Top Gear (partially found episodes of BBC Two television series; 1977-2002)

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OTG S11 Title Card.jpg

Top Gear's logo circa 1984.

Status: Partially Found

Top Gear is a British television show broadcast as a televised weekly automotive magazine between 1978 and 2001, with an earlier series of regional episodes airing in 1977 and a final "Awards" episode airing[1] in February 2002. It was hosted by a variety of presenters, most notably William Woollard and Jeremy Clarkson, the latter of which would go on to present the show's identically-named reboot from 2002 to 2015.

History[edit | edit source]

Conceived by Derek Smith[2], Top Gear was the BBC's second attempt at creating a television show centred around cars, the first being Wheelbase[3]. Nine initial episodes were commissioned with newsreaders Angela Rippon and Tom Coyne as hosts, each episode filmed at Pebble Mill Studios in Birmingham, England, and aired solely in the Midlands[4]. Following its successful debut on regional television, the BBC saw interest[5] broadcast nationally in a serialized form from 1978. Coyne would be replaced by Barrie Gill, and Top Gear would proceed to be presented by numerous figures[6], perhaps most notably Noel Edmonds[7], before William Woollard joined for the show's sixth series in 1981[8]. Woollard would remain host for 10 years, starring in 20 series and featuring in all but 2[9] of the 175 episodes which aired during his tenure as main presenter.

The program aired on BBC 2 in the United Kingdom for over 25 years and was broadcast to millions[10] of viewers each week. Starting from the 1990s, slightly cut versions of each episode would air internationally[11] on the commercial BBC World service, increasing the show's international exposure and introducing foreign audiences to the eminent main host of the time, Jeremy Clarkson. Despite its enduring popularity, only 4 home videos would be released between 1994 and 2000. An obscure DVD release titled 20 Cars That Changed The World[12] produced by former host Tiff Needell would be released in 2002, containing footage from Top Gear throughout its initial run and would mark the only time footage from the original series was released on a digital format.

Though it is difficult to ascertain the exact number of episodes, it is known that approximately 550 were broadcast between April 1977 and February 2002, including specials and motor shows, the latter of which would also occasionally air on BBC 1 in order to provide a much more detailed look at each of the shows. Though many episodes of Top Gear survive in varying forms due to home recordings later placed online, most episodes produced before the debut of Jeremy Clarkson in late 1988 are lost in their entirety. Only 15 of the 177 serialized episodes which aired between 1978 and 1988 are available in full. Information on the regional shows produced prior to 1978 remains scarce.

VHS recordings of approximately 250 episodes were obtained via YouTube and other sources between 2017 and 2020, and were distributed as part of the fourth[13] and fifth[14] releases of the Top Gear Ultimate Pack, a community project which aims to make publicly available as much Top Gear content as possible. Below is a list of the series which are known to have aired, and the found status of the episodes within these series. This information is also available in an Excel table.

List of Missing Episodes[edit | edit source]

Note: series highlighted in red are missing all episodes, series highlighted in yellow are missing a majority of their episodes, and series highlighted in white are at least 50% intact.

