The number of words that have been written about Jeremy Clarkson, Top Gear, his depature from the show, the rebooted version and their new project The Grand Tour must, by now, run into the millions. But this is worth adding to them, as The Grand Tour executive producer Andy Wilman has revealed an absolute wealth of information about, well, all of it.
Speaking at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, he chatted freely about the upcoming show and the circumstances surrounding their departure from the BBC in 2015 after Clarkson punched a producer in a row over a steak.
Here's what he had to say:
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what we can’t repeat from Top Gear. There’s no Stig, no race track, no Dunsfold where we used to have the race track. But it does get hilarious. You get meetings where it’s ‘Can James May still say “Cock” or is the BBC going to sue?’ James then says ‘I’ve always said cock!’”
“It’s win-win, as if we get sued for James saying ‘Cock’, that’d be brilliant. The lawyers go through everything.”
'The crux point'
"I think it was a perfect storm that was coming. That show got bigger and bigger, we were collapsing under the weight of the work we were doing. Some people [at the BBC] weren’t great with us and didn’t want us there. It became confrontational. When everything went to shit in March, that was the crux point. Some didn’t have the will to make it work on management side. I didn’t have the maturity to make it work, to mend it. We were all entrenched.
"Wilman suggested that, instead of sacking Jeremy Clarkson, the BBC should have hit him with 'big fines'."
The cost of The Grand Tour
Clarkson, Hammond and May's deal to move to Amazon Prime and make The Grand Tour was reputed to have cost the tech giant $250m. However, Wilman declared that this was "bollocks."
However, whatever the cost, he also said that his team were “spending a lot” on it. “That’s going out the door hand over fist because of what we have to do.”
He also revealed that it was expensive - and "a nightmare" - to shoot the show in 4k - one of Amazon's requirements.
“Making a drama in 4K makes a lot of sense. Making the kind of actuality show we make, it doesn’t make sense at all, but that’s what we’ve been tasked to do.”
Working with Amazon
Wilman stated that working for Amazon was “fantastic but really demanding... it’s really nice to be pushed... The marketing they are putting behind it is actually quite overwhelming – I was thinking it’s like it’s a new Marvel movie. I’m going: stop, stop, stop, we are bringing back comfort food, it’s not bloody ‘Star Wars.’ They want to go big like that but there’s a lot of will behind it.”
Why Amazon? “The main reason is we do get left alone, which as anybody who’s worked with us knows we like. But we are left alone because it is logical [as they need to be allowed to create with complete freedom]. You’ve got to go new world. That’s because they are a new outfit – they are like a blank canvas.”
As with 'cock gate', Wilman spoke about the need to be careful not to copy elements from Top Gear. In one episode, The Grand Tour goes to Namibia, meaning lawyers had to look at a similar episode of Top Gear, and Clarkson was told not to say "this is beautiful" when looking at a view.
Instead, Wilman revealed, he said instead: "'For legal reasons, this scenery is shit.'"
Wilman revealed that they will be making 12 shows a year for three years, with an option to extend if both parties desire it.
His personal preference was for a traditional weekly release schedule rather than dumping them all at once - but said that this was still to be decided.
Each show will be 60 minutes long, with some lasting 70 minutes.
He also revealed how they would address their global audience. “There is a universal language if you love cars... If we are going to places, we will look at the local colour of the motoring - the local car culture.”
“We never analysed it but something happened - people wanted to watch it all around the world. So we’re just crossing fingers that it’ll happen again.”
Wilman said that Jeremy Clarkson got the idea for the 'studio' sections of The Grand Tour to be filmed in a tent after watching an episode of True Detective that features a Baptist meeting in a large tent.
The three amigos
“The main ingredient is those three guys [Clarkson, Hammond and May]. They haven’t really changed,” he said.
Wilman said that on The Grand Tour, “there is mischief but there is nothing that would worry anybody.”
“We will try harder because now we have to do new things. We have got to embrace failure again. We are back to where we were in 2002.”
The new Top Gear
Wilman revealed that he hadn’t watched the new version of Top Gear, because “there was a lot of pain for me… It was everything we did.”
However, he said there was “no ill feeling” toward the new team at Top Gear - now, of course, missing former lead presenter Chris Evans.
“I hope they do succeed,” he said.
(Images: BBC/Amazon Prime/Getty)