Top Gear (partially found original British airings of BBC Two television series; 2002-2003)

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TG2003.jpg

A screenshot of Top Gear on UKTV channel Horizons circa 2003.

Status: Partially Found

Top Gear is a long-running British television series themed around cars and is a reboot of an earlier show[1] by the same name. Broadcast in over 212 countries[2] at one point in time, the series soon became the most pirated in the world[3], even in its own country, mainly due to the episodes frequently being subject to edits which removed significant amounts of footage for time-saving or copyright-related reasons. This record would later be broken[4] by its own spiritual successor show The Grand Tour. Due to the BBC's "blanket license"[5], allowing free usage of music on any of its intellectual property which would otherwise cost a lot of money to independently license, much of the original soundtrack in later reshowings or foreign territories ended up swapped out in favor of generic alternatives where the conditions of this license are not enjoyed, in addition to segments showing or featuring copyrighted footage being removed in their entirety.

Until the release of Series 10[6] as a boxed set in April 2009, none of the seasons were available to buy or stream anywhere, meaning that fans who didn't want to wait for a channel to air a particular episode had to resort to online pirating, as there were no other legal avenues to watch Top Gear. Because of these reasons, in addition to the program requiring 45 minute cuts to fit in an hour-long timeslot (with commercials), many countries chose to air versions of episodes which removed segments that weren't pertinent in later reshowings, with later territories simply piggybacking off of the earlier syndicated versions, but providing their own dub or hardcoding subtitles over the footage.

The original British airings of every episode since Series 4 in mid-2004 have long been available on various illegal torrent sites and other unofficial sources, but airings of the first 29 episodes were largely lost for almost two decades until the BBC reissued them in late 2021.

History[edit | edit source]

From its inception, the 2002 reboot of Top Gear proved immediately successful on the internet. Originally distributed online by individuals such as "Jabba" of the long-defunct Jabba's World[7] and "Vuk" of Fast-Autos.net[8], as well as on the Racing Flix forum[9], these rips were notoriously low quality but spread word of the show on an international scale and resulted in the creation of FinalGear[10], a fan forum, in January 2003 by Alex "Viper007Bond" Mills, an American fan of Top Gear who would sadly pass away[11] in February 2019 from Leukemia-related causes, and would be paid tribute[12] to by former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson. Mills himself would host an FTP[13] containing some of these recordings. As recording technology and methods improved, with DVD recorders and capture cards becoming more affordable and available, by 2006 these early recordings of the episodes, often made on outdated mediums such as VHS had been replaced by Maxiuca's digital recordings of the international BBC Prime rebroadcasts of each episode, which omitted segments and lost a large portion of the original soundtrack. This did not matter to the community at large, as the higher quality of Maxiuca's rips led the grand majority of individuals to switch over.

A screenshot of peer-to-peer service eMule, with the original hash links to the entirety of Series 2 visible in its download window. Unfortunately, these links appear to be long-dead.

Of these losses, the largest loss was of the "Greatest Car" competition held throughout Series 2, which has resulted in each episode being cut by around 10 minutes. These segments featured a guest host talking about a particular car, and why they thought people should vote for it as the greatest car of all time. Of these segments, only Murray Walker's report on the McLaren F1 officially survived due to its appearance in the 2003 DVD release "Back in the Fast Lane", and even this was cut, omitting an interview with the car's designer, Gordon Murray.

What compounded the loss of this footage is that many people, particularly those outside of the UK, were largely unaware of the segment's existence. Cumulative error through people who recalled the segment led many to believe that the footage excised from later versions of the episodes were just stock footage, and no real loss, which hampered rediscovery efforts as there was no-one actively looking for them or preserving them. By the turn of the 2010s, these older recordings slowly disappeared due to their antiquated filesizes and unsightly watermarks, with Top Gear torrents choosing to feature either Maxiuca's recordings, or compressed versions of recordings made by FinalGear in 2008 when SBS re-aired Top Gear from the beginning, one of the last countries to do so. South Korea would air Series 1[14] in mid-2008, followed by the Czech Republic and finally Hungary one year later, after which point, Series 1 was pulled from the BBC Worldwide Sales Catalogue and could not be legally viewed until November 2019, a decade later.

Regardless, a few trace recordings of this segment survived, and were uploaded to YouTube during the 15 years in which these were lost media.

