Exclusive: Top Gear executive producers on the thrills and spills of season 30
LONDON - In 2002, Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Wilman relaunched the BBC’s Top Gear motoring programme. Near two decades later, the show is now in its 30th season. Faces and names have changed over the years, sure, but to this day Top Gear remains an unmissable part of most petrolheads’ lives; highly revered for its motoring content as well as its entertainment value.
We spoke to the show’s Executive Producers, Clare Pizey and Alex Renton, about what it takes to put a programme like this together, on such a massive scale, as well as what to expect in the upcoming 30th season of Top Gear.
IOL MOTORING: What are your favourite films this series?
Clare: For me it’s the film where the presenters are driving their dads’ cars. It offers something very different for Top Gear. It starts with the cars, and there’s the usual madcap challenges, but it gave us the opportunity to make a more emotional film than we would usually do on the show and I hope it really resonates with the audience. As producers, we set up ideas for films and always have high hopes for them but never know how they’re going to work out – and I think this one really worked well.
Alex: It was a real privilege to put the James Bond episode together. How incredible to fill the Top Gear hangar with some of the most iconic Bond cars in history, it was a treasure trove of some of the most memorable moments of cinema that I have grown up with. Paddy drives the Sunbeam Alpine from Dr. No, which is the very first Bond car to appear on screen.
We also put stunt cars under the spotlight – the three presenters race round Dunsfold in half cars; basically cars that are cut in half so they’re just driving on the front wheels - as Sir Roger Moore did around Paris in A View To A Kill. It’s such a laugh, like they’re on the Waltzers – there’s no control at all! Paddy also drives the Aston Martin DB5 Goldfinger Continuation with all the gadgets included. We put them in fancy dress for the final scene: Paddy in a tux, Freddie as Jaws and Chris as Nick Nack, it was hilarious.
Clare: That made us all laugh so much we literally couldn’t speak!
IOL MOTORING: Talk us through your filming circumstances, considering the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown regulation challenges…
Alex: The idea is that everyone is staying home, so we are no different – Top Gear is working from home too. We can’t film as we usually would at Dunsfold because of restrictions, so we’re going to use the central doughnut area of Television Centre. There are several flats there since it’s been redeveloped so people could cheer us on!
Clare: It feels right – we can’t have an audience in lockdown. We needed somewhere that would be recognised all around the world. We wondered about going to the Millennium Wheel but that might have created a crowd, which is not safe. Then Television Centre came to us, and it just made complete sense.
IOL MOTORING: Surely, the pandemic has affected this series on a deeper level than deciding where to film studio segments?
Clare: Every single thing is more difficult to achieve at the moment, although now the presenters are in a cohort, which is a gamechanger as they don’t have to socially distance. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t worried about what this series would look like, with it being winter in the UK and not being able to go abroad. But I can’t believe what we’ve managed to do, I genuinely think it’s a really strong series. You don’t have to go abroad to get the sense of adventure and beautiful landscapes so we’ve been to stunning places like the Lake District and the Scottish Highlands – and we were so grateful to be working again.
Alex: Top Gear is always about being creative and raising the bar. I’ve been on the show for many years and there are always challenges of some kind, we just have to try to turn them into opportunities. We have a brilliant creative team whose job it is to come up with ideas of what to do and our presenters have gelled so well, we can put them into any situation, or set them any challenge anywhere in the world and their competitive spirit will create entertaining content.
IOL MOTORING: Are there any crashes or disasters this time?
Clare: No, although we put them through their paces with the titanium boots challenge and the boys didn’t seem very keen, Paddy’s feet were actually smoking by the end. I can safely say they would refuse to do it again.
Alex: He got in a car when he finished and his feet melted through the floormats, they were so hot!
Clare: There’s racing but there really isn’t any crashing this series, which is helpful. Last series there was more metal on metal than we would have liked – it’s really important to say nobody wants to wilfully damage a car on this show. We are car celebrators, not car wreckers, but every now and again things do happen.
IOL MOTORING: Tell us about some of the amazing cars you test this season.
Alex: We did a great shoot with Freddie testing a new all electric off roading racer called the Odyssey 21 on a rally circuit in Wales. He raced it against another future transport solution: a man with his own jetpack suit! We also feature Chris in Lamborghini’s new hybrid hypercar, the Sian. Over 800 horsepower with the help of something they call a supercapacitor, makes it the fastest road car they have ever produced. Plus we test the new Ferrari Roma on our track with Paddy and get Chris to try and persuade him that the Alfaholics GTA-R is a better way to spend your hard earned.
IOL MOTORING: Finally, can you tell us, how important is it to you that Top Gear is a show that everyone can enjoy?
Clare: It’s really important. We know that families are watching again, and we’re so pleased about that. I think the tone is warm, funny and naughty at times. There’s something about the relationship between the three presenters that you just know is genuine and I think our audiences know that.
Alex: Top Gear has always been a balancing act – it started as more of a traditional car show and then became far more entertainment based. We established that there needs to be proper car journalism in there for the petrol heads but also fun for the whole family who want to have an enjoyable watch on a Sunday evening. It is an important part of the show’s make up that we deliver both.
You can watch the latest season of Top Gear on BBC Brit from April 15th.