Year Series Original Airdates Found / Total Found in Full + Found Partly Synopsis
1977 Regional Episodes 22/04/1977 - 02/12/1977 (03/03/1978?) 0/9 (12?) 0/9 1/9 Approximately 4 minutes of footage from the very first episode were aired by the BBC in 2011 and 2016. The rest of the regional series is missing in its entirety.
1978 1 13/07/1978 - 14/09/1978 0/10 0/19 1/19 Lost in its entirety.
1979 2 01/05/1979 - 03/07/1979 0/10 0/29 4/29 Small fragments of episodes 1, 2 and 5 remain. No full episodes survive.
1980 3 01/04/1980 - 20/05/1980 0/6 0/35 5/35 A small fragment of episode 6 remains. No full episodes survive.
4 02/09/1980 - 07/10/1980 0/6 0/41 7/41 Small fragments of episodes 1 and 5 remain. No full episodes survive.
1981 5 21/04/1981 - 09/06/1981 0/8 0/49 8/49 A small fragment of episode 4 remains. No full episodes survive.
6 03/11/1981 - 15/12/1981 1/7 1/56 10/56 A small fragment of episode 1 remains. The earliest full episode, covering the 1981 RAC Rally, survives.
1982 7 13/04/1982 - 01/06/1982 0/8 1/64 10/64 Lost in its entirety.
8 07/09/1982 - 03/11/1982 0/7 1/71 10/71 Lost in its entirety.
1983 9 29/01/1983 - 19/04/1983 2/9 3/80 14/80 Earliest full episodes of regular Top Gear found; 5 and 8. Fragments of episodes 4 and 9 also survive.
10 06/09/1983 - 25/10/1983 4/8 7/88 18/88 Four episodes found; 1, 3, 4, and 7.
1984 11 28/02/1984 - 25/04/1984 0/9 7/97 18/97 Lost in its entirety.
12 23/10/1984 - 11/12/1984 0/7 7/104 20/104 Small fragments of episodes 2 and 3 remain. No full episodes survive.
1985 13 05/03/1985 - 30/04/1985 0/9 7/113 20/113 Lost in its entirety.
14 03/09/1985 - 22/10/1985 0/8 7/121 20/121 Lost in its entirety.
1986 15 08/04/1986 - 10/06/1986 0/10 7/131 24/131 Small fragments of episodes 2, 4, 7, and 9 remain. No full episodes survive.
16 09/09/1986 - 20/11/1986 3/9 10/140 29/140 Episodes 2 and 4 available in full. Episode 9, the 1986 RAC Rally Report, is also available. Incomplete recordings of episodes 1 and 5 have also been found.
1987 17 07/04/1987 - 26/05/1987 3/8 13/148 35/148 Episodes 3, 7, and 8 available in full. Incomplete recordings of episodes 5 and 6 have also been found. A small fragment of episode 1 also exists.
18 10/09/1987 - 26/11/1987 2/12 15/160 41/160 Episodes 10 and 11 available in full. Incomplete recordings of episodes 3 and 7 have also been found, with small fragments of episodes 5 and 6 also existing.
1988 19 07/04/1988 - 26/05/1988 0/8 15/168 42/168 Lost in its entirety until YouTube user Redline Ste uploaded[15] 13 minutes of the first episode to YouTube in 2020.
20 22/09/1988 - 17/11/1988 1/9 16/177 47/177 Episode 1 is available in full. Fragments of episodes 3 through 6 have also been found.
1989 21 21/03/1989 - 09/05/1989 3/8 19/185 51/185 Episodes 3, 4 and 5 available in full. A small fragment of episode 8 also exists.
22 14/09/1989 - 23/11/1989 7/11 26/196 58/196 The first 6 episodes, in addition to episode 8 are available in full. The other four episodes are lost in their entirety.
1990 23 27/03/1990 - 15/05/1990 7/8 33/204 66/204 Almost fully available; 6 minutes of episode 4 was located, the rest is missing.
24 27/09/1990 - 29/11/1990 9/10 42/214 75/214 Almost fully available; only episode 6 is missing in its entirety.
1991 25 28/02/1991 - 02/05/1991 10/10 52/224 85/224 Only series to be completely available. The final series with renowned host William Woollard.
26 19/09/1991 - 19/12/1991 12/14 64/238 98/238 Almost fully available; only the second half of episode 1 and episode 2 in its entirety are missing. Jeremy Clarkson's first series as main host.
1992 27 27/02/1992 - 07/05/1992 7/11 71/249 105/249 Episodes 2 through 8 are available in full; the remaining four are lost in their entirety.
28 24/09/1992 - 17/12/1992 5/13 76/262 115/262 Episodes 5, 7, 8, 9 and 13 are available in full. Incomplete recordings of episodes 2, 6, and 12 also exist, with fragments of episodes 4 and 10 also existing.
1993 29 18/02/1993 - 10/06/1993 12/17 88/279 129/279 Episodes 1, 4 through 8, 10, 11, 13, and 15 through 17 are available in full. An incomplete recording of episode 9 also exists, in addition to a segment from episode 12.
30 09/09/1993 - 30/12/1993 8/16 96/295 145/295 Episodes 6, 7, 9 through 11 and 13 through 15 are available in full. Incomplete recordings of episodes 1, 4 and 12 also exist, with fragments of every other episode being present.
1994 31 03/03/1994 - 12/05/1994 2/11 98/306 152/306 Episodes 1 and 7 are available in full. Incomplete recordings of episodes 6 and 8 also exist, in addition to fragments of 2, 5, and 11. Four episodes are lost in their entirety.
32 22/09/1994 - 22/12/1994 6/13 104/319 164/319 Episodes 5, 6, 8 through 10 and 12 are available in full. Incomplete recordings of episodes 1 through 4 also exist, with fragments of episodes 5, 11 and 13 also existing, leaving only episode 7 to be lost in its entirety.
