Put simply, Jeremy Clarkson is the world’s foremost authority on cars. He is famous worldwide mostly due to the incredibly high popularity of Top Gear, which is now estimated to have around 350 million viewers per week in over 170 different countries. But who is he exactly? And how did he get to where he is now?
Jeremy Clarkson was born on the 11th of April 1960, in Doncaster, West Riding of Yorkshire, England. When he was young, his parents struggled to make a living and worked as travelling salespeople selling tea cosies. They even put Jeremy’s name down on the waiting list of a local private school with no idea of how they were going to pay the fees, until at the last moment, when he was 13, they hit upon the idea of creating a Paddington Bear stuffed toy. The toy proved to be very popular and they started selling it through the business with sufficient success to be able to pay the fees for Jeremy to attend Hill House School, Doncaster and later Repton School. In Jeremy’s own words, he was later expelled from Repton School for “drinking, smoking and generally making a nuisance of himself.” After leaving school, Jeremy followed in his parents footsteps and worked in the family business as a travelling salesman selling their still-popular Paddington Bear toys. But it wouldn’t be long until he found his true calling…
In the late 1970’s, Jeremy began his writing career by training as a journalist at the Rotherham Advertiser. In the years following, he gradually began to expand his influence by writing for the Rochdale Observer, Wolverhampton Express and Star, Lincolnshire Life and the Associated Kent Newspapers.
As Jeremy’s career evolved it seemed only natural that it should eventually combine with his love for cars. In 1984 he formed the Motoring Press Agency (MPA) along with fellow motoring journalist Jonathan Gill. Between them, they would conduct road tests of vehicles for local newspapers and automotive magazines. His work eventually developed into pieces for publications such as Performance Car and it is here where he caught the attention of Jon Bentley – the producer of Top Gear, a pokey motoring show which had been running since 1977. In 1988, Jeremy joined the show, alongside Tiff Needell, Tom Boswell and Tony Mason – and as a result the programme saw a massive boost in its audience as it became a more humorous, controversial, and unashamedly more critical show.
Despite enduring criticism that the show was overly macho, encouraged irresponsible driving behaviour and ignored the environment, the show pulled in huge audiences becoming BBC2’s Top viewed programme with audiences over 5 million from 1988 onwards. It became hugely influential with motor manufacturers, since a critical word from the Top Gear team could have a severe negative effect on sales. One such example is the original Vauxhall Vectra, of which Clarkson said, “I know it’s the replacement for the Cavalier. I know. But I’m telling you it’s just a box on wheels.” However this is not always the case, as even more critical statements have not affected sales of the Toyota Corolla and extreme praise did not save the Renault Alpine A610. Aside from appearing on the show, Jeremy regularly wrote pieces for Top Gear magazine since its launch in 1993.
As Jeremy became more famous, there was also an unfortunate and slightly hilarious side effect. Jeremy’s fondness for wearing jeans has been blamed by some for the decline in sales of denim in the mid-1990s, particularly Levi’s, because of their being associated with middle aged men, or the so-called ‘Jeremy Clarkson effect’.
During the late 90’s, Top Gear was starting to become stale and was badly in need of a refresh. Jeremy and a few other well-known presenters ended up leaving the show in 1999/2000, which saw audience figures fall from a peak of six million to under three million. Interestingly, James May took over Jeremy’s spot and presented several reviews – including the Rover 75 and Lexus IS200 – before Top Gear was cancelled in 2001. Some of the former presenters including Tiff Needell, Quentin Wilson and Vicki Butler-Henderson left the BBC and went on to create Fifth Gear.
After the first series of Fifth Gear was completed, the BBC decided to relaunch Top Gear, but in a new studio-based format as opposed to the magazine format used until the cancellation. The initial idea came from Jeremy and his producer friend Andy Wilman. The pair relaunched the show in 2002 and the rest is, as they say, history.