Jeremy Clarkson to be quizzed about his future
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The future of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson and his colleagues may become clearer tonight when he returns to the BBC for the first time since his sacking earlier this year.
Clarkson will be interviewed by BBC Radio 2 breakfast show host Chris Evans, who says he will raise the Top Gear trio's plans during the show.
Clarkson and former colleagues Richard Hammond and James May will reunite for the first of a series of live shows under the title 'Clarkson, Hammond & May Live', starting in Belfast this weekend.
"We will be talking about what's going on with him now, and Richard and James as well, and what perhaps could be going on in the future," said Evans, who has himself been tipped as a possible replacement for Clarkson on the world's most popular motoring show Top Gear.
Top Gear's trio of presenters were among television's most successful stars for 12 years, before Clarkson's sacking in March - although it has also emerged that the team was very nearly broken up as soon as it was formed.
Richard Hammond was apparently told he might be fired from the motoring programme at the time that James May was hired, former producer Andy Wilman revealed yesterday.
BBC chiefs said in 2002 that they were considering sacking Mr Hammond as the sidekick to Mr Clarkson, telling him: 'We may not want you back for the second series, but, anyway, have a good Christmas.'
But eventually the channel bosses changed their mind - allowing the three men to form an enduring partnership which lasted until Mr Clarkson punched producer Oisin Tymon in a row over a steak and was dropped by the BBC.
The trio are performing a series of live shows under the title 'Clarkson, Hammond & May Live', starting in Belfast this weekend.
Mr Wilman said that Top Gear received so many complaints from readers - many angry that the show was not sufficiently focussed on motoring news - that they put 'the best and most vitriolic ones' on a special wall.
He also recalled the devastating accident in 2006 which left Mr Hammond fighting for life after a 300mph crash, revealing that racing drivers Eddie Irvine, Jacques Villeneuve and James Toseland got in touch to express their sympathy.
Writing in the new edition of Top Gear magazine, Mr Wilman - a childhood friend of Mr Clarkson who resigned in the wake of the presenter's sacking - hailed the show as a 'colossus'.
Describing how the programme went from a straightforward show about cars to a much broader phenomenon, he wrote: 'Because we never planned it, I don't think we'll see the like of it ever again.'
Mr Wilman recounted how Mr May was hired to replace original presenter Jason Dawe after the first series - leading to doubts over Mr Hammond's future too.
He wrote: 'For a while, for some reason I cannot fathom, the BBC management had a wobble about Richard and in their usual, classic HR style said to him: "We may not want you back for the second series, but, anyway, have a good Christmas."
'There was no doubt though that Richard would stay, so we were looking for a third man.
'It was about this time we had another visit from the BBC Meddling Department, who told us that market research showed our show was attracting young, lifestyle, trendy viewers to BBC2, so perhaps we should think about getting a young, lifestyle, trendy presenter.'
Mr Wilman added: 'At one point, the Meddling Department arrived bearing more news from the outside world. Nearly half of our audience, they now declared, was female.
'Before they had a chance to follow that up with the inevitable suggestion to get a woman presenter, we shooed them out and carried on.'
The producer is now believed to be working on a new motoring show with the three presenters - possibly to be broadcast by Netflix or Amazon - after Mr Hammond and Mr May followed Mr Clarkson out of the BBC.