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Top Gear was a show presented by Peel on BBC Radio One between 1967 and 1975. It took its name from an earlier BBC show, which went out between 10.00 and 11.55 p.m. on Thursday nights from 16 July to 24 December 1964 on the Light Programme, before being reduced to one hour, moved to Saturday afternoon and axed in June 1965 . This show was produced by Bernie Andrews, presented by Brian Matthew, and was an untypically lively and modern pop music programme for the largely sedate Light Programme. It was voted top radio show in the NME Popularity Poll, and the paper was critical of the BBC's decision to take it off the air[1]. Readers of Disc campaigned (successfully) for the programme to be retained, after the first series had ended[2].

In 1965 Top Gear may have been too adventurous for some at the Corporation, but two years later it was decided to revive the show for the new Radio One, again with Andrews as producer.. The format of the new Top Gear, a mixture of specially recorded BBC studio sessions and records, most of them new releases or imports, set the pattern for most of the shows Peel was to present for Radio One for the rest of his long career on the station, even if at the outset he was merely one of a team of DJs who presented the three-hour show on Sunday afternoons.

Ken Garner, in his book The Peel Sessions, describes how Bernie Andrews played a crucial role in ensuring that Peel was able to establish himself as sole presenter of the Radio One Top Gear, in the face of considerable opposition from his BBC superiors.[1] The programme quickly became successful, winning awards in 1968 for both Peel and Andrews. The latter, however, left the programme under controversial circumstances in April 1969, and was replaced as Peel's producer by John Walters; their working relationship lasted far longer than Top Gear itself. There was no great change in the style of the show, although Walters' background as a musician and his scepticism about some aspects of the hippy culture contrasted with Bernie Andrews' pop sensibility, and resulted in a wider variety of artists, from solo folk singers to avant-garde jazz groups, doing sessions for Top Gear in the early 1970s.

At the same time as the removal of Bernie Andrews, a new regime at Radio One, less supportive of Peel than the station's first controller Robin Scott, also robbed Top Gear of its prime Sunday afternoon slot and began to move the programme around in the weekend schedules. In April 1969 it was moved to Sunday evenings, and not all listeners were happy wiith the change. One told Melody Maker's "The Raver": "It's going out at just the worst time when you can't pick up Radio One because of foreign interference. You could never listen to Mike Raven for the same reason".[3] Another listener wrote to Melody Maker, suggesting that the change was part of a plot to reduce Peel's listening figures, so that after a short time Radio 1 could get rid of him, while on the same "Mailbag" page (issue of 19 April 1969) a letter appeared asking for support for a petition to keep Tog Gear at its existing time.

After six months, Top Gear was moved to Saturday afternnons, possibly in response to listener complaints. Then, in late 1971, it became part of the Sounds Of The Seventies strand on weeknights.. Although the show was now less prominent in the schedules, it retained an audience, which, according to Andy Beckett in his book on 1970s Britain, When The Lights Went Out (London 2010), trebled during the "three-day-week" of 1974 - because during the crisis, TV closed down at 10.30, and "fewer people were having to get up for work in the morning" (p.136). Then, in 1975, with the BBC in financial difficulties, Top Gear was moved to an early evening time (5.15- 7 p.m.), with Peel the only Sounds of the 70s DJ to retain his programme. This change wasn't popular with Peel's listeners. In his editorial in the first issue of the Nottingham fanzine Liquorice (April 1975, p. 23), Malcolm Heyhoe wrote:

Some bright radish at Radio One has seen fit to deny "Top Gear" V.H.F. reception, in most parts of the country you can only get frying pan reception. So I suggest that we write to the head of Radio One asking for V.H.F. facilities and a better time-slot. I do miss being able to hear John's programmes. Maybe something will happen.

In the same issue of the magazine (p.19), Bridget St John also said it was harder to listen to Peel's shows at the new time, because she had difficulty in getting a good medium wave signal for Radio One in the Derbyshire village where she was living ("I can't get it, you get this beeeep and classical music interrupting"). Peel's early evening shows continued for a further six months. In the final Top Gear, he expressed his relief that the show was less fashionable than it had been in the late 1960s, but hoped it was still influential. Following the demise of Top Gear, Peel was given a show under his own name from 29 September 1975, initially running five nights a week, from 11 p.m. to midnight. Whether this was due to listener complaints or further BBC economy measures is not known, but the show was once again available on VHF (FM) and Peel was back in his familiar late-night time slot, where he remained for most of his Radio One career..


(Related page: Top Gear Calendar)

Sunday 2-5pm

Sunday 2-4pm

Sunday 3-5pm

Sunday 7-9pm

Saturday 3-5pm

Wednesday 10pm-midnight

Tuesday 10pm-midnight (Peel also starts a show produced by John Muir, Friday, 10pm-midnight, from 07 January 1972; moved to Thursdays and produced by Bernie Andrews from 05 October 1972; produced by Top Gear producer John Walters from 24 January 1974 to 26 December 1974.)

Monday / Thursday 5.15-7pm

See Also



  1. p. 38-49