Has Top Gear returned to its former glory?

Matt LeBlanc and Chris Harris head to Oman in what critics call 'one of the season's best' road trips

Matt Leblanc
Matt LeBlanc joined the line-up in 2016 
(Image credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

Top Gear producer quit due to Chris Evans's 'dictatorial behaviour'

29 February

In March last year, Jeremy Clarkson punched his colleague, Oisin Tymon, in the face during a dispute over hot food while filming for what was to become his final series of Top Gear. Now questions are being asked about whether the BBC has replaced one fiery host with another after reports that the show's former producer, Lisa Clark, quit due to new presenter Chris Evans's "dictatorial behaviour".

According to a report in The Sun newspaper, Evans is accused of being a "control freak who thinks he can trample over everyone."

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Crew members are "fed up with his ranting", the paper says, and Clark eventually made the decision to leave the show in December, when her position "became untenable after she warned Evans that filming was in danger of falling behind schedule".

A source told The Sun: "Evans didn't normally turn up to a lot of meetings, but at this one he said he had completed some footage with Jenson Button. Lisa replied, 'Yes but we need to make more than 30 films. It's not enough.' He shot her a look for undermining him and she was soon gone."

The source also claims that after Clark hired former Friends star Matt LeBlanc to join the show, Evans's response was: "He's old hat. What do we want him for?"

The revamped Top Gear BBC was expected to begin broadcasting on 8 May, but has now been pushed back by a fortnight to 22 May and cut from eight episodes to six due to filming delays.

Top Gear's Evans and LeBlanc are a 'modern-day odd couple'

26 February

Top Gear's new hosts, Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc, are beginning to building their onscreen chemistry, according to reports.

The duo were seen filming for the first episode of the updated motoring show last week and they were "already looking pretty harmonious together on screen", Inquisitr reports.

By Evans's own admission, the pair are a modern-day odd couple, but he has been full of praise for the US actor.

"He knows so much about his cars, he's a brilliant driver and he's a world star and that's very important for Top Gear," he said. "Also, the transatlantic connection - we are very much like a modern-style odd couple, completely different on first impressions but actually we've got an awful lot in common."

LeBlanc returned the compliments, joking that his co-host was "a nice guy, very approachable, taller than me".

He added: "We've just done our first film together and we spent three days in the rain and the mud and we had an absolute blast. Sets can be very long, with tedious hours, and for me, I like to spend that downtime between setting different shots and setting different scenes with people whose company you enjoy. It makes the day go quicker."

The actor, who rose to fame playing Joey on the US comedy Friends, said filming for Top Gear "didn't feel like a job to me. It feels like this is a fun thing to do".

Although the new Top Gear line-up will feature seven presenters in total, Evans and LeBlanc will be the show's lead hosts, while the others would "come in and come out as required".

The first episode of the rebooted show will be broadcast on 8 May.

Top Gear: Clarkson was great but times have changed, says LeBlanc

23 February

New Top Gear presenter Matt LeBlanc has opened hostilities with Jeremy Clarkson's new motoring show by saying that while the old Top Gear presenters were great, "times have changed" and "it wouldn't be smart" to try to emulate their approach to the programme.

In an interview with the BBC ahead of the new show's launch, the former Friends star said "presenters come and go", but the car itself would be the star of the rebooted BBC programme.

Main host Chris Evans agreed, adding that it would be "stupid" to merely try to emulate the previous hosts.

"It would be like trying to be Paul McCartney. There is only one Paul McCartney," he said.

Asked to clarify how the new line-up of six presenters will work, Evans said he and LeBlanc will be the two main hosts who are on every week and "the other people [will] come and go as and when required".

Getting the full team all together has been a challenge, they admitted, and one they still haven't achieved, with former Formula 1 star Eddie Jordan missing when the group assembled yesterday.

"He doesn't care," LeBlanc joked.

Asked whether it was hard to get chemistry immediately, Evans said: "It is not 'quite hard' to get chemistry; it is impossible. You start off with the main foundations, you specify roles for different people and you leave those people alone. What Woody Allen does is he hires the actors that are right for the job and then he lets them get on with their job."

