In Brief

Has Top Gear returned to its former glory?

Matt LeBlanc and Chris Harris head to Oman in what critics call 'one of the season's best' road trips

Top Gear: Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc are only 'babysitting' show

19 April

Matt LeBlanc says he and co-host Chris Evans are only "babysitting" the BBC's rebooted Top Gear.

The admission was made during an interview with the Irish Independent at the weekend.

"As Chris says, we're only babysitting Top Gear," said the former Friends star.

"Top Gear is such a monstrous entity in its own right but I'm enjoying every minute of it so far. How could I not? It never feels like work and I get to drive great cars."

LeBlanc and Evans were in Ireland to film a new segment for the revamped car show on the Dingle Peninsula, pitting a classic Rolls-Royce Corniche against a more modern Rolls-Royce Dawn.

According to the Irish Independent, there was time "for some socialising in Dingle town too, as the presenters [sought] votes from the patrons of one particular pub regarding which Rolls-Royce they prefer".

Evans appears to have enjoyed his time in Ireland, posting a flurry of effusive posts to Twitter.

The new series of Top Gear is scheduled to begin on 22 May.

Top Gear: Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc deny being at war

15 April

Top Gear's two new lead hosts, Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, have taken to Twitter to deny a rift has grown between them after the controversial stunt at the Cenotaph in London.

"I'm at war with @achrisevans ? That's funny, I thought we were pals," former Friends star LeBlanc wrote.

Evans replied: "Just been on the phone to @Matt_LeBlanc to confirm we are 'at war' as reported in The Sun today. He says, 'sure, whatever...' Why I oughta!"

The Sun had previously reported that the two presenters had fallen out after LeBlanc performed "doughnuts" around the war memorial.

A source reportedly told the tabloid the pair's relationship had significantly broken down.

"Matt was never Chris's choice - it was a decision forced upon him to attract the US market," said the source.

"He accepted it and was desperate to strike up a bond when they were filming, but the spark just wasn’t there.

"Since the Cenotaph, their relationship's deteriorated. Chris thinks Matt severely damaged the brand. Behind the scenes it's very frosty between them."

While he apologised publicly for the stunt, Evans distanced himself from the segment.

"On behalf of the Top Gear team and Matt, I would like to apologise unreservedly for what these images seem to portray", he told listeners on his Radio 2 show. "This isn't a shoot I'm particularly involved in." 

The rebooted Top Gear is scheduled to begin screening on 22 May. 

Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson set for Netflix vs Amazon head-to-head clash

14 April

Top Gear is set to go head-to-head with Jeremy Clarkson's new show rather more literally than some had anticipated with reports that it will screen on Amazon's streaming-content competitor, Netflix.

Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, said this week that the rebooted show will appear on the streaming service as part of an ongoing deal with the BBC.

The move will put Top Gear "in direct competition with Jeremy Clarkson's new motoring show on rival Amazon," The Guardian says.

Sarandos said this was simply part of an existing arrangement which "should follow the deal of the old format where Top Gear is still under the terms of the old deal."

He added: "In many parts of the world, we already have it picked up and we'll continue to talk to them about doing it as well. The show is very popular on Netflix as you can imagine.

"There's a change in format but people definitely prefer the British Top Gear over the local Top Gear in almost every country in the world."

The presenters of the two shows have tried to play down any rivalry. "It's not a war, these things can coexist," James May told the Guardian. "We can have Amazon and Netflix and the BBC and BT Sport and people can make choices, that's what modern life is all about."

Meanwhile, with a little more than a month before the BBC's revamped Top Gear is scheduled to air, the relationship between the show's two main hosts has almost completely broken down, reports suggest.

Tensions between Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc increased after the actor's stunt at the Cenotaph was criticised for being disrespectful.

Evans blames the former Friends star for the PR disaster the show has had to endure, The Sun says. A source reportedly told the paper: "Matt was never Chris's choice - it was a decision forced upon him to attract the US market.

"He accepted it and was desperate to strike up a bond when they were filming, but the spark just wasn't there. Since the Cenotaph, their relationship's deteriorated. Chris thinks Matt severely damaged the brand.

"Behind the scenes it's very frosty between them."

Evans apologised "unreservedly" for the "gravely disrespectful" stunt and distanced himself from the segment, saying: "On behalf of the Top Gear team and Matt, I would like to apologise unreservedly for what these images seem to portray."

He added: "This isn't a shoot I'm particularly involved in."

The Sun's report comes hot on the heels of the release of the first trailer for the rebooted show.

