Top Gear Thursday: In Season Premiere, ‘Top Gear’ Meets ‘Downton Abbey’

Hugh Bonneville at the BAFTA Los Angeles TV Tea on September 21. (Photo: Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP)

Hugh Bonneville at the BAFTA Los Angeles TV Tea on September 21. (Photo: Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP)

The humungous Top Gear news of the week is, of course, that season 21 premieres on BBC AMERICA on Monday, February 10 at 8:30p/7:30c. But for Downton Abbey fans, there’s an added bonus in the first episode: Hugh Bonneville, who plays Robert Crawley on the popular period drama, is the season’s opening Star in a Reasonably Priced Car.

Also in the season opener, the three guys travel to Worcestershire’s Shelsley Walsh Speed Hill Climb for a special challenge. A hill climb, as its name implies, is a race in which drivers compete while driving up a course on a hill, and Shelsley Walsh has the additional distinction of being, according to its website, “the oldest motor sport venue in continuous use in the world.”

“It was also a challenge to keep the filming secret,” said Mark Constanduros, the Commercial Manager for the Midland Automobile Club, which operates the track. “We had known they were coming for several weeks and managed to keep it quiet until the day, when the marshals who had volunteered to look after a car club were delighted to know who was actually coming.”

Constanduros told the Worcester News that it was great to tell the show’s hosts all about the history of Shelsley Walsh and to observe their antics at the same time. “They were mucking around, having a great time,” he said. “They spar off each other brilliantly.”

• You’ve probably seen the three very short BBC U.K. teaser trailers that Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May did for the new season. And you might also have seen the slightly longer BBC AMERICA trailer contributed by The Stig. But those were somewhat understated affairs. At least in comparison to these two big, bang-‘em-up, action-packed trailers, the first from BBC AMERICA and the second from BBC 2:

• What’s Top Gear’s formula for success? Executive producer Andy Wilman has apparently been pondering that very question, and, as he watched completed segments of the new season, he told the Radio Times that he realized that “almost everything we’d filmed was, once again, aimed at people with a mental age of nine.”

Wilman observed: “Modern life for adults is, after all, bloody hard. …That’s where we come in – an hour a week where three badly dressed middle-aged men bicker, fall over and catch fire. An hour a week where absolutely nothing is achieved, but the path to nine-year-old escapism is briefly lit up.” (via The Guardian)

• There’s been a possible Stig sighting in the appropriately named county of Carmarthen in Wales. “Some say The Stig was in Carmarthen over the weekend,” wrote the Carmarthen Journal. “Others believed it was an imposter posing as the famed tame racing driver.”

Rhys Lloyd, a local used car dealer, said: “We picked him up, he stayed with us, he didn’t talk to us and he went. I have no idea who it was to be honest. He came down for the weekend, did passenger runs and posed for pictures.”

The above photo may be hard evidence, but it’s certainly not conclusive. Still, the legendary wizard Merlin is believed by some to be from Carmarthen, so perhaps it’s possible that The Stig was visiting his ancestral home.

• It’s become a tradition that each year in this column we take a look at some of the more inventive Super Bowl car commercials. This year, however, there’s one that, for Anglophenia readers, is likely to stand out above all the others: the “It’s Good to Be Bad” Jaguar commercial. You’ve got the British car itself – the Jag F-Type Coupe; British actors – Sir Ben Kingsley, Tom Hiddleston and Mark Strong, and all those British villains with British accents. It all begins when Sir Ben asks: “Have you ever noticed how in Hollywood movies all the villains are played by Brits?”