LeBlanc said that in his view, Top Gear "is bigger than we are".

"The show is Top Gear; it is a giant marquee," he said. "It is a big global success and hopefully it will continue to be a big global success. The marketing is all in place – that's already there. And we just have to not screw it up."

Jeremy Clarkson's Top Gear replacement Matt LeBlanc breaks down during filming

22 February

Since Jeremy Clarkson was dropped by Top Gear and started a new as-yet-unnamed motoring programme for Amazon Prime, both shows have been struggling to keep their cars on the road.

Last week, Clarkson's co-host James May spluttered to a halt outside the Palace of Westminster in central London, days after the BBC's new presenter Rory Reid broke down while filming in Scotland. Now, Friends star Matt LeBlanc has suffered a similar fate, pulling to a halt in his Reliant Robin during a race against his Top Gear co-host Chris Evans.

LeBlanc broke down just hours into the contest from London to Blackpool. The car was repaired by the crew but then ground to a halt again, leading the two drivers to spend five hours on the back of a low-loader being towed up the M40, M6 and M55, the Daily Mail reports.

As the paper adds, it is an offence to sit at the wheel of a car while it is on a breakdown truck.

Making matters worse for LeBlanc, a member of the public noticed his car was not taxed. The Top Gear fan checked the DVLA website to see if the vehicles had valid tax and MoT and found that the actor's Reliant had not been taxed since February last year.

The BBC described the problem as an "admin matter" and promptly rectified the error.

Top Gear: Matt LeBlanc and Chris Evans spotted in first challenge

19 February

Matt LeBlanc and Chris Evans have set out on their first joint Top Gear challenge this morning, driving a pair of Reliant Robins from London to Blackpool.

The pair met at the BBC Broadcasting House on Regent Street around 10am and were all smiles as they set off in the sunshine.

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It remains to be seen whether they will still be feeling as cheery when they complete the near 250-mile journey to Blackpool.

The two drop-top Reliant Robins each had patriotic styling, one decorated with the Stars and Stripes and the other Union flag, suggesting the challenge may be a US v UK race.

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Evans is in for a tough race if LeBlanc's previous Top Gear form is anything to go by. The former Friends star holds the title for fastest-ever celebrity lap on the original show with Jeremy Clarkson.

The actor set a record time in the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car section of the show in 2012 and impressed the host with his laid-back approach.

Using "just don't use the brake as much" as his mantra, LeBlanc whistled to himself as he sped round corners in a Kia Cee’d, finishing in 1min 42.1secs.

The first episode of the revamped Top Gear is scheduled for broadcast on 8 May.

Top Gear: more problems as Rory Reid's car breaks down

18 February

Since Jeremy Clarkson left Top Gear under a cloud last year, the BBC has had a difficult time getting the motoring programme back on track.

First there were questions around new host Chris Evans's ability to drive and speak at the same time, then came the revelation that he appeared to suffer from car sickness and finally, executive producer Lisa Clark left after just five months at the helm.

But the show's fortunes appeared to have turned a corner last week, when Friends star Matt LeBlanc was unveiled as one of the co-presenters, a move that appeared popular with most fans. However, the announcement of the full onscreen line-up, which has five extra stars joining LeBlanc and Evans, was rather less well received, with some fans questioning its wisdom, the Daily Mirror says.

Now, more trouble appears to have emerged after new presenter Rory Reid, who was selected by open audition, broke down in Scotland on Saturday afternoon.

He was supposed to be pitting a vintage Mustang, made famous by Steve McQueen's 1968 film Bullitt, against two modern versions around the remote fishing village Kylesku, near Sutherland, but broke down mid-shoot.

The crew sent for mechanics, who "toiled through the night on the ailing 1967 Mustang to get the show back on the road", the Daily Mail reports.

By strange coincidence, when the car was fixed, an amateur drone pilot, Keith Bremner, spotted the production and filmed the results.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"content_original","fid":"91030","attributes":{"class":"media-image"}}]]

"It was marvellous to watch," he told the Mail. "I filmed the whole thing remotely from the bridge car park. They were racing along and it was incredible."

