How Clarkson an Co blew $283 million trying to mow down Top Gear
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The way Jeremy Clarkson tells it, The Grand Tour, the new high-testosterone supercar show he’s hosting with Richard Hammond and James May, has all the ingredients that made Top Gear a world-wide success.
‘It is full of middle-aged men falling over with the occasional car sticking its nose into the frame,’ he says.
For legal reasons, they are being careful not to actually copy any Top Gear features, but Clarkson says the constant will be Hammond and May, ‘whom I hate’.
He adds: ‘But that is really what is at the core of The Grand Tour; our relentless and unending need to belittle and humiliate one another.’
The new show is launched next Friday via Amazon’s online Prime Video service. Top Gear fans mourned when Clarkson was fired by the BBC after punching a producer following an argument over a cold buffet, and although May and Hammond were not involved in the fracas, they also left the show.
Their new roost has the biggest budget ever for a streaming internet TV series. So how have the trio, with their obsession for supercars, spent all that money?
With the help of the show’s producer, Andy Wilman, Mail TV critic Christopher Stevens crunches the numbers. . .
$283 million (NZD)
Total sum Amazon is reported to have paid for 36 episodes of The Grand Tour across three years. That’s nearly £4.5 million a show, about ten times more than the cost of a Top Gear episode.
Clarkson’s reported annual salary, making him Britain’s highest paid TV star. That works out at about $1.4 million an episode.
At the BBC, he was said to be paid $2.6 million.
His replacement on Top Gear, Matt LeBlanc, is likely to be paid $3.5 million a year by the BBC, as lead host of the next series — a considerable increase on the $883,000 the former Friends star earned for his work on this summer’s shows, co-starring with Chris Evans, who has now stepped down.
Reported annual salary for each of the co-presenters Hammond and May, which works out at $1 million an episode — a distinct improvement on the $883,000 a year they were each said to earn on Top Gear.
The value of the cars in the six-minute opening sequence of the first episode, which features 150 custom cars and six jet planes, as well as acrobats and stilt-walkers. The cars include a Bugatti Veyron ($2.5 million) and a Rolls-Royce Phantom ($1.3 million).
The entire Mad Max-style segment, filmed in the Californian desert with 2,000 extras, cost a flabbergasting $4.4 million to make.
That’s the top speed of the three hypercars in a race-off in Portugal — the $2,000,000 Ferrari LaFerrari driven by May, Hammond’s $1,250,000 Porsche 918 Spyder and Clarkson’s $1,500,000 McLaren P1 are among the fastest cars on the planet.
Grand Tour producer Andy Wilman, who had worked on Top Gear with old schoolchum Jeremy Clarkson since 2002, says: ‘Making that film was a joy. It was the first thing we’d done since leaving the BBC, and it has a real attitude.
‘It hits you in the face like hearing a Clash album for the first time. It doesn’t matter whether you like cars or not, that film just has such a chemistry. There’s a massive air of refreshment, we’re all going at it like crazy.
‘Partly, it’s because everyone was rested, and it’s because we were fresher than we had been for 15 years, getting back to a time when we were left alone to make the show the way we wanted.
‘We had that at the BBC in the beginning, but as the show became more successful, Broadcasting House got more involved in the everyday running. By the end, it had become a treadmill. Amazon have given us no notes, no directions, they’ve just given us a platform to make and broadcast a show. That’s lovely.’
‘The timetable has been horrendously tight, but we handled it because we’ve suddenly got so much more vim and vigour. Those three are banging off the walls like kids on sugar.’
Cost of destroying 20 G-Wiz electric cars in a gigantic game of Battleships. The 20 cars were used as missiles. ‘That’s the Christmas show,’ says Wilman, ‘and we wanted to give the traditional board-game market a boost. So we used cars as torpedoes. It was gratuitously big-budget, I admit.’
Total salaries for 80 crew, who flew a combined distance of 5.1 million miles (at an estimated cost of more than $1.3 million), taking the production to 15 countries and staying in a total of 1,500 hotel rooms — spending $477,00 on bed and breakfast alone.
The first show is based in California, for the second episode they are in Johannesburg, and the next two are in Britain, including one in the seaside town of Whitby in North Yorkshire.
After that, it’s Holland, and Finland for Christmas, before they go to Namibia for an African special. That one rang alarm bells in the legal department: the new show has to be demonstrably different from the old Top Gear, for contractual reasons, and in 2010 the team had shot one of their most celebrated specials in Botswana.
