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Aussie Top Gear show and magazine take shape

Top Gear trio: Charlie Cox, Warren Brown and Steve Pizzati.

Local version of UK's Top Gear TV show announces its hosts as magazine launch nears

General News logo30 May 2008

By MARTON PETTENDY

SBS has finally announced the hosts for this year’s new Top Gear Australia television series, the Antipodean spin-off of the BBC’s super-successful motoring show headed by the irreverent Jeremy Clarkson.

Expatriate Aussie commentator Charlie Cox, cartoonist Warren Brown and advanced driving instructor Steve Pizzati have been chosen from an Australia-wide talent quest, which attracted a claimed 4000 applicants, as the Australian show’s answer to Clarkson and co-hosts James May and Richard Hammond, with “an Aussie cousin” for The Stig also being confirmed.

SBS says the trio of motoring larrikins - which was presented at a lavish invitation-only function at Sydney’s Ferrari and Maserati dealership, Italia Motori, on Wednesday night (May 28) – was selected after months of interviews and screen tests.

Charlie Cox was a broadcast journalist with a number of Sydney radio stations before continuing his career in the UK, where he also won a number of British car racing titles and survived a spectacular crash before becoming a presenter and motorsport commentator for the BBC.

Mr Cox is the director of six media companies in the UK and Australia including DMG Radio, and his colourful commentary is heard on BBC MotoGP telecasts.

Award-winning cartoonist Warren Brown also has a regular automotive newspaper column in Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph, and combined his loves of history and motoring by fulfilling a plan to retrace a 1907 raid from Peking to Paris in 100-year-old cars, which was aired by SBS.

The automotive adventurer has a small collection of historic cars, including two 1920s fire engines, a WWII jeep, a 1925 Bean motor car and an armoured vehicle.

Finally, Steve Pizzati is an advanced driving instructor and race driver for Porsche Australia and is part of the International Audi driver training team in Melbourne. A self-proclaimed ‘gun for hire’, he is also the youngest of the Top Gear trio and has a love of science, freelance automotive journalism and fast cars.

Top Gear Australia, which will screen on SBS after the Beijing Olympics in September, is the first instalment of a global rollout of the BBC Worldwide franchise. The series will be produced by Freehand Productions, BBC Worldwide's Australasian partner.

The Top Gear TV show, which is already seen by audiences in more than 120 nations worldwide, is not to be confused with, but is closely related to, a new magazine of the same name to be published from June 30 by ACP Magazines and BBC Magazines in a 50/50 joint-venture partnership.

ACP has announced three senior editorial appointments for the Top Gear Australia magazine, with former ACP magazine editor Ewen Page appointed editor-in-chief, Sunday Telegraph journalist Steve Corby named editor and Motor magazine editor Tim Robson enlisted to the role of production editor.

As the first of what is expected to produce a number of joint BBC-ACP magazine titles, it is believed a large number of the Top Gear Australia magazine’s pages will be borrowed from the 22 licensed editions published internationally, which are sold in 40 territories globally - including in China, India, Greece and The Netherlands. The first international Top Gear magazine was launched in the Middle East in 1998.

When asked which magazines, including ACP’s two established major motoring flagships in Wheels and Motor, Top Gear Australia magazine would most directly affect in terms of circulation and advertising revenue, ACP’s head of men’s and specialist titles Phil Scott referred GoAuto to the publication’s public relations manager.

“I’m across 30 magazines and all those things have been covered already,” said the magazine’s publisher.

ACP Magazines is Australia’s largest magazine publishing house, while BBC Magazines is the UK’s third-largest media publishing company.

A third Australian production related to, and seeking to cash in on, the Top Gear name is a proposed roadshow that hopes to emulate the success of the “live motoring theatre” events hosted by Mr Clarkson in the UK and now South Africa.

As we’ve previously reported, show organisers have put the extravaganza on hold until Mr Clarkson’s personal appearance can be guaranteed, and following a response from Australian car companies that was claimed to be strong enough to stage at least three events in major Australian capital cities rather than a single, one-off show.

The Australian Top Gear TV show represents SBS’s latest effort to attract for the first time a capital city audience of more than one million viewers for a non-sporting production.

The British version of the show has regularly drawn more than 700,000 viewers to SBS, whose Who Do You Think You Are? Series, which attracted more than 800,000 viewers, came the closest to matching the popularity of the Socceroos match telecasts on SBS, which attracted more than a million watchers.

“We're pretty pleased that we believe we've got it right. If we didn't get this right, we couldn't get the show right. And I think the Australian public will get it and not say, 'He's Clarkson, he's Hammond or he's May',” said SBS's network programmer Matt Campbell.

Mr Campbell said the Australian version would add a distinctly local flavour to the successful Top Gear show formula, which blends comedy, celebrities and performance cars so successfully that the name is billed as the world’s number one motoring media brand.

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