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In the past ten years there have been significant advances in the theoretical and experimental analysis of high-voltage gas breakdown and surface flashover of insulators in compressed gases. This has probably been fostered by the recent growth in the design and application of gas-insulated high-voltage equipment. The review describes the characteristics of compressed-gas breakdown, including the effects of failure of Paschen's law; conditioning; electrode area; material and surface; breakdown-voltage distribution; particle contamination; voltage waveform; temperature; and gas mixtures. The insulator-flashover characteristics are then described, including the effects of insulator-electrode interface; insulator material; insulator shape; voltage waveform; charge generation; particle contamination; surface contamination; conditioning; flashover distribution; and dependence on type of gas. The various mechanisms proposed for gas breakdown and insulator flashover are reviewed and discussed in relation to the experimental characteristics. Future theoretical and experimental work is suggested to clarify the gas-breakdown and insulator-flashover mechanisms, and which would also help bring about the design of improved high-voltage gas-insulated systems.