From The Sunday Times

vanderwater

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http://driving.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/driving/features/article4076490.ece

G?day, Jeremy - we?re gonna whip you blokes
Clarkson and Co are the kings of motoring mayhem, but now an Australian Top Gear is out to steal their crown

Strewth mate, seems there must be some ?roos loose in the Beeb?s top paddock: it?s sold the rights to its most popular telly series to Oz.

Yes, the quintessentially British Top Gear is to be remade down under by Australian television station SBS, in a bid to roll out the franchise that is a global ratings success.

The eight-show series starts filming next month for broadcast at the end of summer. However, viewers hoping to see old favourites Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond racing along Bondi Beach will be disappointed ? SBS has cast three home-grown presenters.

They are Charlie Cox, better known in Britain as a BBC motor sport commentator; Warren Brown, a newspaper cartoonist; and Steve Pizzati, a motoring writer and stunt driver. Although the producers claim none of the presenters is modelled on the British counterparts, a glance at their profiles suggests that Cox will be the Clarkson of the gang (sample commentary: ?That driver?s so unlucky that if he fell in a barrel of boobs he?d come up sucking his thumb?).

Brown is an Aussie May ? he has a passion for the ukelele and banjo and collects old vehicles, including two 1920s fire engines and an armoured car. Pizzati is the youngest of the three and has Hammond?s cheeky-chappie charm. He describes himself as a failed jet pilot turned racing driver and a ?gun for hire?. Completing the lineup is, naturally, a helmeted racing driver who never speaks ? ?the Stig?s Aussie cousin?.

The show?s content remains top secret (actually, they?re still thinking up ideas), but producers are hoping the on-screen chemistry of the presenters will be as successful as that of the BBC version. ?The key thing is the chemistry between them ? they all get on with that self-deprecating humour that has made the original so popular,? says Matt Campbell, head of content at SBS.

?So far we have been really happy with them all, they just click. The best thing about Top Gear is that both women and men watch it and the appeal is that it shows men as they really behave in one another?s company. Even if they are 40, most of them act like they?re 17, with all the enthusiasm and jokes that you get. Viewers love that, and that?s what we are hoping to capture.?

As for the stunts ? such as racing amphibious cars across the Channel and trying to send a Reliant Robin into space ? that have made the original Top Gear such a hit, Campbell is confident his team will be able to match them. ?I think some of the sequences that we have in mind will make Clarkson, Hammond and May quite jealous,? he says. ?They haven?t got the diverse range of terrain that we have in Australia to muck around in.?

The BBC won?t say how much it will rake in from licensing one of its most successful exports, but the show is said to be worth ?500m in total to the corporation, thanks to its popularity among 350m viewers in 32 countries ? including Australia, where it has become compulsory viewing. SBS aims to run the Aussie version in the same viewing slot as its British counterpart.

The selection process to find the three presenters has been compared to the way in which the Monkees, the 1960s American pop group, were put together to rival the popularity of the Beatles. Would-be presenters were asked to send in a DVD of themselves and complete an application that asked for ? among other things ? their favourite car and their funniest motoring experience.

?There was a national call-out so anybody in Oz could enter for the role as a host of Top Gear Australia, and just over 4,000 entries arrived,? says Brown, an engaging eccentric who plans to keep his full-time job drawing political cartoons for the Sydney Daily Telegraph ? a cousin of The Sunday Times.

?There was an exhaustive process of selection and elimination that ran over the next few months. It was whittled down from 4,000 to 200 to 35 to 12. We had a secret Top Gear boot camp to decide between the final 12. We had to do all sorts of things: drive while microphoned up to see how we talked while driving, then different scenarios where we were teamed up with other members.

?The amazing thing as far as I?m concerned is that when Steve, Charlie and I were together we just clicked. The whole premise of this process was to see if we would just click as mates, and we did.?

One hopeful, who was ultimately unsuccessful, was so keen to make an impression on the producers he flew to China to make his showreel. ?His film opened up with him in his Range Rover saying, ?And now I am going to drive a golf ball from the roof?,? recalls a member of the production team. ?Next thing we know, he is standing on the roof of the car with his golf club as it bumps along this dirt track, teeing off. The film then cut to him standing on the Great Wall of China to catch the ball. You have to respect dedication like that.?

SBS is mindful that the British Top Gear was built around the draw of Clarkson, and that the success of the Australian version depends on whether it can replicate his appeal.

So is Charlie Cox up to the job? A former racing driver who used to commentate alongside Murray Walker on the British Touring Car Championship, and now commentates on Moto GP bike racing, he refuses to be drawn on whether he has been cast as Clarkson, except to say: ?I?m not boffin-like and I?m not short and cute, so if I?m old and grumpier and bombastic, I?ll leave it to you to decide.?

He does, he admits, have a penchant for tight jeans (?they get tighter each year, mate?) and T shirts. Although he was born in Sydney, he plans to fly back and forth from his home in London to Australia for filming.

