Top Gear’s schoolboy beginnings

How the antics, the camaraderie and the rivalries of the Top Gear hosts are rooted in their own schooldays


It will come as no surprise to many Top Gear viewers that the show’s current incarnation is rooted in the school days of presenter Jeremy Clarkson and his best friend – now the series producer – Andy Wilman.


Talking to Radio Times, Wilman explains how, at their boarding school – Repton, in Derbyshire – he and Clarkson were “both s**t at anything to do with work or sport or anything like that” but “pretty good at making mischief.”

And suggestions that Top Gear relies on schoolboy humour don’t bother Wilman. “Schoolboy humour is quite advanced,” he counters. “One of the pillars of Top Gear, and this is why kids love it, is that it’s not fair. If one of the presenters breaks down the other two f**k off.

“Whatever car they turn up in at the start of a contest, the other two are honour bound to look at it and go: ‘That’s s**t’. They always try too hard and they’re always over-ambitious and there’s always pride before a fall. That’s all school playground. It is mischief and self-deprecation, which is the backbone of most male humour.”

So how did naughty schoolboys Clarkson and Wilman react to the strictures of boarding school? “There are so many rules at boarding school that… [punishment] starts to have no effect,” says Wilman. “School trained us for dealing with the BBC, and for dealing with the papers.

“Some people at the BBC get anxious about what the Daily Mail writes. We couldn’t give a s**t because we know the papers are just using us to BBC-bash. So it’s like being in with the headmaster, you’re pretending to be told off but sort of listening to a drone: ‘I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed…’.”

But it’s not as if there’s no affection between the Top Gear creatives and the BBC. If the corporation isn’t quite their headmaster, maybe it’s more like their mum and dad, suggests Wilman:

“The BBC are like your parents. You adore them but they irritate you,” he says. “And they like us, but we exasperate them. It’s a parent-child relationship, the BBC and Top Gear. We’re the naughty child.”

According to co-presenter James May, though, the new series of Top Gear – starting on Sunday (8:00pm, BBC2) – will be very slightly more grown-up: “The keen observer will see a subtle change this series,” says May, “a slight retreat from the Last of the Summer Wine tomfoolery. It’s easy to get carried away [with it] – it’s like drinking, you start to believe you’re funny and other people might not.”


But fans of the trio’s schoolboy stunts shouldn’t worry too much – a plethora of car-based capers are nevertheless promised for the new series.