Are these the best Top Gear presenters… in the world?

So, Matt LeBlanc is leaving Top Gear! He’ll be missed, but was he the best-ever TG presenter? Our fave five automotive stars may beg to differ…

Lead presenter and ex-Friends star Matt LeBlanc has announced he is leaving BBC's Top Gear after the end of the upcoming series. With the show having kept LeBlanc away from friends and family in North America due to a punishing work schedule, fellow presenters Rory Reid and Chris Harris have claimed that they ‘totally understand’ why he is doing so.

During its 41-year run, Top Gear has showcased both the world’s greatest cars and some brilliant presenters. Never one to shy away from controversy, after its 2002 reinvention the programme pushed the boundaries of delivering automotive journalism to the masses. However, fans often overlook the fact that there were already 25 years of rich televisual history in the can before Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Wilman changed the face of motoring TV.

Long before the storm that saw Clarkson and his sidekicks Richard Hammond and James May leave to start rival venture The Grand Tour, long before Chris Evans did himself no favours and long before Matt LeBlanc, Rory Reid and Chris Harris claimed back the fan base, Top Gear was the highest motoring authority in the land. Bar none.

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Ever since the first edition premiered at 10.15pm on BBC1 Midlands on April 22, 1977, with Angela Rippon and Tom Coyne behind the wheel, the talent profiles have been enormous. More than 40 journalists – including Quentin Willson, Jon Bentley and Sue Baker – have enjoyed stints in the limelight, but here are five of our personal favourites.

Tony Mason

Former rally co-driver Tony Mason made a name for himself on Top Gear as one of three high-profile motor sport personas brought in to revive the flagging brand. Appearing in 128 episodes between 1986 and 1999, Mason was often found pulling the short straw, being wheeled out to remote forests in the dead of night to report on rally progress. However, that’s not to say he couldn’t powerslide or take on more conventional presenting duties.

James May

What can we say about dear old Captain Slow? Other than Clarkson, he’s the only presenter so far to transition from old Top Gear to new Top Gear. Enjoying a host of other presenting duties, all of a technical nature, James May seems to hold a sympathetic appreciation for all things mechanical. This attribute often makes his viewpoint and narration the most reasonable, sensible and honest of the lot. Nevertheless, he can still rant like the rest of them – as evidenced by his infamous diatribe about the Rover 75. Jump to about 30 seconds from the end...

Tiff Needell

Part of the revival package alongside Tony Mason and Tom Boswell, Formula 1 driver Tiff Needell joined the team from 1987 through to the original format’s cancellation in 2001, before jumping ship to Channel Five’s Fifth Gear. Tiff has also appeared in Clarkson’s straight-to-video/DVD specials, alongside very brief appearances on the new format. Before Ben Collins was revealed at being The Stig, Tiff was one of several people suspected of portraying the masked racing driver.

William Woollard

To many, William Woollard represents the cream of Top Gear presenting, complete with his famous one-foot-on-the-bumper pose. Already a big name when arriving on the programme, Woollard had carved a reputation by presenting Tomorrow’s World, earning several high-profile awards and winning a legion of fans who enjoyed his enthusiastic tone. Fronting Top Gear for a full decade from 1981, he is credited with bringing in an audience of five million fans – and he also presented Top Gear offshoot Rally Report, covering the Lombard RAC Rally.

Jeremy Clarkson

Jezza. He may rub you up the wrong way and present himself as a hate figure, but Clarkson is without doubt a motoring legend. Besides bringing in record audiences, his wit and presenting style have changed the face of journalism – although some say for the worse. Nevertheless, as an influential voice and media figure, Clarkson can lay claim to being the most famous of all presenters. His books, DVDs and online content are enjoyed by millions. Just don’t serve him a cold steak.

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