The launch of the Australian Top Gear could pave the way for more local versions to be commissioned. NBC, the American broadcasting network, has already started auditioning for a US version and has plans for a pilot show later this year.

?It will still be three guys, because that?s just part of the format,? says Andy Wilman, executive producer of Top Gear in the UK, who is advising the Australian and American networks. Wilman attributes Top Gear?s international success to its central theme ? blokes. ?It?s a bit of an insight into the male mind; an immense vacuum of pointlessness. That?s the pleasure of it in part, and it?s something anyone of any age or sex can enjoy.

?Cox is the mature anchor. The other two are TV virgins, more or less, but I think Australians will like them. They feel like normal guys who have been pulled off the street and put in front of a camera. They are not presenters. They both love their cars and they?ve both got good humour.?

Wilman says part of the show?s charm is in the amateurishness of the cast. ?It?s got to be three mates messing around, not three presenters presenting. When they say, ?We?re here with our three amphibious cars?, you?ve got to be able to believe that they are actually quite enjoying it. You can tell they?ll be all right at that.?

Not everyone thinks the programme can be successfully transplanted, though. Jay Leno, the American chat-show host and InGear columnist, wrote recently that he turned down an offer for him to present the American version, fearing that the humour and iconoclasm of the original would be lost in translation.

?I think it would be impossible to recreate or live up to the standards of the British show,? he says. ?My great fear in America is that, for instance, if Kia was our sponsor this week, we?d have to say the car was fantastic.

?Some British shows translate quite well here ? The Office, for example. But with Top Gear I have such respect for the original show, I feel if they asked me to do it I would be a pale imitation of Jeremy.?

Of course, the great unspoken fear is that Australia will do what it?s done before: take a formula invented in Britain and improve on it (let?s not mention cricket and rugby). The Australian producers are already steeling themselves for some kind of international Top Gear challenge. ?I think it won?t be long before Clarkson and his gang will want to come out here and take us on,? says Campbell. ?The Aussies against the Pommies ? I?d like to see it as the Ashes of car shows.?

And, true to form, Clarkson has already started the sledging: ?In the whole of human history, Norway?s only contributions have been the paperclip and the cheese slicer,? he wrote recently, continuing: ?Only Australia has achieved less, with the rotary washing line.?

If the Australian Top Gear is a hit, he may have to eat his words.

How the Top Gear crews compare

The jokers

Charlie Cox

Age ?Late forties?
Dress style Ageing surfer/ Aussie throwback slob
Favourite car Porsche GT2
Other job Motor sport commentator
Sample one-liner ?He needs that like a third armpit? (When a driver suffered a problem)

Jeremy Clarkson

Age 48
Dress style Shires chic: shirt tucked into denim
Favourite car Bugatti Veyron
Previous job Teddy bear salesman
Sample one-liner ?Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary, that?s what gets you, that?s the killer?

The eccentrics

Warren Brown

Age 43
Dress style Biggles
Favourite car 1925 Bean (British built)
Other job Newspaper cartoonist
Sample one-liner ?What is the Stig? He could be an automaton ? might be Yul Brynner from Westworld?

James May

Age 45
Dress style 1980s roadie turned secondary- modern English teacher
Favourite car Bentley T2
Previous job Subeditor on The Engineer then on Autocar (sacked from the latter)
Sample one-liner ?And now, the car every footballer?s wife?s hairdresser?s masseuse has been waiting for: the new Mercedes SLK?

The cute ones

Steve Pizzati

Age 33
Dress style Young urban ? leather jacket and turned-up collar
Favourite car Porsche GT3 RS
Other job Stunt driver, freelance motoring journalist
Sample one-liner ?Guys, can we please have that in colour, not black and white? (When Cox and Brown begin rambling about classic old cars)

Richard Hammond

Age 38
Dress style Trendy lad about town
Favourite car Porsche 911
Previous job Barman before joining BBC Radio York
Sample one-liner ?The only difference between me now, and before the crash, is I like celery now? (After crashing a jet-powered car at more than 280mph)
 

Richmondgal

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I saw in the newspaper today that it was to be shown in August, which is after the Olympics i reckon. So yay!!
 

Richmondgal

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If anyone wanted a torrent, don't look at me. For starters, the computer graphics are not up to scratch.
 

tone76

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If anyone wanted a torrent, don't look at me. For starters, the computer graphics are not up to scratch.
Nor me. HDD recorder/STB are set up for 4:3, thanks to being hooked up to a crusty old TV. :| No doubt someone else out there will be onto this, though.
 

Viper007Bond

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I've just heard from SBS that no date has been set for the screening of TopGear Australia, but they are expecting it at the end of the year or in early 2009.
Well unless they've changed their mind recently, I read "after the Olympics" when the show's hosts were announced.
 

stiggie

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Well it is a bit strange, as the end of the year is during Australia's non-ratings season. But that is what SBS said in the email they sent me today- no date set, end of year or early 2009.

They also said there is not yet a date for them to show series 2 of the original Topgear (I know some people here are waiting for it) but to expect it in 8-12 months.
 
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