With less than 24 hours remaining until the final episode of Top Gear is broadcast across the UK on BBC2, the show’s executive producer Andy Wilman believes it will provide closure for Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May – allowing the trio to head to a secret destination next week to hammer out the details of their new motoring show.
“We are going to go somewhere where nobody can find us,” said Andy Wilman, Clarkson’s longtime friend and collaborator. “We will get our heads down and work out the nuts and bolts of what the new show will do and what it will look like.”
Where this new show will be broadcast though is still up in the air, although an announcement is still expected to be made within the next few weeks. Rumours today suggested a they may sign on with ITV, in order to air the show locally in the UK in the same timeslot as Top Gear, to provide a bit of not-so-friendly competition. The deal would also leave them open to push their episodes onto streaming platforms such as Netflix after it has aired on the network.
“The truth of the matter is, we are still talking to different people,” said Wilman. “All we know is that we want to stay together and carry on making a car show. There is a will for it – the public want it, broadcasters want it – so the stars are aligning in the right way. Once this show’s gone out and we’ve got closure, we’ll crack on.”
Wilman also said the negotiations were like a real-life Top Gear film. “Two days in and Jeremy is all bombastic and [thinks] he’s a brilliant businessman and he knows fuck all,” said Wilman. “I don’t think Jeremy has made a conference call yet at the right time. James [May] is looking at the smaller points … It’s like a Top Gear film. It’s all very funny.”
Sunday’s final 75-minute Top Gear outing was put together from films made before Clarkson’s attack on a producer that subsequently cost him his job. He returned to record a new voiceover for Sunday’s final show – unpaid and under his old contract – and Hammond and May filmed new links but without a studio audience, a process Wilman described as “very sad, absolutely awful to make”.
Last episode may set a new record
The motoring show has rarely been out of the headlines since Clarkson’s “fracas” with a member of the production team in March. As a result, its farewell episode may well be its most watched ever, beating the record 8.4 million who saw Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton’s turn as the “star in a reasonably priced car” in 2007.
The fracas was the latest in a string of controversies around the show and the presenter, from Clarkson’s description of Gordon Brown as a “one-eyed Scottish idiot” at a press conference in 2009 to last year’s unbroadcast footage in which he appeared to mumble the n-word. Another incident, a 2011 episode in which the presenters branded Mexicans “lazy”, “feckless” and “flatulent”, prompted a complaint from the Mexican embassy and an apology from the BBC.
“We were abysmal,” said Wilman. “It was charmless, badly delivered and shit. If you are making a show with a mental age of nine, you are going to act like a nine-year-old, and at some point you are going to lose focus.”
Wilman, who quit the BBC a month after Clarkson’s departure, said: “I love those three letters with all my heart but I’m looking forward to a new home because sometimes it’s hard to laugh at W1A [the BBC’s satire about itself] when you are living in it.
“At the end, I had a guy sitting over my shoulder watching me edit because they didn’t trust me. We were seen as such meddlesome fools.”
Andy Wilman won’t be watching
As emotional as tonight’s final episode will be, Wilman has revealed he won’t be watching. – instead attending an AC/DC concert.
“I’m not sure I would be watching anyway because it’s quite sad for me,” he said. “I didn’t want it to end this way. The films are good but they were never designed to carry this burden of being the last thing you’ll ever see from us on Top Gear.
“What’s quite poignant for me is they are not the most ambitious films we have ever done but by accident they happen to be very strong on camaraderie.
“Even if I was in, I would probably be watching Countryfile,” he added. “I like Countryfile.”