Top Gear is scheduled to return to screens on 8 May.

Top Gear: new presenter gunning for Clarkson - literally

12 February

A mere 24 hours after being unveiled as one of the hosts on the revamped Top Gear, newcomer Rory Reid has been forced to defend his past after a series of provocative comments and photos were found on his social media profiles.

The images include one of him posing at a shooting range with a pair of shotguns slung over his shoulders.

"You going after [Jeremy] Clarkson seriously then?" joked one of his friends.

Reid replied: "Taking no prisoners."

The image "provoked outrage on social media", the Daily Star says, leading Reid to defend the photo on Twitter: "Love how the web is going nuts over this pic," he wrote. "Team building clay pigeon shooting is NOT gangster!"

After Clarkson was dropped by the BBC for punching a colleague in the face, TFI Friday host Chris Evans was appointed to oversee a reboot of the popular motoring programme. He swiftly announced he would be holding open auditions for the show, yielding hundreds of applications from around the country, including Reid.

In his showreel, the new host jokes about selling his grandmother's kidneys for an Alfa Romeo and "can regularly be seen humping the hood of his favourite cars", the Daily Mail says.

After being chosen, Reid said: "To be the only person to make it through the open audition process makes me immensely proud."

It is a change of tune - in 2011, he argued someone would have to be "insane" to try to take over from Clarkson and his co-presenters, Richard Hammond and James May.

"I can't imagine a change of Top Gear cast. The amount of HATE a newbie would get for replacing one or joining would be insane," he wrote on Twitter.

Top Gear announces full line-up - featuring Eddie Jordan and Sabine Schmitz

11 February

The BBC has announced its full presenting line-up for the reboot Top Gear, adding another four new hosts to a line-up that already included TFI Friday presenter Chris Evans and Friends actor Matt LeBlanc.

Making up the team of six are racing driver Sabine Schmitz, F1 pundit Eddie Jordan, YouTube star Chris Harris and motoring journalist Rory Reid.

Rumours there would be no room for a female host turned out to be unfounded. Schmitz will be the first woman to join Top Gear full-time for more than a decade.

"I grew up next to the Nurburgring and have been racing for most of my life so the chance to combine both driving and filming was too good an opportunity to pass up," she said.

Of his appointment, former Formula One team owner Jordan - aged 67 - said: "I have such enormous respect for all my fellow presenters and I politely ask that they go easy on these old bones."

Meanwhile, motoring journalist and YouTube star Chris Harris said: "Top Gear is the thing that helped shape my life with cars, my perception of cars and my obsession with cars and I'm raring to give it a go.

"I'm also quite gobby and happy to get into trouble," he added. "And if it all goes wrong, well, I can say I was once on Top Gear and just head back to being that annoying small bloke off YouTube."

Top Gear: will there be no female host alongside Chris Evans?

9 February

After last week's announcement that actor Matt LeBlanc will join the revamped Top Gear due in May, main presenter Chris Evans has tweeted a photo that appears to confirm rumours that motoring journalist Chris Harris will also join the team – leaving no room for a female host.

Evans, who was the first host to be chosen by the BBC to help rebuild the show after the departure of Jeremy Clarkson and co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May last year, tweeted this picture of a "production meeting".

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Harris is fourth from the left. He has previously been strongly linked with a role on the show.

"Either Harris is crashing the Top Gear party," said RoadAndTrack.com, "or he's actually part of the crew. Our hunch is it's the latter."

Evans had told BBC Radio 5 Live that the "on-camera" team would "definitely" include a woman. However, BBC Two controller Kim Shillinglaw later said there would be "no gender diktats" in selecting the presenting line-up.

The notion that the new-look motoring show might not include a woman was criticised at the weekend by The Guardian's Barbara Ellen.