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Viewers have "slammed" the short clip, the London Evening Standard says, with one calling it the "biggest mistake of the BBC".

More than 63,000 people have clicked the thumbs down icon on the YouTube clip while a mere 14,000 have shown approval.

"I'm off to buy an Amazon Prime membership," wrote one commentator, while another said: "Can't wait for this to be cancelled."

A promotional trailer for Amazon's new motoring show, in which the three former Top Gear hosts, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, discuss what their programme should be called, has been given 15,000 thumbs ups and only 115 thumbs downs.

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The new Top Gear is scheduled to begin broadcasting on 22 May.

Top Gear: Matt Le Blanc 'takes time out' after near miss

04 April

Top Gear's new presenter Matt Le Blanc was reportedly so shaken up over an incident on set that he had to take time off from filming.

According to the Daily Mail, the former Friends star nearly drove over a cameraman while "raring to drive away a Porsche".

Le Blanc failed to realise a crew member had lain down by the wheels to get some close-up shots of the car during a shoot in South Africa last month.

A show insider told the Daily Mirror: “In between filming, Matt got into a Porsche they’d been road-testing, turned on the ignition and was about to take it for a drive."

Both Le Blanc and the crew member were oblivious to the danger until a tracking cameraman in the distance "started waving and screaming at Matt to stop".

The source added: "Matt was a bit confused but got out of the car. When he realised he could have run the man over he was noticeably shaken up. He said he needed a bit of time out.

"It was one of those instances where, if the tracking man and Matt had reacted even a few seconds later, it could have been really serious. Both of them appreciated what a lucky escape it was."

It's the latest in a series of documented troubles on the set of the new look version of the show ahead of its return in May, including anger over shooting near the Cenotaph in London and the show's executive producer, Lisa Clark, quitting over alleged clashes with main host Chris Evans.

Top Gear Kazakhstan trip aborted after airline woes

01 April

Top Gear's staff and crew can't seem to get their act together. After being forced to contend with all manner of controversies and setbacks this year, they suffered a fresh blow at the weekend when a filming trip to Kazakhstan was cancelled.

Presenters Rory Reid, Eddie Jordan and Sabine Schmitz had planned to film in Kazakhstan for the new series of the BBC motoring show.

The trio, along with a crew of around 40, flew to Moscow from London on Saturday with the intention of catching a connecting flight with Russian airline Aeroflot to the Kazakh capital of Astana.

But it appears something went wrong along the way and the team had to make an embarrassing return to London. The failed expedition is likely to put the Beeb substantially out of pocket.

A BBC spokeswoman told The Sun: "Through no fault of the Top Gear team, the airline carrying them was not permitted to fly from Moscow to Kazakhstan and so they returned to London.

One of the tabloid's eagle-eyed "insiders" told the paper, "it was a monumental cock-up and really expensive".

The problem appeared to be at Aeroflot's end with news agency Tass reporting that the airline suspended flights to Kazakhstan on Saturday after the country failed to provide permission to film.

The newspaper estimates the mishap could cost the broadcaster in the region of £500,000. This has put renewed pressure on the show's tight production schedule, with the first episode due to air in May.

"They intend to visit Kazakhstan in the future to shoot the planned film there. The BBC will be looking to recoup the cost of the flights," the show's spokeswoman said.

But it's not all doom and gloom for Chris Evans and co. The release of the first trailer for the new series has prompted great excitement from fans and critics alike.

The footage sees clips of fast cars interspersed with some candid shots of the presenters Evans, Matt LeBlanc and Sabine Schulz. The trailer concludes with Evans's infamous vomiting episode trackside in California after taking a spin with his female co-presenter.

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The 60-second clip has all the hallmarks of vintage Top Gear, notes The Guardian.

"Stylistically, at least, the trailer offers up a familiar mix for Top Gear fans including cars racing jets, machine guns, celebrity guests (Jenson Button) and a presenter – in this case LeBlanc – being the butt of the joke," says the paper.

"It's hard to judge a show based on 60 seconds of footage," says EnGadget, "but here's one obvious takeaway: the show's budget and production values are still sky high."

Twitter users were even more effusive with their praise.

But of course, you can't please all of the people, all of the time.

Top Gear's Chris Evans under fire for short working hours

29 March

Chris Evans has found himself in another spot of bother after he revealed to Top Gear magazine that he is only managing to work four hours a day on the new series.

The controversial star puts the blame on his long-running breakfast show on BBC Radio 2 as its early start means he's up at 4.45am on weekdays.

