Earlier this week, it was announced that Radio 2 breakfast show host, Chris Evans, has officially signed up to host the new series of Top Gear – replacing Jeremy Clarkson, who was released from his contract after a much publicised ‘fracas’ with a producer. The reaction to Evans’ appointment has been decidedly mixed; while some are pleased to have an experienced, non-controversial presenter at the helm of this popular programme, others seem exasperated that the BBC are still even continuing with the show, now that Richard Hammond and James May have also departed from their presenting duties. Our writers, Will and Millie, delve further into both sides of the argument.
First of all, I would like to say that I don’t actually think Top Gear should be continuing – at least for the near future. I think everything surrounding the ‘fracas’ and the resulting media attention means that the BBC probably should have taken a short break from producing the show. HOWEVER… if we have to continue Top Gear, then I think Chris Evans is by far the best man to take it on.
Evans is an established presenter and producer – he’s done everything and more that would qualify him for the role. Yes, there have been very mixed receptions to his appointment across social media, but let’s not forget who the target audience of Top Gear is. Twitter in particular has seen the most mixed reviews, but who are the people saying the appointment is a load of trash? Top Gear‘s target audience is arguably the middle-class, middle-aged man who is on the verge of a mid-life crisis and about to buy a sports car. Sure, a wide aged, gendered and social demographic do watch the show – and no doubt enjoy it just as much – but the target audience is definitely the man with that bit of cash to splash. On Twitter though, of those aged 50-69 and with an online presence, only 12% have profiles on the social media site. Compare this with the 37% of 18-29 year old’s with an online presence and you can see who is really making the comments.
Businessmen travelling to work everyday, those that Top Gear target, are listening to Chris Evans’ breakfast show on Radio 2 every morning. They’re not listening to the upbeat Nick Grimshaw or Dave Berry and Lisa Snowdon; presenters who aren’t afraid to cause a bit of controversy and have a bit of fun because that’s what their listeners – those aged 18 to 30 – want to hear. The middle aged man wants to listen to an articulate, intelligent human being who has a sense of humour, but is not willing to overstep the mark in order to boost his ratings. Let’s not forget that Jeremy Clarkson also fits that mould (or at least, he does up until that last point), as does Richard Hammond, who started off on radio himself for various BBC stations.
As a result of Evans’ extensive and loyal fan-base on weekday mornings, he is an established public figure and one that viewers can trust. He already has his reputation – he does not need to prove himself in the eyes of many, and is the perfect safe pair of hands to steady the ship of a programme that has been on very choppy waters in recent times. He does have good television presenting skills too – he’s proved that with TFI Friday and The One Show. The big bods at the BBC and at Top Gear will not be going into the first episode wondering what they’re going to get from their new man – they already know. And while there are many other people who fit that ‘safe hand’ mould and could do just as well as Evans from a presenting point of view (Stephen Fry, Rob Brydon, Dermot O’Leary), there is one thing that puts Evans head and shoulders above any of them – his love of cars.
Evans has a world famous collection of Ferraris. Top Gear even sent James May to his home in order to drive the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder that he had bought for £6 million. Other prestigious Ferrari’s Evans owns include the LaFerrari, 458 Speciale, 250 GTO, Ferrari TR61, California, California Spider, and 550 Maranello. He also has the original car from the film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle, a rare 1974 Ford Escort Mexico, a Porsche 944 Cabriolet, a Daimler SP250 Dart, James Hunt’s famous Hesketh 308, a Bentley Turbo R, a 1965 Mercedes-Benz 230SL, and the list only goes on… Needless to say, he is an avid car enthusiast.
At the end of the day, the BBC have decided that they want to continue Top Gear, and who can blame them? The show brings in £50 million a year to the broadcaster from overseas sales and the show is watched by 350 million people worldwide. What Clarkson did was wrong and as a result he was rightly punished and released from his contract. Hammond and May were always going to follow him out the door, as they had hinted from the beginning of the whole saga. Therefore the BBC needed to find someone who could lead from the front, has a big personality, is passionate about the show and cars in particular. Chris Evans is all of those things. Before making any judgements, let’s just see what he does and how he approaches it.
Give the man a chance.
Words by Will Hodgetts
First off, I feel I have to state that I think the thought of anyone being the new host of Top Gear is a daft idea. Not because I am steadfastly loyal to its previous presenters, but simply because it implies that the show will continue. I think that the ‘fracas’ that surrounded Jeremy Clarkson’s sacking, and James May and Richard Hammond’s subsequent bowing out, would have been the perfect chance to let the show die with a little dignity.
As it is, I’m fairly sure this new format will last for no longer than two seasons – with decent critical reviews, but terrible viewing figures that will eventually lead to bosses axing it. And subsequently, people will be sad and disappointed and everyone will have wished they’d just left the dead horse unbeaten in the first place (but maybe that’s just me).
I can’t tell if the choice to make Chris Evans host is intentionally controversial or not. Because he’s not as far from Jeremy Clarkson as he could be, at least in the public’s reaction to him. While the One Show host isn’t exactly known for his out there opinions in the same way Clarkson was, he certainty polarises people in the same sort of way. In that sense he is a smart choice – same self-righteous ego, less sexism and/or racism – but I’m still not entirely sure that the best way to create talking points and small amounts of drama in and around your programme is to have a host that a lot of people just outright dislike. Not due to what he says, but because of who he is. There’s been plenty of Twitter outcry on the news. And maybe the BBC are working on an ‘any publicity is good publicity’ policy here, but I don’t think that having your new host be called a twat across most social media platforms is what they were really going for.
There’s also the drama surrounding his ability to handle both Top Gear and his Radio 2 breakfast show – which he has assured listeners, will continue. Top Gear is well known for its rigorous shooting schedule – which will begin for Evans in March or April next year, for 18 episodes. The last time Evans tried to balance a weekly TV show with his radio commitments, it didn’t exactly go to plan.
Channel 4’s TFI Friday – which ‘celebrated’ with an anniversary edition last week – saw Evans requesting Fridays off to work on the program in the 1990s, with the resulting bust-up leading to a departure from the BBC. There’s always the risk of that happening again. That isn’t intended to be an insult to the strength of Evans’ character, but rather an observation that Evans’ has a heck of a commitment on his hands. Clarkson, Hammond and May did other things during their hosting tenure, true, but these were largely stand along programmes or books – perhaps produced in the off season, or written around filming. There were no dramas – at least not of that sort – Top Gear’s previous hosts were very, very good at their jobs, and were primarily dedicated to the show.
By its end, though, Top Gear was getting repetitive. Even its most ardent fans surely can’t deny that. The format was sort of wearing a bit thin. Can X go faster to Y than Z… Or, let’s put some middle class white fellows with rubbish cars in a foreign country and make them conduct dangerous tasks – probably involving menial labour or engineering at which they are unskilled – before they experience an epiphany over the beauty of the natural landscape and somehow tangentially relate it back to their cars. I mean, yes, some of that is by virtue, the nature of a car programme, and I’m not suggesting that the format should have been changed; I loved it. Everyone loved it.
But that’s the point. When the show got to be as thoroughly predictable as it was, most viewers were watching equally or perhaps even more for its hosts than its actual motoring content. Bringing back Top Gear with a different hosting team and attempting to resurrect its tone, surrounding culture, and the army of viewers and fans – all of which depended very much on the massive love for the show’s hosts – was always going to be risky.
And by casting a big personality, like Evans? Someone well known but not always well liked? Honestly, I don’t think the new Top Gear is off to a racing start.
Words by Millie Cassidy