"When I first heard the news, I thought that Matt LeBlanc was an interesting (and bankable and likable) addition to Top Gear alongside Chris Evans," she wrote. "But then came the rumoured addition of racing supremo Eddie Jordan to complete the main presenting team. So after all the speculation, the names (some female) bandied around, this is how it ends – with an all-male list and one token woman (Sabine Schmitz) as a sometime presenter."

If the producers decide not to appoint a woman as one of the show's primary hosts, it sends a very clear message that Top Gear "remains a guy thing," Ellen says. "Don't women drive and didn't Top Gear famously have a high number of female viewers? What happened to a possible brave, newly emancipated dawn? When the gear sticks were crunched, was it considered just too much of a brand risk?"

One thing is certain, the appointment of LeBlanc wrong-footed the gambling public. Bookmakers were "baffled" by the appointment, with no bets put down for the former Friends actor, the Daily Mirror says.

"The Hollywood star might have got the 'fastest ever lap' in the reasonably priced car, and he even presented a Top Gear show recently, but still no-one twigged that he could join Chris Evans as part of the new presenting line-up," the paper says.

"This is an astonishing bit of secret keeping – nobody predicted Matt Le Blanc and if anyone had enquired we would have made him a 500/1 outsider," said Rupert Adams, a spokesman for the bookmaker William Hill. "At 500/1, it only takes £2,000 to rack up a million-pound pay-out – so we are thanking our lucky stars that news did not leak as the industry could have been hit by six or even seven figure liabilities."

Latest odds suggest that despite the presence of Harris at yesterday's production meeting, the most likely person to join Top Gear is German racing driver Schmitz, who is tipped at 1/3.

But the Mirror notes you can now get 100/1 on any former member of the Friends cast including Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow and Courteney Cox.

The first episode of the new Top Gear is scheduled to be broadcast in May.

Top Gear: Matt LeBlanc to join Chris Evans on reboot

5 February

US actor Matt LeBlanc is to join Chris Evans on BBC2's revamped Top Gear series.

The BBC announced the news on its Twitter feed this morning, with a picture of the former Friends star posing in front of the programme's logo alongside Evans and the show's test driver, The Stig.

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A tweet from the star previously hinted at the upcoming news:

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LeBlanc is the latest addition to a show that has been undergoing a major reconstruction since former presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond left last year.

But this isn't the first time the actor has been connected with Top Gear, Forbes says. "As well as featuring in the show's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, he also recently presented a highlights show on BBC America that showcased some of Top Gear’s best races.

"Perhaps that was something of an audition for the star," Forbes adds.

LeBlanc owns a Ferrari 360 Modena and is said to be a skilful and passionate driver. He also set the fastest-ever lap for a Star in a Reasonably Priced Car, with an "as-yet unbeaten lap time of 1m 42.1s in the Kia cee'd", the official Top Gear website says.

"As a car nut and a massive fan of Top Gear, I'm honoured and excited to be a part of this iconic show's new chapter," LeBlanc said. "What a thrill!"

The new show is scheduled to air in May.

Chris Evans to unveil new Top Gear – but without any co-hosts or film footage

4 February

In a bid to win international television buyers, Chris Evans will unveil the new-look Top Gear at the BBC's biggest annual event.

The presenter will talk about the new show "in a PR offensive to win over more than 700 programming buyers", The Guardian says.

"The event signals the international trade launch of the new look Top Gear," said BBC Worldwide. "More than 700 international television buyers will get the chance to see Chris Evans offer a glimpse of what's in store for the new series of Top Gear."

However, according to reports, Evans will not show any footage from the upcoming show and will present the showcase alone, rather than alongside his new co-hosts.

Several presenters have been linked to the reboot, including motoring journalist Chris Harris, German racing driver Sabine Schmitz and former F1 star David Coulthard, but none have been officially confirmed by the BBC.

The show has reportedly experienced a series of setbacks since Evans was announced as the new face of Top Gear, after Jeremy Clarkson was dropped by the corporation for punching a producer in the face in a dispute over hot food.

Several senior figures have left the programme, including its executive producer Lisa Clark, script editor Tom Ford and BBC2 controller Kim Shillinglaw.

The revamped show is scheduled to reach television screens on 8 May.

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