After he gets to the Top Gear studios at 10am, he starts a four-hour shift. "I'm useless after 2pm. I'm fried," he said.

Despite clocking up a 7.5-hour working day for the Beeb, Evans has come under heavy criticism for his supposedly work-shy attitude.

"Those on low incomes and working long hours to pay for their licence fee might appreciate a little more humility from the celebs whose sky-high salaries they pay," Jonathan Isaby, the chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, told the Daily Mail.

"Hearing that someone is 'fried' after a four-hour shift while picking up millions a year from the pay cheques of taxpayers will not make sense to those working long night shifts on the minimum wage."

But there was some good news for the new Top Gear star as the show's former co-host, James May, insisted he and fellow presenters Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond were "not in a race with Chris Evans's Top Gear".

"A bit of good-natured sparring is great for everybody," he told The Guardian, after Evans compared the former Top Gear trio to children's television characters.

As for their new Amazon show, May said: "We are doing it carefully, it will be ready when it's ready. For once, we are not in a race."

Top Gear: BBC brings in new boss to drive series reboot

23 March

The BBC has appointed a new boss for Top Gear in a move said to be linked to the fallout from the show's Cenotaph stunt

Claire Pizey, the former head of factual entertainment at the corporation, will be "editorial lead" while presenter Chris Evans will be "creative lead", reports The Guardian.

Pizey will nominally be taking the job vacated by executive producer Lisa Clark, who left following differences of opinion with Evans and the team.

"Clare is an experienced head of department whose credits include big must-see events such as Children in Need and Sport Relief. Clare will be responsible for the editorial content of Top Gear. She will continue to lead the factual entertainment department including overseeing Children in Need 2016," said the BBC.

The Sun says Pizey's appointment is a result of the criticism Evans and the show received following its decision to perform high-speed "donuts" near the Cenotaph memorial in central London earlier this month.

"BBC top brass want no more gaffes so have put Pizey on the case with the remit to make the programme safe," a well-placed "insider" told the tabloid.

However, a spokesperson told The Independent: "There is no truth in the claim it is in reaction to the Cenotaph stunt."

The Guardian says it's likely Pizey's appointment is due to the fact that presenters cannot be executive producers at the BBC after the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand "Sachsgate" scandal in 2008.

Chris Evans rebuffs reports of Top Gear misdeeds

21 March

Chris Evans has referred to the previous presenters of Top Gear as "Zippy, Bungle and George" in the latest spat between Top Gear stars old and new.

In a veiled reference to the main characters of Rainbow – the BBC children's television show from the 1970s and 80s – Evans seemed to hint at the ill-feeling that remains between the two sets of car show presenters.

"Today I will be mostly on my travels again, this time going to Venice with That Car Show," Evans wrote in his Mail on Sunday column.

"Good title, don't you think? For a car show. That's what I would have retitled Top Gear had Zippy, Bungle and George announced some irretrievable divine right over the original name. Either that or Carmageddon, which I’ve always fancied."

In a wide-ranging column, Evans was also quick to discredit the numerous rumours surrounding his supposed antics on the set of the new series of Top Gear.

"As we count down to our first show of the new series, in (not James) May, the seemingly inexhaustible stream of 'insider' stories keeps on coming, my most recent favourite being about how 'unprofessional' I have been behaving 'on set'," he wrote.

Evans's rebuttal came on the same day as the Sun on Sunday "revealed" how friends of the 49-year-old were worried about his health.

One "friend" told the paper: "Chris has a lot on his plate. The pressure of being as good as the last incarnation of Top Gear is driving him to new levels.

"Lots of people think he is trying to juggle too much and the cracks are really starting to show."

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Top Gear: Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc ordered to bring celebrity friends onto show

17 March

Top Gear's new hosts Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc are being leant upon by the BBC to pull in as many of their A-list contacts as possible to take part in the reboot show.

Producers want to keep alive the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment and to do so, need a steady flow of familiar faces keen to show off their driving skills, the Daily Star reports.

When Jeremy Clarkson was Top Gear host, the segment included appearances from Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Simon Cowell, Rowan Atkinson, Will Smith, Susan Boyle and Tom Hiddleston. The record for the fastest ever lap, though, was set by incoming presenter LeBlanc.

According to the Daily Star, the BBC's wish list is likely to include the actor's former Friends co-stars "Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry", along with "Hollywood stars Drew Barrymore, Bradley Cooper and Gary Oldman and pop singers such as Harry Styles and Adele".

A source on the show told the paper: "Top Gear is famous around the world and we usually get good names. Chris and Matt should not have a problem getting the cream of the crop from their contacts books."

