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THE BRAINS BEHIND TOP GEAR EXPLAINS THE SPLIT FROM THE BBC
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 building between the programme and the BBC, the executive producer Andy Wilman has said.
Clarkson was sacked following a fracas with a producer over hot food in 2015, and his co-hosts left soon afterwards.
Wilman, who 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: “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 s*** 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 ... .
“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.”
Asked what the punishment for Clarkson should have been, Wilman joked: “100 lines?”
He added: “They should have delved into him, big fines.
“We 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 Northern Hemisphere 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'.”
He said it was a matter of public record that “the BBC made a play for Richard and James but we wanted to stay together”.
The trio were replaced on Top Gear by Chris Evans, who resigned after his first series, and co-host Matt LeBlanc.
Wilman said he did not watch the new episodes. “I never watched it because there was a lot of pain for me, it was everything that I did. Also, I wanted to be able to say when I was asked if I had watched, that I hadn't.”
However, he wished no ill will to the cast and crew of the show saying: “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 — the handwritten leaderboard, the race track and The Stig. “The biggest thing we had was those three [Clarkson, Hammond and May] doing their thing ...
“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.
“It's a good whack but we are spending a lot.”
Wilman admitted he did not yet know exactly when the show would launch, or whether it will be released weekly or dropped all in one go, in the style of Netflix releases. “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