Top Gear’s new host Chris Evans has promised that the classic Jeremy Clarkson “naughty schoolboy” slurs will be banished from the reinvented version of the world’s previously most popular motoring show, as he pledged that the programme would become “less blokey” and more “inclusive” under his stewardship. The first episode of Top Gear under Evans’s tenure will air on Sunday night, when the BBC simulcasts the programme to audiences across the globe.
Thrust into the role a year ago, Evans has inherited a programme with a diehard, international fanbase; and handling that has been harder than he thought it would be. Evans admits, leaning on the loading ramp of one of the production crew’s lorries, outside the show’s cavernous studio, at the Dunsfold Aerodrome, in Surrey. “It’s been really hard,” he says. “Not like fighting wars or digging trenches, but it’s been very hard. It’s been totally consuming.”
“I came to the conclusion that if you change the presenters of a show like this, all of them, that’s a fucking massive change,” Evans says. “So you’re sort of done on the change front. That’s like a revolution.”
From what we’ve learnt so far, the new version of Top Gear will be the same, but different. There are new faces, the “Star in a Reasonably Priced Car” segment has mutated into “Star in a Rallycross Car”, with celebrities driving a modified Mini both off-road and round the Dunsfold track. The verbal cues that herald the Stig’s appearance (“Some say he drove himself home from the hospital when he was born…”) are still there, and Clarkson’s traditional “and on that bombshell” sign-off is back, but is uttered by a different presenter each week, with Evans reacting each time with mock horror.
“The thing is, the show wasn’t broken at all,” Evans explains. “There was nothing wrong with the programme when it came off air. Some say it became a bit tired. I actually feel it felt like it had been revived a bit. The last three shows were as good as they’ve been for years, because they went back to cars as opposed to just capers. I just thought you can’t throw all of that away, because it’s what people like.”
One thing’s for sure, the new iteration of the show will certainly be a more politically correct – for better or for worse depending on your viewpoint. Evans is clear that there will be no repeat of the racial slurs that slipped into the show in its last incarnation, such as the reference to an Asian man as a ‘slope’ or Mexicans as ‘lazy, feckless and flatulent’. “I don’t think they’re jokes anyway,” he says. “I don’t think they’re funny. I loved their shows so much, and those little quips, they added nothing to the show, whatsoever. Had they not been there nobody would have gone, ‘Oh I wish they’d done a joke like that tonight’. That’s not why people watch Top Gear.”
While Clarkson – who is launching a new motoring show called The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime with Richard Hammond and James May – is a long-time friend, Evans says his relationship with the former host has changed “entirely” since he took the Top Gear job, last June. The pair have not spoken since then, although “we’ve texted, and stuff”.
“I’m not doing it consciously, but I think subconsciously we’re just all keeping our distance until their first show’s done and my first show’s done,” Evans says. “And then I think it will be alright again after that.”