  • Graeme Le Saux's segment on the Audi Quattro was posted to YouTube[15] in November 2006 and survives to this day.
    • A longer version of this segment, along with the rest of the competition, would be uploaded[16] by Rare Top Gear Content in February 2021 as the result of an archive upload by Maxiuca.
  • Richard Hammond's segment on the Land Rover resurfaced[17] on the website in 2009, and comes from a BBC World re-airing.
  • Another of these segments, featuring the Fiat 500 and being presented by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason, resurfaced[18] on YouTube in 2011.
  • Stuart Hall's segment on the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud would appear[19] on YouTube in November of 2011.
  • Another BBC World recording featuring Jeremy Clarkson and the Ford Mustang resurfaced[20] in 2013.
  • And thanks to the preservation efforts of FinalGear user Phat_J, James May's segment on the Citroen DS would be reuploaded[21] to YouTube in August of 2020.

A partial visual fragment of May's segment on the DS also appeared in the 2010 DVD release Top Gear: Apocalypse. Brief visual fragments from other contenders also appear in the credit sequences of each Series 2 episode where this segment was featured. In the end, the winner of this competition was the Land Rover[22], whose segment was hosted by Richard Hammond. The Land Rover used in the segment would then be bought by Hammond for the purposes of restoration, and would appear again in a broken-down form in Series 22[23] of the show, where he would reference its role in the competition.

Throughout 2020 and into 2021, concerted efforts were made by LMW user AlexGRFan97 and the remainder of the surviving Top Gear community to track down and restore as many of these early recordings as possible. These would later be included as part of the fourth[24] and fifth[25] versions of the "Top Gear Ultimate Pack". During this operation, the history of how Top Gear made its way to the internet was gradually uncovered.

In September of 2021, Series 1-9 was made available on iPlayer[26], with almost all episodes from the pre-HD era at full length, albeit in a fairly compressed, watermarked 540p video stream. This was pointed out by user Williamg209 on a Discord server ran by AlexGRFan97 for the express purpose of locating these recordings, and the missing content confirmed by Corey, another user. This reduces the overall amount of lost footage to roughly just one minute in the second season's seventh episode, where Clarkson introduced the car for that week (Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow), along with the guest presenter (Stuart Hall), and gave the viewer information on how to vote.

A few months prior, SmartIdiotBT located Jabba’s rip of the second season’s fourth and eighth episodes, which include all of the missing footage (although episode 4 is redundant). However, the currently available version of the Citroen DS Greatest Car segment in the “Ultimate Pack” still excludes the introduction.

Located Episodes[edit | edit source]

By mid-2021, the following episodes were found, either as they aired on BBC 2, or in a form identical to how they aired on BBC 2:

  • Series 1, Episode 1 - from an original BBC 2 recording
  • Series 1, Episode 3 - from a 2005 BBC Prime recording
  • Series 1, Episode 4 - from an original BBC 2 recording
  • Series 1, Episode 7 - from an original BBC 2 recording
  • Series 1, Episode 10 - this episode has been wholly unmodified since 2002, aside from the deletion of a James Bond clip
  • Series 2, Episode 4 - from an original BBC 2 recording
  • Series 2, Episode 8 - from an original BBC 2 recording
  • Series 2, Episode 9 - from an original BBC 2 recording
  • Series 3, Episode 2 - from an original BBC 2 recording
  • Series 3, Episode 3 - from an original BBC 2 recording
  • Series 3, Episode 4 - from an original BBC 2 recording
  • Series 3, Episode 7 - from an original BBC 2 recording
  • Series 3, Episode 9 - from an original BBC 2 recording

Series 3 was the most complete of the first three series, with 5 of the 8 original recordings made from the 9 episodes which aired having been located via eMule and other archaic sources. None of these latter recordings contain the infamous Toyota Hilux segment, which was a defining moment of the show's early years and catapulted it into the limelight. 14 recordings remained at large, as no complete version of Series 1, Episode 2 was ever known to have been recorded as it originally aired either. The releases on iPlayer mean that this search is largely over for the most part. However, only 1 episode is not available in its originally-released form; Series 2, Episode 7. Furthermore, the missing footage from Series 2, Episode 8 is only presently available in low quality and watermarked.

Backstory[edit | edit source]

Prior to its 2002 reboot, Top Gear already held a degree of popularity under previous hosts Tiff Needell and Vicki Butler-Henderson, who each left to present Channel 5's rival show Fifth Gear from 2002. As a result, many clips from this version of the show were shared across likewise as many[27] early[28] car[29] forums[30], at a time when copyright infringement was a much more lax issue. When the show returned in 2002, these websites saw an immediate interest in getting clips (usually of the cars being driven fast) to share to their friends and across the internet as a whole. The very first clip ever to be uploaded was that of the Pagani Zonda and Lamborghini Murcielago comparison test, recorded from its original BBC2 airing in October 2002 and was presumably posted to the internet by Jabba355 at around the same time.

