Andy Wilman, former executive producer of Top Gear, now executive producer of the Grand Tour, today (24 August) spoke openly about the “perfect storm” of Clarkson’s Top Gear and said while the BBC should have been harder in their punishment of the frontman, "killing" the show was not the solution.
Speaking at the Edinburgh TV Festival, Wilman said Top Gear had been investigated internally prior to the Clarkson attack on Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon, and that there was a finding that the Top Gear hosts and the BBC team "had a broken relationship".
“That was obvious to everybody,” he said.
Before the events unfolded, leading to the eventual firing of Clarkson and consequent resignations of Richard Hammond and James May, as well as Wilman, the latter said in January that 2014 was “annus horribilis” for Top Gear, a prediction of things to come.
While he admitted to wrongs, saying “we were to blame too”, he also suggested the BBC should have had a realisation that a storm was brewing.
“I think it was a perfect storm that was coming, because that show got bigger and bigger, we never adjusted to that and we were collapsing under the weight of the work that we were doing. We were into series 22 and thinking, ‘Are we going to get 10 million in the week or not?’ You focus on that. And we had shit like Argentina go wrong so it was all building.
“A lot of people at the BBC that were great with us, some people weren't great with us and didn't want us there. So it became a battle, everything became personal, it became confrontational. I think when everything went to shit in March, that was the crux point, there was no way back because it was going to be a victory for some people - it wasn't going to be a resolution.
“I think some people didn't have the will to make it work on the management side, I didn't have the maturity to make it work either. Everyone had taken their position, we were all entrenched.”
When quizzed on what he thought Clarkson’s punishment should have been, Wilman said the BBC “should have delved into him, got big fines, and made us stop that kind of thing”.
“It was sad but my point is we were to blame too, I was entrenched, I was throwing toys out the pram, I was vicious in my reaction to everything. It became thumping heads, which is sad because there were so many people who were willing for it to work, but the key players were doing that and I was one of them.”
Wilman left the BBC shortly after Clarkson was fired from the broadcaster. This was not an act of solidarity, rather an act of having nothing left: “I didn't leave to go with Jeremy because we had nothing to go to. The show compensated for everything. Without that there was no reason, we were left with this divorce hanging over us, so we thought: let's get on with the divorce. Let's all go our separate ways and see what happens later on.”
Now the four have reunited to form Amazon’s original series The Grand Tour. The contract is for 12 shows a year for three years, with the option of extending that run “if it is a success”, Wilman said.
There is a lot of pressure on Wilman to replicate the popularity of the original Top Gear following the BBC’s ratings decline with the show fronted by Chris Evans.
On the new series, Wilman said: “I didn't watch it because there was a lot of pain for me, it was everything that I did, we gave everything to it. That doesn't mean I had any ill feeling to anyone making it, they are brilliant. It is a tough gig following our thing.
"My god I would not wish them a second of ill, you can have two car shows. I hope they crack it.”