Sub-editing The Engineer is, as jobs in journalism go, about as far removed from presenting Top Gear as it’s possible to get, but that’s precisely the leap that James May had made over the course of the Nineties. He arrived on Top Gear in 1999, a year after Jeremy Clarkson left and just before the decision was made to axe the show.
The death of Top Gear would spawn both Fifth Gear on Channel 5 and Wrong Car, Right Car. It also gave rise to what we now know as “new Top Gear”, the first episode of which aired on October 20, 2002. Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond were joined by Jason Dawe in a thoroughly modernised format – there was a studio, for starters, as well as a Stig and a Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car.
2002 also saw the introduction of Dunsfold Aerodrome as the programme’s base. The Lotus-designed ‘Top Gear test track’ (now probably the most famous circuit in the world) was introduced, with Harry Enfield the first celebrity to use it, setting a time of 2:01 in a Suzuki Liana.
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