BBC Car Shows, The Stig, and Romance Novels

Bitchery Reader Fizz sent me an email that led to the Google Search of Champions. Heather writes about:

potentially THE most powerful endorsement of romance in the known universe.

See, there is this show called Top Gear, aired on the BBC and hosted by Jeremy Clarkson (AKA ‘Clarkson’), Richard Hammond (‘Hamster’) and James May (‘Captain Slow’).

TG is a car show at heart – it’s a hilariously awesome car show, but it’s basically all about the shiny bodywork and VROOM VROOM noises, with the occasional deep and meaningful question…like for example, “How many motorcycles can you jump in a bus?” or “Can you turn a 1974 Reliant Robin – otherwise known as one of the little three-wheeled cars from Mr Bean – into a functioning space shuttle?” or “Can a Bugatti Veyron outrun a fighter jet?”

They have a tame racing driver, who does the test drives: The Stig

The Stig likes to listen to romance audiobooks in the car. He’s quite famous for it. No one knows who or what he is, but Stig is loved by all…and he loves his romance.

Is it possible to get any more powerful validation as a genre? What do you think?

Seriously, the BBC just loves to stick the knife in and twist, doesn’t it? Clever witty shows about cars… and I’m unable to watch them. WOE I HAS IT.

According to the Wiki, The Stig has driven laps listening to power ballads, and learn Italian tapes, but a few other sites reference The Stig’s listening habits.

So, hello out there in BBC land: anyone watch this show? The burning question is, what novels is The Stig listening to!?

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  1. 1
    Throwmearope says:

    My 21 year old son detests my romance novels and mocks me mercilessly for reading them.  But he adores that show.  Next time he hassles me about my books, I’ll get to hassle him back.

  2. 2
    Kaitou says:

    They have it on BBC America if your cable gets that station.  And Youtube has a great variety of bits from it too. 
    Smallest car is a favorite of mine… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mio5fTKqWgM

    And of course so is their series on how tough a Toyota pickup is, which I have to love as I used to make parts for Toyota…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lrk6vsb77xk

  3. 3
    Joanna says:

    It’s also on SBS in Australia.
    Awesome show!
    The Stig’s listening habits seem to extend mostly into audio books and language tapes as far as I’ve seen. But he is the mysterious Stig and no mere mortal can know his mind…

  4. 4
    Fizz says:

    There’s a certain demented genius in driving a car around the interior of the BBC studios…

    Glad to be of service!

  5. 5
    SB Sarah says:

    OMG. Hugh Grant is making me laugh so hard I’m crying.

  6. 6
    Marg says:

    I love watching Top Gear – it is seriously side splitting stuff even if it is all about the shinyness and vroom vroom of cars!

    I thought that the Stig listened to language tapes, but if it’s romance that’s all good too!

  7. 7
    Candy says:

    I’m not sure having The Stig listening to romance novels on tape is necessarily a ringing endorsement, if this bit of Wikipedia about the Black Stig is to be believed:

    Clarkson then described The Stig as having a very small brain, who had worthless opinions, a disorder described by Clarkson as “Mansell Syndrome”. Its job description was to “just go out there and drive fast”.

    What say the people who’ve actually watched the show? Is The Stig loved and revered, or loved and simultaneously an object of scorn?

  8. 8
    Zanitta says:

    If you wanty to watch top gear then surf the channel has streaming links to 102 episodes here

    It’s a fantastic show. I hate cars but love it.

  9. 9
    Fizz says:

    Candy -

    The Stig is kind of a cult figure for the show. The other hosts mock him in the same way that they mock

    A). Every single Star In A Reasonably Priced Car they have ever had (including the Queen).

    B). Every car they ever get to drive, even the ones they admit are awesome.

    C). each other in a never ending cycle of WHAT ARE YOU DOING, YOU IDIOT GET OFF THE ROAD AND LET ME TAKE OVER.

    I’ve seen I AM THE STIG bumper stickers, so he can’t be thought of too badly by the audience!

  10. 10
    Carrie Lofty says:

    I always got the impression that although they dissed the Stig, they never actually challenged him to a race. He’s loved because he’s the best, and he’s hated because he’s the best. The BBC has a channel on YouTube where they post authorized vids, lots of Top Gear. Being a Toyota owner, I loved the one where they tried to kill a Toyota and couldn’t, not even when it was blown up and dropped from a demolished estate. Great stuff.

  11. 11
    Shelley says:

    I’ve been reading here for months, but what gets me to comment? The Stig!

    Love Top Gear – in addition to being on BBCAmerica, they’re also on On Demand, if that helps. My mother mocked me for watching until I showed her the episode where they go caravaning – we laughed so hard that our stomachs hurt. Fabulous.

