Sue Baker, one of the original Top Gear presenters, has died after a battle with motor neurone disease – with wellwishers paying tribute to her for ‘blazing a trail’ for women in the world of racing.
Baker, who joined the BBC series in 1980 when it was in its old format, died on Monday surrounded by her family, her spokesman said.
She appeared in 22 series of the show from 1980, when it was primarily concerned with reviewing new cars and offering road safety and consumer advice. Her role was eventually supplanted by Jeremy Clarkson.
Her spokesman said Baker, a mother of two with two grandchildren, ‘died at home with family around her’ and described her as a ‘talented and prolific writer, a charismatic TV presenter and a passionate animal lover’.
Meanwhile, a family statement read: ‘It is with great sadness, that we share the news of Sue’s passing. A doting mother to Ian and Hannah, a loving grandmother to Tom and George, and a wonderful mother-in-law to Lucy. She passed at home this morning with family around her.
‘She was a talented and prolific writer, a charismatic TV presenter, and a passionate animal lover. She had a life and career that many would envy, but did it all with such grace that she was admired and respected by all who knew her.
‘We know she meant so much to so many. Thank you to everyone who has supported her over the last few years as she battled with MND.’
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Sue Baker (pictured), one of the original Top Gear presenters, has died after a battle with motor neurone disease
Baker’s family described her as a ‘talented and prolific writer, a charismatic TV presenter, and a passionate animal lover’. She is pictured in 2017
‘She died at home this morning with family around her,’ said a spokesman for the journalist (who is pictured in 1974)
Baker at Brands Hatch with Niki Lauda when she was a motoring correspondent for the Evening News, a newspaper in London
Baker’s family thanked everyone who had supported her as she battled motor neurone disease
After leaving Top Gear in 1991, Baker continued her career as a motoring journalist.
She set up and ran the Motor Racing News Service, based at Brands Hatch in Kent, and was the Observer’s motoring editor for 13 years, leaving in 1999. She also had a stint as a freelancer for Saga magazine.
Tributes have poured in from other journalists, who praised Baker for ‘blazing a trail for women’.
Geraldine Herbert, motoring editor for the Sunday Independent in Ireland, tweeted: ‘I am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Sue Baker.
‘She was a wonderful person, a brilliant journalist, and a dear friend.
‘A former Top Gear presenter and motoring editor at the Observer, she blazed a trail for women in a man’s world.’
The Guild of Motoring Writers said: ‘We are deeply saddened to learn our vice-president and former chair, @carscribe Sue Baker, passed away this morning following a long illness.
‘Sue was a pioneer for women in automotive journalism and a former presenter of @BBC_TopGear. A full tribute will be published later.’
Motoring journalist Alex Grant said: ‘Sue was an absolute pleasure on events, and so welcoming and approachable as an industry newbie.
‘My condolences to her family, she will be sorely missed.’
Writer Matt Bishop described Baker as a ‘pioneer’.
He said: ‘This is very sad. Sue Baker was a pioneer among motoring journalists who was very friendly to me when I was a newcomer on car launches & the like.’
Friends and colleagues paid tribute to Baker today, who is pictured here behind the wheel of a racing car
Sharing news of her death, Baker’s family called her ‘a talented and prolific writer, a charismatic TV presenter, and a passionate animal lover’. She is seen in 2018
Baker (pictured with Tony Frost in 1972) appeared in 22 series of the Top Gear from 1980, with her role eventually supplanted by Jeremy Clarkson
After leaving Top Gear in 1991, Baker continued her career as a motoring journalist. She is pictured while motoring correspondent for the Evening News in London
Tributes have poured in from other journalists, who praised Baker for ‘blazing a trail for women’
Baker and racing driver Jean Denton (to her right) look on as mechanics repair their car during the Avon Motor Tour of Britain
Baker sitting behind the wheels of a Formula 1 racing car in an undated photo taken when she was a motoring correspondent for a newspaper
Baker’s friends and former colleagues also paid tribute to her today on social media.
Giles Chapman said: ‘I must echo others on here today in paying tribute to Sue Baker who sadly died today.
‘Proper old school journo yet always kind and generous to colleagues, especially newcomers. A rare trait indeed.’
He added that Ms Baker ‘should be hailed as a feminist icon – the first woman to become a Fleet Street pro in car journalism’ at the Observer.
David Wilkins wrote: ‘Desperately sorry to hear that Sue Baker – @carscribe on Twitter – has passed away. Sue was a terrific friend to so many of us in the world of motoring journalism and a trailblazer for women working in the trade. I shall miss her enormously.’
Meanwhile, Steve Kitson, who described himself as a former PR for the car brand Kia, called her ‘a great media chum who was always welcoming and stayed a close friend after my move into PR’.
He added that she was ‘always professional, questioning but scrupulously fair and honest’.
Baker (left) drives a Ford Cortina 2000e. Also pictured is Steve Sturgess, a press officer for car company Ford
Baker and businessman Robert Home hold a damaged tyre while taking part in the Beaujolais run – the longest-running pan-European car rally
The journalist with racing driver Jean Denton (left) and a Fiat 127 they were going to drive during the Tour of Britain
A passers-by helps Baker change a tyre after she had a problem with her car during a race
What is motor neurone disease? The symptoms and when you should see a GP
When to see a GP
You should see a GP if you have possible early symptoms of motor neurone disease, such as muscle weakness.
It’s unlikely you have motor neurone disease, but getting a correct diagnosis as early as possible can help you get the care and support you need.
You should also see a GP if a close relative has motor neurone disease or frontotemporal dementia and you’re worried you may be at risk of it. The GP may refer you for genetic counselling to talk about your risk and the tests you can have.
There is no cure for motor neurone disease and the condition is fatal, but it progresses at different speeds in patients.
People with MND, which in the US is known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, are expected to live two to five years after the symptoms first manifest, although 10 percent of sufferers live at least 10 years.
The NHS describes MND as: ‘An uncommon condition that affects the brain and nerves. It causes weakness that gets worse over time.’
The weakness is caused by the deterioration of motor neurons, upper motor neurons that travel from the brain down the spinal cord, and lower motor neurons that spread out to the face, throat and limbs.
It was first discovered in 1865 by a French neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot, hence why MND is sometimes known as Charcot’s disease.
Weakness in the ankle or leg, which may manifest itself with trips or difficulty ascending stairs, and a weakness in the ability to grip things.
Slurred speech is an early symptom and may later worsen to include difficulty swallowing food.
Muscle cramps or twitches are also a symptom, as is weight loss due to leg and arm muscles growing thinner over time.
MND is difficult to diagnose in its early stages because several conditions may cause similar symptoms. There is also no one single test used to ascertain its presence.
However, the disease is usually diagnosed through a process of exclusion, whereby diseases that manifest similar symptoms to MND are excluded.
The NHS says MND is an ‘uncommon condition’ that predominantly affects older people. However, it caveats that it can affect adults of any age.
The NHS says that, as of yet, ‘it is not yet known why’ the disease happens. The ALS Association says that MND occurs throughout the world ‘with no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries and can affect anyone’.
It says that war veterans are twice as likely to develop MND and that men are 20 percent more likely to get it.