I Was In The Top Gear Audience

I Was In The Top Gear Audience

On Tuesday 17th April 2018 my friends and I went to Dunsfold Aerodrome to be audience members in an episode of BBC’s Top Gear. It was a surreal experience but highly enjoyable, and being a media production student I got to see how a show like this is recorded.

Tickets were offered to all Bournemouth Uni Media Students thanks to a current crew member reaching out to Nick Bamford, who used to work on Top Gear as a producer, and now leads the MA Directing course at Bournemouth Uni.

“I work for Top Gear and we are currently filming the studio segments of our episodes with the presenters – when the studio audience has the chance to see the films we’ve shot throughout the year, watch the celebrity guest’s lap and interview and have a look at the vehicles we have in the studio. I notice that you used to work on Top Gear – I hope you don’t mind me emailing you but I thought coming down to watch a record might be of interest to some of your students studying TV Production, so I would like to offer free audience tickets for any of the upcoming records to your students and faculty.
There’s 40 tickets on offer per recording – possibly more if you want them.
The studio is in Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, audience members would need to arrive around 12pm and the record should wrap around 1730″.

I’ve never been a fan of Top Gear, I would watch episodes in the past when it used to be Hammond, May, and Clarkson; but it never really did anything for me like it does to other viewers, so I’ve never been invested in the show. But as a media student who wants to work in the film and television industry, passing an opportunity to be present at a recording and see how something like this is made would be foolish. You can never learn too much about an area you’re interested in, and for me, attending this recording would provide a new insight into how this form of content for TV is made.

Top Gear Audience Wrist Band

Naturally, there was huge demand from students to attend (and there were multiple days on offer), but luckily we got to go.

The whole event is so organised and regimented. We arrive at Dunsfold and drive in single file to to the parking spaces, wait with everyone else there at a pop-up bus stop, to then be taken by double-decker bus around the airfield to the hanger where Top Gear is filmed. We’re ushered into the hanger and told to switch off all phones and refrain from taking pictures whilst inside.

The first thing that surprised me was the size of the set and how many people attended as we’re shuffled around. Nestled by the audience are the cars that’ll be talked about on the show – squeaky clean with signs on the floor saying “Do Not Touch” which naturally people ignore and proceed to spear their faces all over them as they peer in the windows for a closer look of the dashboard.

As said, I’m not interested in the cars, I’m here to see how it’s done. And looking around there are maybe four active cameras. There’s one on a crane flying over the audience, two on pedestals filming the presenters, and one handheld for quick setups. I only saw this handheld camera once as it was quickly placed on a high hat near the end of the show to achieve a low-angle shot of the leader board for best lap times.

Looking from a semi-audience-simi-media student perspective, working on a show like Top Gear would be fairly straight forward. All the shots and direction come from someone in the control room telling the operators where to point the camera next. The presenters memorise their scripts and read off a teleprompter, so the only direction to them is which car to stand next to. They’ll inevitably fluff up their lines, but everyone knows exactly what they’re doing they just pick up where they messed up and do it again without cutting. There are no slates, just continuous rolling of sound and camera and endless retakes. Retakes themselves may not be due to mistakes made by the presenters, but reactions not being good enough from the audience.

The producers and people on set want a flawless performance from both the presenters and audience on each recording. Therefore, they want full engagement from us, the audience, to make this show look like it’s worth watching. We’re supposed to look engaged and constantly smile, as we’re told at the beginning that “we WILL be seen on TV” and they don’t want it to look like a room full of bored people. There’s no point in shuffling closer to the ‘action’ as the combination of cameras make it impossible not to be filmed and end up on the show. How they get these responses from us though is probably the funnest part about the recording – they have this entertainer to warm up the audience before takes with jokes and competitions. He stands up and asks people the distance they’ve travelled, what excuse they’ve used to leave work early, and has general banter with audience members to get a rise from us. He’s funny and puts everyone at ease. And it’s him who asks us to look fully engaged in the show, as he points out different levels of audience laughter – he says something like how ever crap the joke is, it’s our duty to laugh and really sell it as a funny joke.

The presenters come on stage, we give them a HUGE round of applause and proceed to watch the live show. Pre-recorded VT’s play a certain intervals and the crew take the opportunity to set up for the next segment – the audience may get shuffled around too at these points. It goes so quickly, you’re just standing there for maybe an hour watching them present the show. I honestly didn’t realise how scripted it was until seeing how many attempts it would take to get certain bits right. But it’s fun and a real privilege to have been there – especially getting to go for free and stand with my friends.

I say it looks like an easy job to do, but I guarantee you there’s more to it 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.