Monday 26 September 2016

Top Gear team 'not given permission to perform stunts on Whitehall'

Published 14/03/2016 | 00:16

Matt LeBlanc and rally driver Ken Block during filming of BBC Top Gear in Westminster, London
Matt LeBlanc and rally driver Ken Block during filming of BBC Top Gear in Westminster, London
Matt LeBlanc during filming of BBC Top Gear in Westminster, London.
Matt LeBlanc (centre) during filming in Westminster
Matt LeBlanc in a Ford Mustang in London with rally driver Ken Block.
Matt LeBlanc going over Tower Bridge in London with rally driver Ken Block.
Matt LeBlanc taking a selfie driving over Tower Bridge
Matt LeBlanc waving to a bride and groom and their wedding guests at St Paul's Cathedral

Top Gear was not given permission to perform stunts on Whitehall during filming for the new series, Westminster City Council has said.

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"No discussion" had taken place with BBC producers about drivers performing wheel spins and the council was not aware the car would do anything "but drive down Whitehall", it said in a statement.

Co-host Matt LeBlanc and a professional driver performed stunts near the Cenotaph in London, but the motoring caper sparked an outcry.

The BBC has said footage filmed near the war memorial "will not appear" in the final film.

In a statement, Westminster City Council apologised for "any upset that had been caused" and said it took requests for filming on Whitehall "very seriously".

"In this case, permission was given for the Top Gear car to drive down Whitehall before moving to another location," it said.

"However, what the Top Gear team did on the day was not what had been agreed during the planning process.

"At no time had the BBC producers made Westminster City Council aware that the car was going to be doing anything but drive down Whitehall.

"There was no discussion between BBC producers and Westminster City Council about wheel spins and a 'donut' and permission would not have been given to do so."

The statement added: "We have spoken to the producers today to express our disappointment and we welcome the statement from Top Gear presenter Chris Evans who has said this footage will not be shown."

The BBC said it had "worked closely" with Metropolitan Police film unit and the special events unit of Westminster Council ahead of filming, with preparations spanning four months.

A statement released by the corporation said: "The Cenotaph was at no point intended to feature in the programme and therefore will not appear in the final film."

It added the driver of the car was "briefed by production prior to filming" to not do any manoeuvres close to the monument, "an instruction to which he fully adhered".

"We would like to make it absolutely clear that the Top Gear team has the utmost respect for the Cenotaph, what it stands for, and those heroic individuals whose memory it serves so fittingly," the statement concluded.

Earlier, Chris Evans said footage for the new Top Gear series filmed near the Cenotaph in London is "disrespectful" and should not be broadcast.

Speaking outside the BBC on Monday, Evans described the images as "terrible".

"They look so disrespectful," he said, before adding that there are "mitigating circumstances".

He continued: "I saw the images this morning for the first time and I felt the same as everybody else."

In response to a question as to whether it reflected positively on Top Gear, he said: "This is not a good story, no."

He added: "We're all mortified by it, so absolutely, 100%, it should not be shown."

Evans admitted he does not have the final say over the fate of the footage.

"But if it was my decision, then I would say, that particular scene shouldn't be shown and I think everyone will agree," he said.

LeBlanc was seen driving around Westminster as shooting took place for the new series of the BBC Two show, which is due to air in May, and photos show large tyre circles left on streets surrounding the war memorial after the stunt.

Speaking on his BBC Radio 2 show, Evans said he "completely understood the furore" around the photographs and admitted it had been "unwise" to film anywhere near the Cenotaph.

He said: "It doesn't matter what actually happened, it doesn't matter what the circumstances were that could explain this away. What is important about this is what these images look like, and they look entirely disrespectful which is not and would never be the intention of the Top Gear team or Matt (LeBlanc).

"On behalf of the Top Gear team and Matt, I would like to apologise unreservedly for what these images seem to portray.

"There have been some very incendiary comments written alongside these pictures and I completely understand this furore, but the Top Gear team would never ever do that.

"Retrospectively it was unwise to be anywhere near the Cenotaph with this motor car."

Evans said LeBlanc had been filming in a car called the Hoonicorn alongside racing driver Ken Block and filming could continue on Monday and Tuesday.

The stunt has been described as "gravely disrespectful" by retired Colonel Richard Kemp.

He told the Telegraph: "This is a sacred tribute to millions of people who have done far more for their country than Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc ever will."

He added: "Jeremy Clarkson was certainly no saint but I don't believe he would have ever performed a stunt in such bad taste."

The stunt was also criticised by peers in the House of Lords.

Speaking during a debate on Government plans to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme this year, Conservative Lord True described the display as "shameful".

"No-one can be immune to the horror and sacrifice of the Somme campaign," he said.

"I must say that standing on a bleak autumn evening watching the sun go down behind the Thiepval Memorial is one of the most moving episodes of my life.

"And Lutyens, in stone, captured the immensity of the thing but also the dignity and the space for contemplation that should inform remembrance this summer.

"I must say in passing, my lords, how different from the shameful display in Whitehall with the Cenotaph enveloped in fumes as a prop for tawdry stunts for BBC Top Gear."

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