    They do mock the Stig, as their tame racing driver, but it’s all in fun. They’re British; they take the piss out of everyone and everything. He’s an integral part of the show and is meant to be as loved as the trio. He really is a brilliant driver and they’re in awe and envious.

  12. 12
    Lindsay says:

    Hubby and I love this show!!! And we don’t even like cars! The Stig is the shit. That’s all there is to it.
    The Discovery Channel used to run the show, that’s where we discovered it. We now watch it on the BBC. I highly recommend wasting (if you consider highly entertaining TV a waste) a few hours on the clips and episodes that are linked here.
    I went through a two week training course for my last job a while back and came home mentally exhausted each night. I watched Top Gear every night as a means of restoring my good mood. It’s surprisingly good therapy.

  13. 13
    raj says:

    Every season the Stig listens to something different.  He’s learned Italian and listened to classical music, and one season it was romance novels on audio books.  The idea is that he’s such a great driver that he can drive supercars around a test track at breakneck speeds and be learning or absorbing a book or otherwise doing something that detracts from driving.  He’s not really listening to any of it.

    As for who he is, there’s a lot of speculation.  Originally he was a guy in a black jumpsuit and helmet instead of the white he wears now, and the original Stig (Perry McCarthy) claims that now the Stig is more than one person.  (This is not entirely unreasonable.  A lot of professional drivers are roughly the same build.)  However, this would kind of play havoc with their testing system if the driver changed, so I tend to think it’s one person.  He’s rumored to be a Formula 1 driver or a former F1 driver, but no one’s saying.

    Candy, you should also note that Clarkson doesn’t think that anyone’s opinion other than his is worth listening to.  ;)

    It’s worth watching if you can.  I’m not into cars at all, but when new episodes are on, I watch.  (If you take the YouTube route, I would recommend starting with the Arctic Special.  No Stig in there, but it’ll give you a good idea of how freaking insane the three hosts are.)  Also, NBC has an American version of the show as a possible midseason option for next season.  (I am somewhat apprehensive about it, I will admit.)

  14. 14
    Fizz says:

    The US road trip is a must-see episode too – again no Stig, but we do meet his American cousin, Big Stig.

    For a limited time only, this also comes with squirrels, pink-painted slogans and a cow on the roof of Clarkson’s car.

  15. 15
    Karen Ranney says:

    I Tivo Top Gear because I can’t bear to miss it.  I am not into cars, but I adore this show.  The Stig listens to self-help tapes, romance books on audio, and various language tapes.  Impossible to tell which book he’s listening to, but it’s fun to try to figure it out. 

    The episode taking place in the US was hideously embarrassing for Americans, and riotously funny.

  16. 16
    La Rachel says:

    My fiance loves Top Gear.  I have to admit, it’s pretty hilarious, even if you have zero interest in cars like I do.

    If you don’t want to watch it streaming, you can download it off BitTorrent.  That’s how he gets his fix.

  17. 17
    lizziebee says:

    OMG I LOVE TOP GEAR!!

    No, quite seriously, it’s my favourite show on TV. We don’t get full seasons down here in Oz, which really ticks me off, but we DO get it, which is made of awesome.

    The Stig is quite a character. My partner and I have ongoing discussions about “WHO IS THE STIG?!?!” and we compare The Stig with racing car drivers who have been on the show. We were watching an episode last night where the Coolest Chick Ever appeared, and we were giving serious thought as to whether SHE could be The Stig, but alas no. We found an episode of TV where she and The Stig raced each other around a track. Sadness.

    The Stig does indeed listen to Romance Novels! Unless you know the novel off by hear though, I don’t think you’re ever going to know what romance novel was being played in the car. Candy – no one pays attention to Clarkson’s opinions. :D

    Ahhh Top Gear. Must watch more.

    (Security word: physical76. Why yes, I’d love to get physical with The Stig… in a race around a track!! Muwhahahaa!)

  18. 18

    Oh, I just worship Top Gear… and I can’t even drive! We have a TV channel over here in the UK called ‘Dave’, which is sort of a ‘lads’ thing, and Top Gear repeats are on every day, several times a day, and I can watch them again and again.

    Jeremy Clarkson is a loveable monster, who says the most outrageous things but I think he’s one of the funniest men on television.

    I’ve no proof, and it’s just a feeling, but I think The Stig might be Damon Hill… sometimes, at least.

  19. 19
    lizziebee says:

    Portia – that’s who we reckon His Stigness is. Because there was an episode where Damon Hill was driving around an island with The Hampster (I think The Isle of Wight maybe?) and we were all “OMG look at his hands! The way he stands!”