Canned Top Gear Cenotaph stunt cost the BBC £100,000

16 March

Top Gear's controversial stunt which saw former Friends star Matt LeBlanc performing "doughnuts" around the Cenotaph in London is estimated to have cost the BBC more than £100,000.

The corporation paid thousands of pounds to the Metropolitan Police and Westminster City to close roads and manage traffic while filming took place, the Daily Express says. 

However, the segment has now been cancelled altogether after it caused "controversy across the political and military communities".

The BBC blamed the "angle" of long-lens photographs for making the stunt appear closer to the Cenotaph than it actually was. However, images later revealed tyre marks surrounding the nearby women's memorial remembering the women who served in the Second World War.

Chris Evans, Top Gear's new lead host, later apologised for the filming.

"The images on the front page of the papers - 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," he said to the Mail Online.

"They look entirely disrespectful, which, of course, was not and would never be the intention of the Top Gear team or Matt.

"These pictures were taken with a long-lens camera from, I believe Parliament Square, but the point is it does not look good at all, whatsoever."

Sculptor John W Mills, who created the women's memorial, said the stunt shows "a disregard for what the public think".

He said: "It's totally self-aggrandising. It's not only disrespectful, it's stupid."

According to the Daily Express, the BBC may now also have to pay the bill for resurfacing the road.

Top Gear's danger isn't being too disrespectful, but becoming 'too bland'

15 March

After the initial furore over Top Gear filming stunts near the Cenotaph in London, some commentators are now beginning to worry not that the show might not be too controversial, but that it could be "too bland".

This is the view of The Independent's Ian Burrell, who says "ruffling the Establishment is just the reputation the show needs."

Some have argued the stunt proves that reviving Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson at the helm was a mistake and the BBC should cancel May's relaunch altogether, he says

"I would argue it's quite the opposite. The danger for Top Gear, post Jeremy Clarkson, is that it will appear too bland. Clarkson has been masterful at making the show notorious. With producer Andy Wilman, he has been the Barnum and Bailey of motoring TV. His distasteful use of politically incorrect language has all been part of Top Gear's naughty schoolboy identity."

The Guardian agrees and says that the show's host Chris Evans was wrong to issue a public apology for the stunt yesterday.

"The Cenotaph in London – arguably Britain's greatest public sculpture – reinvented the war memorial when it was erected in 1920," writes Jonathan Jones. "It is not, however, a place of hushed reverence – except on Remembrance Sunday. How can it be, located as it is on a busy street in the heart of a capital city?"

Liberty, Jones says, means taking liberties. "Whitehall needs to be desecrated from time to time precisely because it is the heart of government. Top Gear didn't actually desecrate anything – but the demand for an apology for what was clearly just a bit of TV fun, and the prompt, fawning way it has been given, is a sad day for British freedom."

The new Top Gear is scheduled to begin broadcasting on 22 May.

'Clarkson never had such bad taste,' says former army chief over Top Gear Cenotaph stunt

14 March

BBC bosses have defended a stunt performed by new Top Gear host Matt LeBlanc after the show was criticised for filming scenes near the Cenotaph in central London.

The former Friends star was seen driving around Westminster in a new segment for the forthcoming revamp of the BBC Two motoring show, which is due to air in May.

Paparazzi pictures appear to show LeBlanc in professional rally driver Ken Block's 1965 Mustang, the "Hoonicorn", performing "donuts" around the war memorial. The scene was criticised as "gravely disrespectful" by retired army officer Colonel Richard Kemp, who said the show's former presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, would never have behaved in such a way.

"This is a sacred tribute to millions of people who have done far more for their country than [Top Gear host] Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc ever will," he told the Daily Telegraph.

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

A Top Gear spokesman said filming had taken place at a "respectful distance" from the memorial, with the car at least 44 yards from the monument at all times.

He added: "It was all agreed with Westminster Council in advance."

Speaking on his Radio 2 breakfast show today, Evans, who became Top Gear's new host after Jeremy Clarkson was dropped for punching a colleague in the face, apologised but said that he hadn't seen the pictures until this morning because he was away for the weekend with his family.

"We were making a Top Gear film and we are still making the Top Gear film to do with a car with a brilliant stunt driver called Ken Blocker," Evans said. "Matt LeBlanc is making the film with Ken and we closed some roads down in London on Saturday and Sunday. I believe we're doing the same now and we're doing the same tomorrow. This isn't a shoot I'm particularly involved with but I do obviously know something about it."

He added: "I would like to apologise unreservedly."

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