Chris Evans: Top Gear atmosphere was 'apocalyptic' when I joined
The series' new presenter promises that 'the car will be the star' of the reconfigured show
Chris Evans, the new man in the driving seat for BBC Two's reconfigured version of Top Gear, has spoken of the "apocalyptic" atmosphere that surrounded the show on his arrival.
The presenter said that it was like "Armageddon" in the office, which had been rocked by the sacking of Jeremy Clarkson in March 2015. Clarkson's departure, occasioned by his throwing a punch at one of the show's producers, was followed by that of his co-stars Richard Hammond and James May, along with a raft of other senior staff members.
When the new host arrived, only one "lone warrior" – producer Alex Renton, who's worked on the programme since 2004 – remained, Evans told an audience at a meeting of the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, California.
Rebuilding the show, and learning the skills needed to helm it, has been a "baptism of fire," Evans added. The BBC recently dismissed as "complete nonsense" a tabloid story that claimed that Evans was struggling to master the art of talking to the camera while driving at high speed.
Evans conceded that it would be hard to reproduce the chemistry that made the Clarkson-Hammond-May era of the programme so successful. "It was brilliant, there’s no denying it," he said. "If the old show had never been taken off I’d still be watching it." In 2015 the show aired in 214 countries around the world, and reportedly earned around £150 million for BBC Worldwide every year.
When the new series of Top Gear airs in May, Evans will be joined by German racing driver Sabine Schmitz, known as the "Queen of the Nürburgring", and motoring journalist Chris Harris. Harris is noted for his biting commentary on the world of cars; he was banned from reviewing Lamborghinis after the company took offence at an article of his that bore the headline: "Lamborghinis Are The Perfect Cars For People Who Can't Drive".
Evans knows the new trio has a hard act to follow, and emphasised that in his version of the show, "the car is definitely the star".
"If people came to the show for that [on-screen chemistry], I can’t give them that right away," he said. "I can only give them the best show that I can produce about cars.
"I hope that [camaraderie] will develop but I’d be crazy to think it will happen right away."
Clarkson, Hammond and May, along with Top Gear's former executive producer Andy Wilman, have meanwhile signed on for a new motoring show produced by Amazon Prime. Three series of the as-yet-unnamed programme have been commissioned, with a budget of £160 million. It will be available to stream online to Amazon Prime subscribers in the autumn.