  • The earliest known complete episode of 2002-format Top Gear to be posted to the internet is a recording of Series 1 Episode 7 from BBC 2, which was recorded at the beginning of December 2002 and uploaded to Jabba's World.
  • Following that, no other original airings of Series 1 as it aired on BBC 2 are known to have surfaced for another 4 years, outside of the "Best of Series 1" special from January 2003.
  • After missing its rebroadcasts of the first two episodes, Jabba355 then began recording re-runs of Top Gear on UK Horizons throughout early 2003, beginning with the third episode. This initial recording was notorious for failing in every media player after the 31st minute due to a missing or corrupted chunk of data. However, with modern video technology, this section can be repaired and the whole episode watched.
  • Jabba then proceeded to record the remainder of the first series as it aired on UK Horizons, with exception to episode 7, due to his pre-existing BBC2 recording.
  • When Series 2 premiered in mid-2003, Jabba recorded and uploaded all 10 episodes as they aired on BBC 2 to his website, but made the controversial decision of paywalling[31] these videos. On top of putting a large, intrusive watermark on the footage, Jabba soon lost his popularity and would not return to do any more series after this.
  • With no-one ready to record the entirety of Series 3, Vuk of Fast-Autos.net began recording and uploading them himself, starting from at least episode 2[32]. No known complete recording of episode 1 as it aired in 2003 is known to have ever existed, although segments such as the Porsche 911 GT3 and Ford GT were posted to the usual clip-sharing sites via the likes of Sleepy-Fish. These versions of Series 3 were later posted to Viper007Bond's website.
  • Alternate versions of the first 3 series which aired on world service BBC World throughout 2003 and 2004 were likewise made available on various FTPs, but were largely ignored due to their cut[33] and rearranged forms from their original airings. Nonetheless, a few of these have survived.
  • By Series 4, m00tv, one of the oldest UK-based ripping groups[34], would take over, along with the rest of the Scene, and provide compressed, lower-resolution standard definition versions of each episode until the show's move to high-definition broadcasting in late 2009.
  • In 2005, Top Gear would premiere on BBC Prime, a commercial world station which operated primarily in Eastern Europe and Asia. Maxiuca would record these (albeit not in their original 16:9 resolution, and with a missing right audio track) and they would soon supplant the earlier recordings of the first three series in short order, in spite of their omissions.
  • In 2006, a Scene member known as "[Altruist]" would post a torrent of Series 1 to ThePirateBay, a torrent which was still active as of late 2019. Said torrent contained a unique version of Series 1, Episode 4 as it aired on BBC 2 Wales in its original November 2002 broadcast. This version of the episode contained scenes which were late cut or removed from future airings, including clips from the 1979 French Grand Prix and James Bond film Die Another Day, in addition to Richard Burns' crash at the 2002 Rally New Zealand.
  • That same year, a myriad of recordings from these early airings of Top Gear were backed up[35] on a personal website ran by Ely Liu[36], a man who would later be employed by Disney as a researcher. As of 2020, this section of Liu's website remains active.
  • In 2008, Top Gear would air from the beginning[37] on Australian television channel SBS. The first series aired uncut, the second only cut the Greatest Car segment, and the third was had varying levels of cuts, with some episodes being cut to about 53 minutes, and some being left full. These were recorded at 576i resolution and distributed across various file-sharing sites.
  • It would take until 2019 before Series 1 was accessible in a legal manner, with MotorTrend streaming it, and a near-uncut version of Series 3 from August that year. Their only omissions and changes were with regards to the soundtrack, and any copyrighted stock footage. Series 2 was unfortunately unchanged from its 2005 re-airing. These would later be distributed across Amazon's various global franchises in higher resolutions, such as 480p and 576p in Australia.
  • In 2020, a complete recording of Series 1, Episode 1 from its original October 2002 airing was digitized from a VHS tape sent to a service reliant on the BBC Redux[38] database, and made available for private viewing. However, according to The Overtake,[39] this recording was known to have existed since 2018.

