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The secret of Top Gear's success

THE tickets for all five shows sold out in about the time it takes a Lamborghini Gallardo to go from zero to 60:

James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson continue the blokeish jokes on stage, while left, performers wow the crowd with testosterone-fuelled actionPhotographs: Phil Rider
James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson continue the blokeish jokes on stage, while left, performers wow the crowd with testosterone-fuelled actionPhotographs: Phil Rider

Top Gear Live, the live stage version of the long-running TV show for car enthusiasts, has finally come to Scotland.

Starting on Friday night, it is occupying Glasgow's SSE Hydro all weekend, filling the arena with the smell of burning rubber.

If you've seen the TV show you'll know what to expect: lots of un-PC testosterone-fuelled larking around and, of course, a sizeable number of sleek, highly covetable sports cars.

The parent BBC TV show is also a huge hit - it has been sold to more than 200 territories worldwide. Its YouTube channel has 3.4 million subscribers and its three presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, James May, Richard Hammond, between them have nearly five million Twitter followers. The show was named the world's most widely watched factual TV programme in the 2013 Guinness World Records.

Reports last summer said Clarkson pocketed more than £14 million for his Top Gear work in 2012, including his presenter's salary of around £1m, a £4.86m dividend payment from the company he set up as a joint venture with the Beeb to capitalise on Top Gear's commercial potential, and £8.4m for his 30% stake in the company, which was taken over by the BBC in 2012.

A key part of the show's success is the banter between the three presenters - although it's also a reason why some people hate the show. On Friday night, Hammond introduced Clarkson as "350 kilos of raw stupidity"; later, Clarkson described Hammond as an "irritating little Brummie midget".

The humour might seem blokeish, the kind of banter you might hear in a Friday night pub session, but it doesn't seem to deter the show's female fans - 40% of the TV audience is female, and that was a proportion more or less reflected at the Hydro on opening night.

Among tonight's 8000 spectators will be couples young and old, family groups, crowds of friends, children on birthday outings. This weekend, many fans will be making long journeys to get here. One group came from Devon - one dedicated fan even flew in from Japan.

Asked why she liked Top Gear, Kerri McArthur, 25, from Falkirk, said: "It's a combination of the chemistry between Clarkson, May and Hammond, and the spectacle, and the chance to see them live. It's just the showmanship of it all.

"I enjoy the laddish nature of it. I do really enjoy cars as well; I'm a bit of a petrolhead, so it has never been too laddish for me."

Janet Rooney, 48, from Barrhead, said: "My husband and my two sons are here. They're really into their cars, and that's why I started watching the show." Rooney likes the banter, too, she says.

The merchandise stall is doing respectable business: £20 for some of the T-shirts, £12 for a wristband and lanyard set, a Top Gear Live mug for £8. There are Stig products, too, memorialising the mysterious, silent sidekick in the full-face helmet and white racing suit.

To cheers from the crowd, Hammond, Clarkson and May zip into the cordoned-off floorspace on a motorised stage, though the intimacy we take for granted while watching them on the small screen is lost here: they are immediately dwarfed by the size of the arena.

The theme of the evening is quickly set up: the sports in Glasgow's forthcoming Commonwealth Games will be "unbelievably boring", and wouldn't it be better if there were sports for cars? This kicks off the cheerful mayhem that is the programme's signature. The trio and Stig race in chariots powered by scooters, and then in three-wheeled Reliant Robins - all apart from the Stig's roll over.

There's a curling match in which Hammond and Clarkson see who can park their Fiat closest to the centre of the circle. SAS marksmen then take aim at the Stig and Clarkson as they race their respective cars around the circuit, trying to avoid being "shot".

The show ends on a surreal note, with the trio in Suzuki Swifts, representing England, taking on a Scottish team at football, each team trying to propel a ball almost as large as Hammond into the goals. The crowd cheers Scotland's 4-2 win.

In between, there are stunt cars and pyrotechnics. There's a video tribute to the late Scottish rally driver, Colin McRae. A hurdler leaps over a Lamborghini speeding towards him. There's a rather fetishistic segment when 11 gleaming, ultra-expensive supercars, made by companies including Lexus, Alfa Romeo and Ferrari, arrive and the presenters pick their favourites.

After 90 minutes, Clarkson announces the show is over. In that hour-and-a-half, the team have reminded you why the shows are such colossal hits. It is incapable of taking itself too seriously, and it readily indulges its penchant for mischief and outlandish stunts that make you smile, or gape in surprise.

Outside, John Barry, 53, from Inverkip, said he liked "everything - the speed and the noise, and the smell of the burnt rubber". He has watched the TV show since it began, drawn to the cars and the humour. He had no problem with what some might have seen as the live show's brevity: "Any more than that, and you're losing concentration."

Glasgow singer-songwriter Amy Macdonald, who did some backstage filming on Friday night, summed up the audience reaction when she tweeted: "One of the most enjoyable shows I've seen in ages. Brilliant! Even better that Scotland won 4-2."

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