William Woollard

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William Woollard
William Woollard.jpgWoollard and his trademark pose.
Full Name William Woollard
Nationality Flaguk.png Great Britain
Birthday 23rd August
Sex Male
Occupation Presenter of Top Gear (1977 TV series)
Presenter of BBC Motor Show TV Specials
Presenter of Rally Report
On-screen debut Top Gear: Series 6, Episode 1 (1981)
Final appearance Fifth Gear: Series 4, Episode 4 (2003)

William Woollard was a British science, technology, and motoring journalist who helped to present the original incarnation of Top Gear from its sixth series in 1981 through to its 25th series in 1991, making 174 appearances across the 176 episodes aired during his tenure as lead presenter. He was also the lead host for BBC's Rally Report from its inception in 1984 until the end of 1991, and presented four installments of the corporation's Motor Show specials in 1982 and 1984, including one episode that was aired live.

Early life and career[edit | edit source]

Born in 1939, Woollard enjoyed[1] an Oxbridge education before joining the Royal Air Force. Once retired from his military duties, he took up jobs within the oil industry in Borneo and Oman, in addition to working as a social scientist for several companies. In 1966, the BBC would hire him as a writer for the television movie Hot to Handle[2], which focused on the dilemmas faced by nuclear energy, and throughout the late 1960s, he would direct numerous series such as Developing a Small Firm[3] in 1968 and Decide For Yourself[4] in 1969. But it was his recurring role on BBC's Tomorrow's World[5] from 1970 until 1978 which earned him critical praise as a very erudite presenter with lots of knowledge and enthusiasm, allegedly[6] winning several awards for his performance on the programme.

Not much else is really known about Woollard's early career outside of writer Martin Roach's unauthorised biography The Top Gear Story, which was written with the help of former series producer Jon Bentley. Though he had minimal background in automotive journalism, Woollard would be appointed to the programme following the surprise resignation of Noel Edmonds a year prior, resulting in the BBC temporarily handing former Wheelbase presenter Judith Jackson the reins until a suitable replacement could be found.

Tenure as lead host[edit | edit source]

William Woollard made his automotive journalism programming debut in 1981 for the first episode[7] of Top Gear's sixth series, which focused[8] on 100 years of the motor car's history, and led one of the programme's most iconic presenting teams alongside Chris Goffey, Sue Baker, and Frank Page. In 1982, a year after joining the programme, Woollard would do some promotional work for Ford of Europe in order to help sell what was then the very controversially-designed Sierra. It was likely this film which future Top Gear series producer Jon Bentley watched during his capacity as quality assurance worker at Ford before becoming a producer for the show. Later that year, he starred in the first[9] of only three BBC motor show specials to be aired live, alongside all three of his fellow Top Gear hosts. In October 1983, Woollard visited Poland[10] as part of a special report on cars from the Eastern Bloc, as well as the region's differing transport infrastructure from that of the UK.

Rally Report[edit | edit source]

Main article: Rally Report
In November 1981, Woollard presented the BBC's coverage on the Lombard RAC Rally, which at the time was typically the last episode aired during an Autumn/Winter series. In 1984, interest in the event became so significant within the United Kingdom largely due to the Group B rally machines which dominated the scene at the time, that it was decided to spin the coverage off into its own programme, henceforth known as Rally Report. Woollard would present the first eight series of this programme from 1984 until 1991.

Later years[edit | edit source]

In 1986, at the behest of then-channel controller Alan Yentob, Top Gear began to alter its approach in order to appeal to a wider audience, which led to the dismissal of series producers Philip Franklin and Brian Strachan in order to accommodate Bentley, Ken Pollock and Tom Ross. Series vanguards Page and Baker would both leave the programme in 1988, with only Chris Goffey remaining onboard as Top Gear entered the 1990s. Upon Jeremy Clarkson's debut in 1988, a notorious reputation soon followed, leading Clarkson to become the series' eminent personality as early as 1990. During this time, Bentley would often be in charge of the scripts which Woollard would read for each of his films presented at events such as foreign motor shows. He would eulogise former Top Gear host Tom Boswell following his death in 1990, and begin to have some success outside of the programme thanks to his production company, Inca[11], which prompted Woollard to consider stepping down after the programme's 1991 Spring series.

From 1988 until 1991, Woollard also helped to front the Radio Times' Rally Quest programme, which was created with the aim of allowing normal people to enter the prestigious Lombard RAC Rally in a race-prepared Vauxhall Nova. He would announce the competition and how to enter towards the end of his tenure on Top Gear, and in 1990, had the rather dubious honour of announcing that one of the questions in the magazine's quiz was subject to a print error.

Final appearances[edit | edit source]

After stepping down from Top Gear in 1991, Woollard would present one final episode of Top Gear; the crossover Rally Report themed special, as well as appearing in archive footage for the inaugural Reverse Gear highlights programme. He would make one last physical appearance on the programme in 1999 in order to help commemorate the programme's 21st anniversary since its premiere on national television in 1978.

In 1992, similar to the work he did for Ford a decade earlier, Woollard would present a promotional film for Vauxhall in order to advertise the upcoming 1993 facelift of the company's Cavalier.

Woollard would make one final televised appearance in 2003 for Channel 5's Fifth Gear. He opened and closed the episode, posing with a Ferrari Testarossa and driving it.

Woollard was a devout Buddhist and wrote numerous books[12] on his experiences within the religion.

Woollarding[edit | edit source]

Main article: Woollarding
In the early 2010s, Woollard's popularity gained an unlikely resurgence, as the concept of "Woollarding" (posing for the camera with one's back facing towards it, head turned, foot on the front bumper and usually the bonnet opened) became[13] an internet fad after being started[14] by AROnline Facebook group members Adam Sloman and Mike Humble as a more intellectual alternative to planking.

References[edit | edit source]

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