ask them questions. Every time they answered incorrectly, we would smash a part of their car. It was very mildly amusing at first glance, but also cruel and pointless and mired in a hundred miles of BBC red tape. We went so far as to make a pilot episode for this idea before realising that it was a bit rubbish and that people were probably happy with the show as it was.