Fifth Gear

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Fifth Gear

FG Logo 2005.jpg The Fifth Gear logo used since 2005.

FG Logo 2002.png Numeral 5th Gear logo used only during 2002.

FG Logo 2003.png Fifth Gear logo used during the 30 minute episode era.

Episodes 273
First aired 2002
Country of origin Flaguk.png Great Britain
Status No longer airing
Concluded 2019

For the programme which has aired since 2021, see Fifth Gear: Recharged.

Fifth Gear is the name of an automotive-themed intellectual property created by Richard Pearson in 2001 and aired during three separate tenures between 2002 and 2019, produced by North One Television[1] since its inception. It has been adapted to a television format multiple times in its native United Kingdom, in addition to subsequent international versions that were made once the programme had proven itself a success in the early 2000s.

After original host Quentin Willson departed Top Gear in late 2000, he would spend the successive year as an independent journalist, uncovering[2] a major international car fraud involving the sale of Japanese cars in the UK by proxy of Dubai. That August, Top Gear would announce its cancellation[3] after 23 years on the air. In light of this news, three of Top Gear's then-current hosting team, comprised of lead presenter Tiff Needell, Vicki Butler-Henderson and Adrian Simpson all chose to defect[4] to rival broadcaster Channel 5, the team meeting up with former Top Gear producer Pearson after the latter had successfully persuaded the estranged Willson on the idea. The resultant programme, rechristened as Fifth Gear, would premiere[5] in April of 2002 and recycle much of the format that the outgoing Top Gear had employed. Contemporary public reception[6] to this new series was largely positive.

Later on, the programme was joined by two-time BTCC champion Jason Plato, who had previously worked for Channel 4's since-cancelled Driven, along with the presenting duo of Jonny Smith and Tom Ford. Simpson and Willson would eventually depart the series, and Tim Shaw would also briefly join the presenting team for the programme's fourteenth series in 2008.

Format[edit | edit source]

Originally, Fifth Gear was very similar to Top Gear, but as time progressed, developed more distinct characteristics, such as its famed Shoot-Outs between two cars of a similar type. For the first seven series, the show aired in a 23 minute format, before doubling to a 45 minute format in 2005. Fifth Gear then lasted through to its sixteenth series in 2009 in this format, before Channel 5 cancelled[7] the programme at the end of that year. This cancellation was brief, and the programme was relaunched the subsequent Summer back in its original 23 minute format, with less time spent on more dramatic stunts and a heightened focus on automotive journalism. Fifth Gear lasted four series in this format as part of a renewed two-year contract with the network, until late 2011, when the programme was shuttled off to Discovery[8] in 2012, returning to a 45 minute format from its twenty-first series onwards. The programme would move once again to the History Channel in 2015, before being cancelled. Fifth Gear went into hiatus for three years before being revived in 2018 by Discovery channel Quest, where it returned one final time for its twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth series.

For the first seven series, Fifth Gear was based at an unnamed office in Birmingham, likely near their earlier place of employ at Pebble Mill, and was otherwise filmed on-location. From Series 8, the programme became partly studio-based at the Ace Cafe near Wembley in London.

Series overview[edit | edit source]

273 episodes would air in total between 2002 and 2019 across 28 total series, including specials such as those made for James Bond and The Italian Job, in addition to end of series compilation specials.

