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Top Gear (BBC)

24th June 2010 (Dunsfold, Surrey. UK)

I have helped the researchers on the BBC programme “Top Gear” a number of times over the years though I was delighted this time when I was added to the guest list so that Caroline and I could attend the filming of the show, this one being the first episode of Series 15. The premise of the film I was helping with was that it with be an informational film on the history of 3-wheelers with a few jokes thrown in on the way.  It sounded as though the main bulk of the story would be on the Reliant Robin though a Morgan F4 and a BMW Isetta were also requested. 

I had no trouble in tracking down Reliant Robin owners for the film and they all met up North somewhere to do some filming with Jeremy Clarkson before the studio filming though they were all sworn to secrecy as to the film content.   I then managed to track down a Morgan F4 and a BMW Isetta.  A Peel P50 and Heinkel were also found though not used in the end.  Finding vehicles was tough going as apart from Reliant drivers who pretty much knew the film would be a joke against them, non-Reliant owners were a bit reluctant to take part.

On the day we discovered that the Top Gear studio was the first postcode I’ve ever come across that once you punch it into the TomTom satellite navigation system, it thinks for a while and just hasn’t got a clue and reports back “No route found”.  Therefore it was a case of setting the TomTom for the nearest village and heading for that.  Then once we got there popping into a local garage who knew exactly where it was and gave directions.  I’m guessing they must get asked it all the time.

Once we found the studio we were actually two hours early and so drove back to the local village for some food and spent two hours parked up in a lay-by watching numerous other cars come down the road and then get turned away because they were too early.  The local village must have had numerous cars just aimlessly wandering around killing time.

Prior to going into the studio we discovered that there are over 500,000 applicants to get onto Top Gear and to allow each person on would take 83 years.  I therefore felt most lucky that we’d been added to the Guest List and had waited just a couple of weeks. Following a guide from the car park to the studio, it seemed he was meandering around all the buildings taking us on the scenic route and then holding our arms in the air to show we had yellow wrist bands that were provided at the security gate, it was into the studio.  Despite there being a crowd of 700 people, in the studio it was quite spacious so there seemed a lot less.

The Top Gear show was great and more fun for seeing the comments in between the different sections and how everything is nailed together. At first everyone was trying to get around the stage to try and be seen on TV and then a few were getting wise to the various vehicles parked around the studio and would loiter around those so they were at the front of the crowd when the cameras rolled. We got wise to this as well.  There as a Morgan F4 in the studio and given its angle I said to Caroline, “lets stand here”.  Sure enough a few scenes later the cameras came in our direction followed by a crowd of folks and as such we were in the front row.  This meant that when the episode was shown a few days later on 27th June 2010, when it came to that particular segment, Caroline and I were just in the right place to be spotted on TV.

The actual film shot on 3-wheelers was devoid of anything non-Reliant which was a shame and I am informed that the Morgan and the BMW / Isetta were sadly cut due to time constraints.  I learnt the day after that the Peel P50 was not required at the last minute.  The film therefore turned from a history of 3-wheelers into a comedy  to see how many times a Reliant Robin can be rolled over.  The task was for Jeremy Clarkson to drive a Reliant Robin for 14 miles, bearing in mind my brother and I drove a Reliant Robin 5,500 miles to the North Cape a couple of years ago without so much as lifting a wheel.

One of the things that make Top Gear enjoyable is the way it approaches things and the film about 3-wheelers was no different with Jeremy Clarkson seemingly tipping over a Reliant Robin with such ease when in reality it isn’t that easy a thing to do.  From photos and looking at the footage I realised that there were two red Reliant Robins they used (both Mk IIs) and that they were being portrayed as one vehicle, this is apparent when the Robin doing a wheelie in the programme suddenly supports a front Reliant badge and then it vanishes again.

In addition the Robins had been fitted with a full racing harness, a roll cage and even the petrol tank appears to have been taken out and replaced with a sealed one.  Then, I am told, just to help the car roll over on command the front wheel was replaced with a larger one.  This would shift the centre of gravity and make for a very unstable car indeed - which is exactly what came off in the film.  I understand that even during filming it took several attempts to get the car to roll over.  In addition it seemed that the car was always rolled on to the driver’s side rather than the passenger side which given Clarkson’s weight in the car would have been seriously hard to do.

The sight of a Reliant doing a wheelie due to the extra power from an 850cc engine did make me chuckle despite how impossible it would be for a Reliant to do such a thing and the film was actually quite amusing.  The audience in the Top Gear crowd were hysterical at the Robin constantly rolling over and yet what wasn’t really noticed was just how resilient a Reliant is to just keep on going no matter how badly you treat it.   Sadly some people may actual believe that a Reliant rolls over on every corner and after the film was aired I heard stories about people in 4-wheelers giving Reliant drivers an extra wide berth.  The end shot of the film shows the Reliant rolling and crashing into the canal in a very well edited crash.  Freezing the shot of the Reliant in the canal reveals that it hasn’t actually got a gear box or engine in it.  

The notion that 3-wheelers are unstable isn’t a new one, its been one the media has latched onto since the early 1900s.  Perhaps the funniest quote for the episode is one that I am told came about during the filming of the 3-wheeler footage.  it wasn’t actually shown on air though Jeremy Clarkson asked the Reliant folks why they didn’t roll over their Reliants.  The answer was simple, “Because you’re driving it like a tit”. 

Elvis Payne,

June 2010

Morgan F4

Wrecked Reliant Robin

A couple of 4-wheelers (Toyota Pickup and a Bentley.)

Caroline and I as the shot appeared on Top Gear.


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