List of missing recordings[edit | edit source]

Below is a table comparing the original BBC 2 episode length, recorded on their Infax archival database[40], and the version which appears on MotorTrend On Demand[41], which were the most complete versions of the episodes broadcast since their initial UK run until BBC iPlayer in 2021. At one point in time, over 2 hours of footage were missing from the first three series of Top Gear that had not been seen since their original airings.

Note that the MotorTrend cuts are around 4.5 seconds longer than the stated original length. This is most likely due to the BBC logo at the start of each episode, which is an addition not present on the original footage.

Series 1 (2002)[edit | edit source]

Approximately 4 minutes of footage is missing from MotorTrend's version of Series 1, all of which exist in alternate recordings.

Episode Original Airdate Original Length Longest Cut Footage Lost Available Description of missing content
1 20/10/2002 58:57 59:01 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety. Soundtrack located via 2002 BBC airing.
2 27/10/2002 59:00 59:05 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety, albeit with incomplete soundtrack.
3 03/11/2002 58:52 58:25 0:32 Yes Showing and discussion of Ross Kemp's infamous car crash scene in EastEnders. Survives in 2003 UKTV Horizons recording.
4 10/11/2002 58:53 56:43 2:15 Yes Showing and discussion of Richard Burns' crash at the 2002 Rally New Zealand, as well as promotion of his book Driving Ambition. Clips of Die Another Day and the 1979 French Grand Prix. All survive in 2002 BBC2 and 2003 UKTV Horizons airings.
5 17/11/2002 59:12 59:16 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety, albeit with incomplete soundtrack.
6 24/11/2002 58:56 59:01 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety, albeit with incomplete soundtrack.
7 01/12/2002 59:00 59:05 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety. Soundtrack located via 2002 BBC airing.
8 08/12/2002 59:05 59:09 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety, albeit with incomplete soundtrack.
9 22/12/2002 59:03 59:07 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety, albeit with incomplete soundtrack.
10 29/12/2002 58:59 57:25 1:39 Yes Clip of James Bond's Lotus Esprit from The Spy Who Loved Me. Retained in 2005 BBC Prime airing.


Series 2 (2003)[edit | edit source]

Series 2 is by far the most cut of any series of Top Gear, with over 75 minutes missing across each of the 10 episodes. By the end of 2021, only 1 minute remains missing, from the seventh episode.

Episode Original Airdate Original Length Longest Cut Footage Lost Available Description of missing content
1 11/05/2003 58:58 48:44 10:19 Yes Introduction to Greatest Car segment, in addition to Murray Walker on the McLaren F1 - of which 2 minutes appear on the 2003 compilation DVD Back in the Fast Lane. Small cuts made to Ferrari F355 replica segment; available on 2005 BBC Prime rip.
2 18/05/2003 59:27 53:38 5:54 Yes Chris Barrie's Greatest Car segment on the Jaguar E-Type.
3 25/05/2003 59:12 50:36 8:41 Yes Jeremy Clarkson's Greatest Car segment on the Ford Mustang; found separately from low quality BBC World airing.
4 01/06/2003 59:00 50:25 8:40 Yes A.A. Gill's Greatest Car segment on the London Taxi. Richard Hammond discussing the cult French film Rendezvous.
5 08/06/2003 58:53 52:23 6:35 Yes Richard Hammond's Greatest Car segment on the Land Rover.
6 15/06/2003 58:52 52:26 6:31 Yes Nick Mason's Greatest Car segment on the Fiat 500.
7 22/06/2003 59:02 53:15 5:51 4:52 Stuart Hall's Greatest Car segment on the Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. Approximately 1 minute remains missing. Was not released by the BBC in 2021.
8 06/07/2003 59:00 52:32 6:28 Yes James May's Greatest Car segment on the Citroen DS. Masters of the Universe challenge was also deleted from more recent airings, but is still retained in the SBS recording. Was not released by the BBC in 2021.
9 13/07/2003 59:00 52:44 6:21 Yes Graeme Le Saux's Greatest Car segment on the Audi Quattro. Studio introduction to the Vauxhall Monaro review. Sir Patrick Stewart's role in Star Trek: Nemesis. Alternate footage used during later airings to pad the episode out.
10 20/07/2003 58:53 55:50 3:08 Yes Greatest Car result.

Series 3 (2003)[edit | edit source]

Approximately 5 minutes of footage is missing from MotorTrend's version of Series 3, much of which is copyrighted/archive footage. Until their release in 2019, however, much of Series 3 was missing in the same vein as Series 2.