Series Episodes Originally aired Original network
Series premiere Series finale
1 11 8th April 2002 17th June 2002 Five Logo 2002.png
GC Special 8th September 2002
2 11 7th October 2002 16th December 2002
3 10 12th March 2003 28th May 2003
IJ Special 26th September 2003
4 11 13th October 2003 22nd December 2003
5 10 29th March 2004 31st May 2004
6 11 11th October 2004 20th December 2004
7 10 21st March 2005 23rd May 2005
8 11 10th October 2005 19th December 2005
9 15 27th March 2006 24th July 2006
10 13 25th September 2006 18th December 2006
11 10 30th April 2007 2nd August 2007
12 8 3rd September 2007 22nd October 2007
13 10 21st January 2008 24th March 2008
14 8 11th August 2008 29th September 2008
15 8 5th January 2009 23rd February 2009
16 8 8th June 2009 27th July 2009
First cancellation
17 10 3rd June 2010 12th August 2010 Five Logo 2008.png
18 10 8th October 2010 10th December 2010
19 10 15th April 2011 15th July 2011
20 10 14th October 2011 30th December 2011
21 9 3rd September 2012 29th October 2012 Discovery Logo 2009.png
22 9 11th February 2013 8th April 2013
23 9 13th September 2013 11th November 2013
24 9 24th February 2014 21st April 2014
25 6 6th March 2015 9th April 2015 HUK Logo 2008.png
26 6 2nd July 2015 13th August 2015
Second cancellation
27 8 2nd September 2018 25th October 2018 Quest HD Logo.png
28 10 3rd October 2019 5th December 2019

Fifth Gear Web TV[edit | edit source]

Main article: Fifth Gear Web TV
Beginning in June 2009, Fifth Gear would produce an extremely low-budget online miniseries, with Vicki Butler-Henderson as lead host and series producer Graham Smiles (always referred to on-screen as "Graham from the Office") as co-presenter.

Series Episodes Originally aired
Series premiere Series finale
1 14 5th June 2009 29th November 2009
2 30 4th December 2009 29th June 2010
3 12 12th August 2010 10th December 2010
4 8 17th January 2011 18th March 2011
5 7 14th April 2011 16th June 2011
6 14 1st July 2011 20th December 2011

Episodes initially aired on a fortnightly basis, running from June through to November of 2009. With Fifth Gear then subsequently off the air due to its original cancellation, Web TV became the programme's main base of operations heading out of 2009 and into the following decade. The original concept of 10 - 15 minute long minisodes was ditched in favour of shorter, 5 minute long individual reviews. Occasionally, installments would consist of Smiles informing the viewer of the latest Fifth Gear-related developments, news concerning an upcoming motoring event, or outtakes from the televised version of the show (in much a similar vein to the function that Top Gear's website served) and these have been discounted from the overall episode count.

Presenters[edit | edit source]

From the programme's inception, Tiff Needell and Vicki Butler-Henderson were Fifth Gear's joint lead hosts, with Quentin Willson the first to officially join. Tom Ford would be the programme's first new hire, debuting in the fifth episode. From there, the team of five would stabilise, with the occasional on-screen appearance from producer Jon Bentley, before Simpson's departure at the end of Series 6 and Willson following not long thereafter. The team would then continue to operate as a quintet thanks to the addition of former Driven host Jason Plato through to 2006's Series 10, where they were then joined by Jonny Smith and Tim Lovejoy. Lovejoy's role on the programme wouldn't last long, and in Series 14, Tim Shaw joined until the programme's 2009 cancellation. Both Shaw and Ford would be absent from the 2010 revival, Ford in order to fully focus on his obligations for BBC's Top Gear, eventually being "rewarded" as lead host for the shortlived BBC America run of Top Gear America.

From 2010 through to the first year of its 2018 revival, a period comprising 11 series and 96 episodes, the presenting team did not change between Needell, Butler-Henderson, Smith or Plato. Of the programme's hosts, Vicki Butler-Henderson remained the only host to have starred in every series. Tiff Needell appeared in the first 27 series until his unexpected firing a year into Discovery's ownership of the IP. In his place arrived Jimmy de Ville and former F1 driver Karun Chandhok for the final series of traditional Fifth Gear in 2019.

An unusually high proportion of presenters with the male given name "Timothy" would serve as host throughout; it is both the original birth name of Tiff Needell and Jason Plato (with Jason being the latter's middle name), in addition to being the names of later hires Tim Lovejoy and Tim Shaw.

Timeline of presenters[edit | edit source]


References[edit | edit source]