    I do like the idea also, that The Stig is several people.

  20. 20

    And Damon is tall and has a commanding presence, just like The Stig.

    The brand new series of Top Gear starts tonight on BBC2, by the way. Have just been reading about it in the Radio Times, and it sounds as if it’s going to be awesome. They’re promising a mysterious new member of the team who’s ‘a bit like The Stig, but not The Stig’…

    I can hardly wait! :)

  21. 21
    Erastes says:

    I love Top Gear and I’m not a car person at all – they re-invented it a few years ago to make it more like a music show, with the hosts in the middle of a warehouse like studio, the audience just standing up around them and lots of witty (seemingly unscripted) banter. Plus the chemistry between the three of them is very funny.

    I love The Stig and think it’s a great gimmick.

    I’m sure you can get Best Of on DVD.

    Great that he loves Romance, although I wonder if it is just an advertising ploy.

  22. 22
    Cat Marsters says:

    We were watching an episode last night where the Coolest Chick Ever appeared

    They’re promising a mysterious new member of the team who’s ‘a bit like The Stig, but not The Stig’…

    My sources (ie my TG-obsessed brother) tell me they could well be the same person, the totally awesome Sabine Schmidt (uh, I think I spelled that right.  Too many consonants).  She took a van roung the Nurburgring faster than JC could do it in a souped up Jag. 

    Mind you, a while back they promised an amazing new innovation, something they couldn’t believe no other show had…and it turned out to be TG dog (if you’re wondering, she lives with Hammond and his family).

    I’m sure you can get Best Of on DVD.

    You can buy various DVDs, not exactly of each series I think, but collections of the Challenges (turning a people-carrier into a convertible, sending a Reliant Robin to the moon, making boats out of cars and then sailing them to France, etc).  But check the regions on them to see if they’ll play in the US.

    You can get I Am The Stig t-shirts (yes, my brother has one).  That tells you what a cult figure he is.  He only listened to romance tapes for one season, I think (and they were very Barbara Cartland-ish), it’s something different each time.

    I often wonder if the audience are allowed to talk to the Stig?  If the special guests have to sign a confidentiality agreement (because he coaches them around the track)?  I’ve been on the waiting list for audience tickets for years now, literally.  The audience, by the way, always features plenty of women—by design.  They only offer tickets to be taken by equal numbers by men and women.  Equality?  Not really—home viewing figures are about even.  I think it’s great: I’ve learned more about cars from TG than anywhere else.  Hell, I drive a car, I really ought to know something about it!

  23. 23
    skapusniak says:

    Yes, The Stig is sorta kinda a joke.  But he’s sorta kinda a joke in the way The Fonz is sorta kinda a joke.  He is designed to be pure awesome served on a bed of awesome topped with awesome-sauce.  So awesome that you don’t know what he looks or sounds like and that just makes him *more* awesome.

    The joke is that a person with that transcendental level of awesome cannot possibly exist, no surely not!  Yet here he is right in front of you driving those cars around the track on the TV screen at impossible speed proving to you that he is, indeed, awesome.

    The *idea* of The Stig is hilarious, but The Stig himself is no joke.

    That he’s ritually introduced every week with utterly surreal encomiums to his coolness in the vein of the Chuck Norris jokes, ones that make absolutely no sense at all, just goes to make him *even cooler*.  In that bit of the show the show’s presenters get cast in the role of the kid in the playground telling his buddies ‘one day maybe we’ll grow up to be awesome like The Stig!’.

    That the character of The Stig unashamedly chooses stereotypically unmanly listening material as he hares around the track—and yes what type of material it is changes each season—is absolutely integral to showing that one such as The Stig fears nothing and no-one.  And because a Stig’s gonna listen to what a Stig’s gonna listen to, that just turns the manliness meter on the Stig up to 11.

    Is that the show taking the p*ss out of the listening material?  Well possibly, but I think it’s more taking the p*ss out of the crawling horror that the stereotypical guy—especially the stereotypical petrolhead wannabe guy you might think of as part of the target audience of the show—has of being thought effeminate.  The character of The Stig laughs at those fears, so you must laugh at them too, or be judged terminally uncool.

    Yes, go out and shamelessly read that clinch cover in public and *then*, then you will be a man, my son.

    :)

  24. 24
    Octavia says:

    Ahh Top Gear. What raj said, I’m not into cars at all but I love this show. Aside from the US road trip and the Arctic special, another must watch is the Africa challenge, where they’re setting out to prove to ‘the people of Surrey’ that driving a 4wd in England is a bit silly, as you can apparently do cross-country in Botswana in a fifty-year old Opel Kadet.  Classic moment when James May takes a wrong turn at the border and wheezes past into Zimbabwe, where ‘accidentally, the BBC is not allowed’.

