James May and Richard Hammond bid a sad farewell to Top Gear fans in their final show

“Thank you for watching and goodbye” said the two remaining presenters in a poignant episode that featured the final films made before Jeremy Clarkson's ejection from the show

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Ahead of Sunday night’s Top Gear finale, ex-host Jeremy Clarkson had used his Sun column to pour cold water on one of the two special films made before his unceremonious exit from the show.

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They were, he wrote, “cobbled together” and only one of them was “quite good”.

And for the first half of this farewell to the Clarkson, May and Hammond era, it was obvious that no-one much liked the first one. “The second one is tremendous,” we were told early on.

Yes, on a sad night for Top Gear fans, the Three Amigos won’t want to be remembered for the time they took classic cars to various country shows in wintry England.

“What a horrible day,” said Clarkson as the rain bucketed down and the skies grizzled what seemed like a permanent grey. “You don’t know the half of it,” the millions of Top Gear fans could almost be heard shouting at their screens, knowing how the whole horrific drama of Clarkson-gate was going to play out.

Still, the final moment of this film when Hammond was strapped to a bi-plane was quite funny, even if the sequence at a rally called “Jap Fest” may have reminded some viewers of the close excursions these three often made to what is and isn’t politically acceptable.

No, what Clarkson and co will want us to remember is the second film in which they each bought SUVs at bargain-basement prizes and put them through their paces.

It was classic Top Gear. A sequence in which they raced around a track pulling caravans was fast-moving and entertaining and it showed what fun the three had when they were truly motoring.

Executive producer Andy Wilman said before tonight’s show that he was pleased their final bow showed the presenters’ “camaraderie” and he wasn’t wrong there.

Still, it was hard not to feel sad and the mournful tone was set early on by Hammond and May who provided the links in a studio without the usual buzzing audience. Clarkson’s absence was never explained but a life-sized model elephant in the background provided a neat touch of gallows humour.

And then we moved to north Yorkshire, near the place where it all started to unravel when Clarkson, according to the BBC internal inquiry, subjected producer Oisin Tymon to the physical and verbal assault that led to his dismissal.

It’s a massive shame for Top Gear fans, of course, but the film set there was cracking television.

The trio throttled their battered SUVs across muddy fields in order not to be last and therefore forced to deliver an after-dinner speech.

And we were reminded of the physical challenges – some potentially fatal – they went through to make good TV.

Let’s not forget that Hammond nearly lost his life on this show with his terrible crash in 2006. So one could at least appreciate, after the gruelling drives they all endured in this particular challenge, that all three were probably in need of hot meals afterwards, even if Clarkson’s conduct towards Tymon, as the Corporation made clear, fell well below the standards expected of BBC presenters.

By the end it seemed they couldn’t even be bothered to bleep themselves, as May got stuck in mud and berated his plight with a few choice swear words.

“I hate working on Top Gear,” shouted Clarkson and were it not for the moving final goodbye this may have been his epitaph.

But it was left to Hammond and May to deliver a dignified and quiet “thank you for watching” and “goodbye” to their millions of loyal fans.

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