Episode Original Airdate Original Length Longest Cut Footage Lost Available Description of missing content
1 26/10/2003 59:15 57:23 1:57 Yes Showing and discussion of Martin Kemp's fiery car crash in EastEnders, which appeared in the 2005 BBC Prime airing of the episode. Archive footage of the Ford GT40 was also cut.
2 02/11/2003 58:37 58:47 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety.
3 09/11/2003 59:29 59:35 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety, albeit with replaced soundtrack.
4 16/11/2003 59:45 58:35 1:15 Yes Dead rockers who owned Lamborghinis. Retained in the 2005 BBC Prime airing.
5 23/11/2003 59:51 58:27 1:29 Yes Australian Toyota Hilux advertisement and news clippings of Toyotas used in war. Retained in the 2005 BBC Prime airing.
6 30/11/2003 1:00:25 1:00:29 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety, albeit with replaced soundtrack.
7 07/12/2003 59:27 58:36 0:56 Yes Compilation of Germany's past achievements. Retained in the 2005 BBC Prime airing.
8 14/12/2003 59:02 59:07 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety, albeit with replaced soundtrack.
9 21/12/2003 1:00:00 1:00:08 0:00 N/A Episode available in its entirety, albeit with replaced soundtrack.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

See Also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Birmingham Mail article on Derek Smith's death. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  2. BBC News article featuring Top Gear's widespread international appeal. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  3. BBC News article on Top Gear's past, including a statement on its piracy rate. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  4. New York Magazine article on The Grand Tour's piracy rate. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  5. BBC Website stating the terms of their blanket license. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  6. TV and Film Guy - Top Gear Comes to DVD! Retrieved 21 Oct '21
  7. Archive.org - Jabba's World. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  8. Archive.org - Fast Cars Forum (Top Gear thread visible). Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  9. Archive.org - Racing Flix Forum (Videos Section). Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  10. FinalGear Forum. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  11. Jalopnik article on Alex Mills' death. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  12. Twitter - Jeremy Clarkson's posthumous statement on Viper007Bond
  13. Archive.org - Viper007Bond's old download site.
  14. Archive.org - Top Gear on FX (South Korea). Retrieved 21 Oct '21
  15. YouTube - Graeme Le Saux on the Audi Quattro. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  16. YouTube - Full length Audi Quattro segment. Retrieved 16 Feb '21
  17. YouTube - Richard Hammond on the Land Rover. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  18. YouTube - Nick Mason on the Fiat 500. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  19. YouTube - Stuart Hall on the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. Retrieved 04 Oct '20
  20. YouTube - Jeremy Clarkson on the Ford Mustang. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  21. YouTube - James May on the Citroen DS. Retrieved 04 Oct '20
  22. Bucks Free Press - Article on "Greatest Car" award winner. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  23. Top Gear: Series 22, Episode 4.
  24. Reddit - Top Gear Ultimate Pack v4.0. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  25. Reddit - Top Gear Ultimate Pack v5.0. Retrieved 04 Oct '20
  26. iPlayer - Top Gear. Retrieved 21 Oct '21
  27. Automotive Video List - Link 1 (CBR600RR Forum). Retrieved 04 Oct '20
  28. Automotive Video List - Link 2 (Muscular Mustangs Forum). Retrieved 04 Oct '20
  29. Automotive Video List - Link 3 (PistonHeads). Retrieved 04 Oct '20
  30. Automotive Video List - Link 4 (SRT Forums). Retrieved 04 Oct '20
  31. FinalGear thread which mention's Jabba's World paywalling. Retrieved 05 Oct '20
  32. Archive.org - A Server Just For Us, containing full Top Gear episodes. Retrieved 04 Oct '20
  33. FinalGear thread on BBC World airings of Top Gear. Retrieved 11 Oct '20
  34. UrbanDictionary definition for "m00tv". Retrieved 05 Oct '20
  35. Elyliu.com - Video database. Retrieved 11 Oct '20
  36. Twitter page for Ely Liu. Retrieved 11 Oct '20
  37. FinalGear thread on Series 1's Australian premiere. Retrieved 05 Oct '20
  38. Archive.org - Wired article on BBC's R&D lab. Retrieved 11 Oct '20
  39. The Overtake - "iPlayer on Steroids". Retrieved 11 Oct '20
  40. Google Drive - Copy of BBC Infax information on Top Gear episodes. Retrieved 15 Apr '20
  41. MotorTrend on Demand - Top Gear (Available in U.S. only). Retrieved 15 Apr '20