Thursday 22 February 2018

Jeremy Clarkson's firing was pinnacle of 'perfect storm' says former producer

James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond

Jeremy Clarkson's firing from Top Gear and the departure of James May and Richard Hammond from the show was the pinnacle of "a perfect storm" that was building between the programme and the BBC, the executive producer has said.

Clarkson was sacked following a "fracas" with a producer over hot food in 2015, and his co-hosts left soon afterwards.

Andy Wilman, who served as executive producer on Top Gear and is now executive producer of the trio's new motoring show The Grand Tour for Amazon Prime, said the events in March last year were the culmination of a "broken relationship" that became "personal and confrontational".

In a frank conversation at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Wilman said: "I think it was a perfect storm that was coming. That show got bigger and bigger by accident, we never adjusted to that and were collapsing under the weight of the work we were doing. We got to series 22.

"We had shit like Argentina go wrong, so it was all building. I'm speaking as someone who loves the BBC and there were a lot of people who were great with us and some people there weren't great with us and didn't want us there so it became a battle.

"It became personal and confrontational and when everything went to shit in March, that was critical because it was going to be a victory for somebody.

"It wasn't going to be a resolution because I think some people didn't have the will to make it work on the management side, and I didn't have the maturity to make it work either. Everyone had taken their position, we were all entrenched."

Asked what the punishment for Clarkson should have been instead, Wilman joked: " 100 lines?"

He added: "They should have delved into him, big fines."

He added: "W e had been investigated internally, there was a finding we had a broken relationship, that was obvious to everyone, but there was no point killing the show.

"It was sad, but my point is, we were to blame too, I was entrenched, I was throwing my toys out of the pram, I was vicious in my reaction to everything and it became thumping heads, which was sad."

The Grand Tour will launch on the streaming service in the autumn but Wilman said he did not have a show to go to when he decided to leave the BBC.

He said: "I didn't leave to go with Jeremy, we had nothing to go to. Nobody had called, it was just 'go'.

"The show compensated for everything. If we had a good show and good viewers, we were protected, but without that we were just left with this divorce hanging over us, so it was 'Let's just go our separate ways and see what happens'.

"It's a matter of public record that the BBC made a play for Richard and James but we wanted to stay together."

Clarkson was replaced by Chris Evans, who resigned after his first series, and co-host Matt LeBlanc, but Wilman said he did not watch the new episodes.

He said: "I never watched it because there was a lot of pain for me, it was everything that I did. We gave everything to it. Also because I wanted to be able to say when I was asked if I had watched, that I hadn't."

However, he said he wished no ill will to the cast and crew of the show saying: "Chris Evans and everyone went to work to make it, I wouldn't wish them one second of ill that they wouldn't succeed. You can have two car shows and I hope they crack it."

Wilman said leaving the BBC meant the new show had to leave behind Top Gear formats, which meant saying goodbye to the handwritten leaderboard, the race track and The Stig.

He said: "The biggest thing we had was those three, that thing is those three doing their thing.

"It's not a great format like The X Factor or Strictly, that you can just move around. We had those three and then the lawyers come in, which gets hilarious.

"It's like, 'Can James May still say cock, or will the BBC sue?'

"If we get sued for James saying cock, that's brilliant."

Asked why they chose deep-pocketed Amazon to partner with, Wilman joked: "Just money."

It has been reported that the show has a budget of £4 million per episode, but he dismissed that, saying: "What's in the papers is bollocks, not £4 million, that's bullshit.

"It's a good whack but we are spending a lot. That is going out the door hand over fist because of what we have to do."

Wilman admitted he does not yet know exactly when the show will launch, or if it will be released weekly or dropped all in one go, in the style of Netflix releases.

He said: "That's their call. I would prefer weekly, I don't think there is a box set binge quality to it.

"It's those three do something retarded and next week they do something else retarded."

He did however confess he would like to see it enjoy a secondary run on a traditional broadcaster.

He said: "I have not thought about it but would like it to be seen by as many people as possible. I would be very happy that it can be seen anywhere."

Referring to the Top Gear repeats on Dave, he said: "I'm hoping this has got a shelf life too."

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