Top Gear script editor Richard Porter could tell you a story or two, having worked for 13 years as a script editor for Top Gear. A show which once won an International Emmy Award for best Non-Scripted Entertainment.
With 13 years, 22 series and 175 shows on the clock, he was there from the shaky 2002 pilot with Jason Dawe, until the very last, with Richard, James and an Elephant in the room, back in May. And he has some cracking tales to tell.
Here, with extracts from his new book, And On That Bombshell, Richard spills the beans on the show that became a cultural phenomenon.
MY very favourite lost item was from researcher Jim Wiseman. “I was wondering,” he said one day. “Could a monkey drive a car?”
We all laughed… and agreed that this should definitely be on the show. Jim gave a well-known monkey sanctuary a call. Strangely, they didn’t share our enthusiasm for getting one of their inmates to drive a car. “If I find out that you’re attempting this,” the monkey lady said angrily, “I will SHUT YOU DOWN.”
That was the end of that one.
How The Gimp became The Stig
Racing drivers, Jeremy Clarkson said, are boring. No one’s interested in what they have to say, we only want to see them set lap times. So it was agreed, our in-house driver wouldn’t talk, he wouldn’t reveal himself and he wouldn’t use his real name. He would be known only as The Gimp.
No one in the office knew who would be inside the suit. Executive producer Andy Wilman told us that if anyone did find out his name they would be fired.
As everyone now knows, the original Stig was Perry McCarthy. Perry, not unreasonably, didn’t like the idea of being called The Gimp because it was the name of the sex slave in Pulp Fiction. The BBC didn’t like it either. So we changed his name to The Stig, which is what Jeremy and Wilman used to call the new kids at their school. Crucially, the new name didn’t have overt connections to having your a**e fondled by a man called Zed.
The man we didn’t know was Perry would keep his crash helmet on throughout the day, no matter what. Watching him trying to eat was hilarious. He had to sneak off and slide his lid up just enough to quickly shove in a sandwich.
Whenever he spoke, The Stig put on a French accent. Remarkably, the unconvincing subterfuge of an Essex man giving it the full Inspector Clouseau actually worked. Whisper went round the wider world that The Stig really was French.
Show nearly sank without trace
AS tech failures go, you won’t get much worse than the problem that blighted an attempt to stage a race up the coast of Florida, with Jeremy in a high-tech nuclear submarine. Unfortunately, before Clarkson could get on board, it was struck with the one fault you really don’t want from a submarine — it sprung a leak.
The sub was stricken out at sea and the leak was not going to be fixed in a hurry, so the Top Gear team packed up and went home. Except, that is, for the chap who did our minicams. He was on board, having been taken to it a few days early so he could rig the craft for filming. The poor guy ended up staying on the leaky sub for a week.
We waged war with car fanatics
IN summer 2008 we set fire to a Morris Marina. I drove the Marina in question before it was torched and James May insisted it made me look like a rural vicar. So there was no great sadness when it became engulfed in flames. Unfortunately, the Marina lovers of Britain didn’t share this casual attitude to the destruction of their favourite car and wrote furious letters to the office.
Our response was utterly childish. We decided that if they were annoyed then the solution was to annoy them some more. Another Marina was bought, and then a piano was dropped on it. The Marinaists were incandescent with rage. So we did it again. And then again.
At some point during this very puerile attempt to annoy Morris people we got an email from someone complaining not about Marina destruction but about one of the pianos we’d dropped, saying it appeared to be quite a rare and interesting model. Perversely, we were quite mortified about this.
The many stars who drove our Reasonably-Priced Car
THE Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car feature was constructed around one man: Bryan Ferry. It was built on the “joke” of him being forced to drive a cheap car at odds with his suave reputation. Bryan! Ferry! In a hatchback! Ha ha!
We could often tell who were going to be the best guests based on an imaginary scoring system. Top points would be awarded if they:
- Drove themselves to the studio. Turning down a chauffeured Merc spoke of a passion for cars, and so it would prove to be with notable self-drivers including Chris Evans, Stephen Fry, Simon Cowell and Jenson Button.
- Hung around afterwards, like Sienna Miller, Steve Coogan and John Prescott.
- Came with a minimal entourage. Roger Daltrey turned up with just one old mate, a plasterer. Top blokes.
- Made themselves at home. Michael Fassbender plonked himself on our tatty sofa as if he was at a mate’s. Matt LeBlanc never wanted to leave, or at least not until we’d concluded a hyper-nerdic conversation about Porsche engines.
- Gave the impression they wanted to be there. An amazing number of stars were fired up about being part of Top Gear. None more so than Tom Cruise.
Lionel Richie, on the other hand, saw his previous hairstyles flash before his eyes when the bolts sheared through the Liana’s wheel, sending him skittering into a field in a shower of sparks. Fortunately for us, Lionel Richie turned out to be one of the most laid-back and gracious stars we have ever had on the show.
Only a few slebs disappointed in real life . . . But we never did get Bryan Ferry to do it.
Top Gear Dog
WHEN we got the Top Gear Dog in 2006, we were very pleased with ourselves. But we the got least suitable dog in the world. She hated being in cars — they made her sick, often all over James May. And if you put her in front of a camera, she went to sleep. We quietly let it drop.
Oddly enough, she occasionally receives fan mail.
MOST car manufacturers maintain a fleet of press demonstrators. You just had to ring the PR office and ask nicely. I once rang Porsche to ask if we could have a 911.
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” replied the PR man. “The only one we have is broken after some idiots drove it on a beach and got sand in the engine.”
Those idiots were us.
Copyright (©) Richard Porter, 2015
Extracted from And On That Bombshell by Richard Porter. Available from Amazon.