1995 33 16/02/1995 - 11/05/1995 4/13 108/332 172/332 Episodes 4, 8, 9 and 11 are available in full. Incomplete recordings of episodes 2, 10 and 13 also exist, in addition to a fragment of episode 7. Five episodes are lost in their entirety.
34 21/09/1995 - 21/12/1995 6/14 114/346 183/346 Episodes 5, 6, and 10 through 13 are available in full. Incomplete recordings of episodes 2, 3 and 9 also exist, with fragments of episodes 4 and 14 also existing. Three episodes are lost in their entirety.
1996 35 15/02/1996 - 16/05/1996 7/14 121/360 192/360 Episodes 1, 5, 6, 9 through 11 and 14 are available in full. An incomplete recording of episode 13 also exists. A fragment of episode 2 also likewise survives, with the remaining five episodes lost in their entirety.
36 05/09/1996 - 05/12/1996 4/14 125/374 200/374 Episodes 4, 7, 11, and 13 are available in full. Incomplete recordings of episodes 5, 8, 9, and 12 also exist. Six episodes are lost in their entirety.
1997 37 02/01/1997 - 15/05/1997 12/20 137/394 217/394 Episodes 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 9 through 11 and 16 through 19 are available in full. Incomplete recordings of episodes 5, 12, 14, 15 and 20 also exist. Three episodes are lost in their entirety.
38 04/09/1997 - 18/12/1997 11/16 148/410 231/410 Episodes 1, 4 through 10, 13, 15 and 16 are available in full. An incomplete recording of episode 14 also exists, with fragments of episodes 11 and 12 also existing. Two episodes are lost in their entirety.
1998 39 19/02/1998 - 14/05/1998 12/13 160/423 245/423 Almost fully available; only episode 9 is missing in its entirety.
40 10/09/1998 - 17/12/1998 12/15 172/438 259/438 The final series with Jeremy Clarkson as host until the 2002 reboot. Almost fully available; only episode 13 is missing in its entirety. Incomplete recordings of episodes 8 and 12 form a part of the findings. The segment deleted from the BBC World airing of Episode 5, focusing on the poor safety of the Ford Explorer, was located elsewhere.
1999 41 18/03/1999 - 03/06/1999 11/12 183/450 270/450 Almost fully available; only episode 7 is missing in its entirety. This series saw the first appearances of James May, who would be off the screen just as quickly as he was on it.
42 09/09/1999 - 09/12/1999 9/13 192/463 282/463 Episode 9 lost in its entirety. 4:36 of episode 10 discovered in an online torrent. Approx. 9 minutes of episode 11 found online.
2000 43 20/01/2000 - 25/05/2000 5/18 197/481 292/481 Largely missing; only 5 of the 18 episodes are available whole. Eight episodes are lost in their entirety.
44 07/09/2000 - 14/12/2000 8/15 205/496 303/496 Episodes 3 through 8, 10, and 12 are available in full. Four episodes remain completely lost.
2001 45 22/02/2001 - 17/12/2001 18/36 223/532 332/532 Surprisingly intact with 18 complete episodes of the 36 which aired, not including the 2002 special, which was once available online but since been re-lost. Parts of episodes 3, 10, 20, 32, 33 and 34 are missing. Sound for the second half of episode 13 is missing, although one of the affected segments was rediscovered with sound on Dailymotion. Episodes 17, 18, 19, 22, 24, 29, 35 and 36 are missing in their entirety.

Motor Shows and Specials[edit | edit source]

Prior to the creation of Top Gear, the BBC aired coverage at various motor shows across the world, a role which predecessor show Wheelbase also formerly held. The final time this would occur was in October of 2002[16], when Jason Barlow, formerly of Top Gear, would present an independently-produced special which featured some of the crew from the show's previous iteration, including director Ewan Keil. Richard Porter would refer to this special as a "spectre"[17] of the former show, and wouldn't last beyond this sole special, ending the BBC's 38 year tradition[18] of broadcasting programs at each of the international motor shows.

Availability[edit | edit source]

Like much lost media following the abolition of the BBC's tape junking policy in 1978[19], it is highly unlikely that these episodes are literally lost. However, due to the nature of the shows - which feature long-outdated consumer advice and copyrighted footage from many different rights holders, as well as the sheer volume of the series, it is highly unlikely that they will ever be given a home video release or be made available for streaming, especially when one considers that most episodes have not been seen for 20 years or longer. The episodes were rarely re-aired, and the final sighting was a lone airing[20] of Take 2, an abridged compilation series, in 2008 on BBC Four.

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]