    The whole thing is on Youtube. I had tears streaming down my face when I watched that.

    And The Stig=Damon Hill? That’s an interesting theory!

  25. 25
    AgTigress says:

    Well, good heavens, I had NO IDEA that Top Gear was an icon of brilliantly ironic self-awareness and general cleverness.  I thought it was just an oikish bloke’s programme, fronted by that nauseating, pompous prat Jeremy Clarkson, who occasionally turns up in other TV programmes, and causes me to switch off hastily.
    Obviously I have been missing all sorts of subtle humour and wit.  Oh well, not for the first time, I’m sure.

  26. 26

    Another Top Gear fan, here.  We watch on BBC America.

    Did anyone see the episode where they drove across the spine of Africa, in beater cars?  They found the African Stig to test them, there.

    The show is fun for the whole family.  And if you are into cars in the least little bit?  Mmmmm.  They had one on a couple of weeks ago, I think it was a Ferarri.  Definitely the sexiest thing in England since Daniel Craig.

    But then, my husband made me to learn to drive stick, as a condition of marriage.  Vrooom.

  27. 27

    “And on that bombshell…”
    Yes, Top Gear is the business, and there’s a new series starting tonight. I also loved the show where the Hamster discovered how many ways he could blow up caravans.
    And has anyone been watching “Last Man Standing”? OMG that programme is seriously awesome. The Hamster is the voiceover. They take physically fit men and take them to various third world venues where they have to take on the sport of the people living there. Mexican running, Zulu stick fighting, etc.
    The trailers for the new series are pretty good, too.
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=z-230-VhBS0
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=0UqwtL1NVR8&feature=related
    And here’s another vote for Damon Hill as one of the Stigs.

  28. 28
    Cat Marsters says:

    I have my personal doubts about DH being the Stig.  Awesome though he is, he didn’t beat Stiggy’s lap time (although yes, it could just be a clever piece of diversion).  I gave up conjecturing who he might be a while ago.  It seems to me to be missing the point!

    Is that the show taking the p*ss out of the listening material?  Well possibly, but I think it’s more taking the p*ss out of the crawling horror that the stereotypical guy—especially the stereotypical petrolhead wannabe guy you might think of as part of the target audience of the show—has of being thought effeminate.  The character of The Stig laughs at those fears, so you must laugh at them too, or be judged terminally uncool.

    Brilliant, skapusniak!  What I love about TG is that they take the piss out of everything, up to and including themselves, and constantly re-evaluate opinions—their own, and the popular.

    that nauseating, pompous prat Jeremy Clarkson

    If he was better looking, he’d be a template Alpha romance hero.

  29. 29
    LesleyW says:

    My two favourite bits from TG are Sabine Schmidt going round the Nurburgring in a van. Thought she was brilliant.

    And when they decided to test the idea that if you were in a car that was struck by lightning you’d survive. H&S;(health & safety) in the UK wouldn’t allow them to do it, so they went to a power station / sub station in Germany I think. And had a car hit by manufactured lightning with Richard Hammond in the car at the time.

  30. 30
    lizziebee says:

    Sabine Schmidt (uh, I think I spelled that right.  Too many consonants).  She took a van roung the Nurburgring faster than JC could do it in a souped up Jag.

    Sabine Schmidt is indeed The Coolest Chick Ever. She in fact didn’t beat Jeremy Clarkson’s time around the Nurburgring track. He took it in 9:59 in the Jag Diesel, and she got a Ford Transit van around in 10:08. A VAN!!! (Sorry, we watched it last night :D) She holds the track record there, from when she was 19 -it’s 8 minutes something, and that was a many a year ago! PRETTY IMPRESSIVE! (just adds to her Coolness Factor.) I now desperately want to go on a Holiday to Germany and spend hours going around the track (at, what was it, 5 pounds a pop? Sure thing!!). Of course, I’m a bit of a petrol head… (We’re in the middle of buying a car, and I’m “not allowed” to get anything over 4 cylinders (something I incidentally completely agree with my partner about, because I would just HOON it EVERYWHERE, go through buckets of petrol, and make a nuisance of myself on the roads, and probably lose my license with speeding fines…) which is fine :D)

    The Africa Special is being show here tomorrow night. I can’t wait!

    I’ve been watching episodes tonight on the Surf The Channel Website – too awesome! (Way too many exclamation marks here too…)

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