That episode had featured some of the most beautiful landscape on earth, and naturally the three presenters commented on it. This time, they were asked by wary lawyers not to do that. ‘So they stood and looked across the Skeleton Coast in Namibia at sunset,’ says Wilman, ‘and went, “What a rubbish view!” ’
Editing is not yet completed on the final shows, but they go to Germany, then Nashville, Tennessee, and Scotland, before finishing in the United Arab Emirates.
Price of 6,000 rounds of automatic rifle ammunition fired in a madcap remake of the Tom Cruise movie Edge Of Tomorrow, filmed at a Middle Eastern special forces training centre in Jordan.
We’re constantly aware of our previous form, our legacy,’ says Wilman. ‘We have to plan things, we can’t always just let them happen, even though my favourite moments are often the spontaneous ones.
‘So with our tongues well and truly in our cheeks, we set about reinventing this action movie, where life is like a video game: if you die, you go back to the beginning. Our version is, ummm . . . a pastiche!’
The size of the on-set audience in a marquee set up in different places for each show, compared with the 900 who used to fill Top Gear’s studio — an aerodrome at Dunsfold, Surrey — for each edition.
The scaled-down production is a matter of sheer logistics: it’s hard enough to transport a marquee big enough to display the cars and set it up in a dozen countries, never mind cramming in almost a thousand fans.
The smaller audience changes the dynamic of the show. The old Top Gear used to have the feel almost of a stadium rock event. The Grand Tour promises to be more intimate.
‘Because the tent is much smaller, it alters the dynamic immediately,’ says Wilman. ‘There’s a different atmosphere, an interaction that creates energy, with the audience really filling the space.’
A bigger difference is the loss of the aerodrome’s racetrack, on a converted runway, and its tame racing driver, the Stig. Forced to leave Dunsfold behind, the team also had to abandon the Star In A Reasonably Priced Car feature, where celebrities raced to beat each other’s lap records.
Wilman insists this gave them ‘a boot up the backside’, spurring them to come up with new challenges.
Some of these are outlandish. In Barbados, the presenters build an underwater reef from wrecked cars bought for next to nothing at a breaker’s yard.
‘That wasn’t exactly a big-budget segment,’ concedes Wilman.
The total time of film shot by the crew and whittled down to 12 episodes. All of it is recorded in high-definition 4k format, the same standard used by the BBC wildlife unit to make Sir David Attenborough’s spectacular Planet Earth II series. Some of the Grand Tour footage is slightly less, well, gorgeous.
‘The presenters used to be able to switch the cameras off in their cars when they were not talking, or wanted a cigarette or whatever. They can’t do that now.
‘That means they leave them on all day, and I’ve been wading through countless hours of James May picking his nose.’
Cost of ensuring the three presenters all had a steak dinner waiting for them at the end of each day, perhaps to ensure there was no likelihood of a repeat of the 2015 Top Gear incident when a producer was punched for not providing a hot meal for Clarkson at the end of a day’s filming. This led to Clarkson’s contract not being renewed . . . and the move to Amazon.
Amount spent on cold buffets for Jeremy Clarkson.
Cost of the 12,000 bags of crisps and tubes of Pringles consumed by the presenters and crew. James May notes: ‘They say that on the London Tube you are never more than 10ft away from a rat. On our shoots, you are never more than 10ft away from a Pringle.’
Number of limbs broken by the presenters during filming. The injury wasn’t sustained on set: James fell over, coming out of a pub, the evening before the team was due to travel to France.
‘He rang me from the Eurostar the next morning,’ says Wilman, ‘and told me his broken arm needn’t affect the schedule, since he was driving an automatic. His arm was in a sling, which gave everything a huge lift because the other two thought it was so funny.
‘They were merciless. They kept buying him presents that he couldn’t use. Richard went into a petrol station and came out with a set of chest expanders.
‘James looked at him, really fed up because his arm was agony, and said: “You’re not funny any more. You used to be funny . . .” That banter just rolls along, the blather pours forth.’
Wilman reckons the best moments often come from the cheapest humour. In Germany, the three overgrown schoolboys take a roadtrip through a series of suggestively named towns, describing a one-night stand. They start in Kissing, Bavaria, then motor on to Petting on the shore of the Waginger lake.
After that, the names become ruder. Richard, Jeremy and James have satellite navigation consoles to help them . . . but these have to be programmed by voice. Which means saying the names aloud on camera. Cue for much sniggering.
The Grand Tour is available in weekly episodes through Amazon’s online Prime Video service from next Friday.