When the dream of a full-time Grand Prix seat failed to materialise, Tiff Needell began a move to the World Sportscar Championship in search of a paid drive – while still seeking to further his single-seater career in Europe.
Chasing drives meant hanging around race tracks and, when Tiff was spotted doing nothing at a Mallory Park meeting that was being televised live by ATV Midlands he was invited into the commentary box to be the expert analyst.
It was the beginning of a whole new career… Tiff’s next appearance behind the microphone would be the beginning of a twenty one year association with the BBC as he joined Murray Walker for the live Grandstand coverage of Silverstone’s Formula Two meeting in 1981.
At this time the BBC had only been covering the full Grand Prix season for a few years and James Hunt had become established as Murray’s sidekick. However, as the BBC’s coverage of motorsport expanded so did Tiff’s involvement.
For most of the eighties, until live coverage was wound down, Tiff was Murray’s regular partner for everything but the Grands Prix. Together they covered Formula Two, Formula 3000, Rallycross, the Formula Ford Festival and many other assorted meetings.
Tiff had also taken up an offer to write Track Tests for Autosport Magazine. Not being the greatest wordsmith Tiff adopted a style of writing ‘as he felt it’, bringing his readers onboard with him to share his experience. It was a style that would stand him in good stead when Top Gear presenter Chris Goffey broke his leg just before he was due to test the new Formula First racing car for the programme in the spring of 1987.
The producers had already heard Tiff’s voice and read his track tests so they invited him in to do the driving for Goffey – and, when they discovered he could drive right on the limit and describe what was going on at the same time he was signed on for good!
By the early nineties he had been joined by Jeremy Clarkson and Quentin Willson and the ratings were taking off as over five million viewers would regularly tune in for their weekly dose of car fun.
The Top Gear brand was beginning to expand and when Top Gear Magazine was launched Tiff became a regular columnist. From 1995 to 98 Tiff headed the Top Gear Motorsport spin-off programme, presenting and competing in a wide variety of events, and also appeared in Top Gear Waterworld while, from 1997 to 2001, he co-presented BBC’s coverage of The World Rally Championship.
Sadly all good things have to come to an end and, with Top Gear taken off the air with an uncertain future, 2002 saw Tiff switching over to Channel Five and their brand new motoring programme Fifth Gear where he would stay until 2019.
During this period Tiff went on to present the much acclaimed James Bond Special as well as a five programme series on The World’s Greatest engineering feats and a series on Superships.