Top Gear’s latest incarnation welcomed back by audience
New presenting team of Paddy McGuinness, Andrew Flintoff and Chris Harris rejuvenates show.
In the race between Top Gear and its Amazon rival The Grand Tour, the BBC show has shifted up a gear judging by the audience reaction to the first studio recording with new lineup Paddy McGuinness, Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff and Chris Harris.
Since the departure of first Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May in 2015, then their replacements Chris Evans, Matt Le Blanc and Rory Reid, the veteran car show has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.
With over 350 million viewers worldwide, Top Gear is one of the BBC’s key brands, generating millions of pounds from merchandising and sales for its commercial wing BBC Studios – so this latest retooling is vital to the success of the future of the corporation as it faces cuts and the threat from US giants such as Netflix.
With the success of the corporation’s golden goose resting on their shoulders, it was no wonder the first recording was “a big deal to us”, as Take Me Out host McGuinness told the audience at the Top Gear studio in an airfield in Surrey.
But the trio not only filmed the show in record time, their rapport with each other and the audience saw them receive a thunderous reception.
The new-look Top Gear features a reengineered studio and a more modern feel. The new presenters mixed hugs between takes with jokes, electric cars with risqué humour. They were not afraid to mention the C word either: at one point McGuinness said he’d been compared to Clarkson and made a reference to the presenter’s departure after punching a producer by joking he had “twatted someone this morning.”
The new hosts seemed relaxed about making mistakes, saying: “No wonder they keep changing presenters” after fluffing a line during the screening on Wednesday night.
Compared with Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc’s first recording in the same building three years ago, the atmosphere was more relaxed and McGuinness and Flintoff seemed to switch more easily between the script and ad-libbing with Harris and the audience than their predecessors.
The pair knew each other before they were cast in Top Gear and it showed, with their northern humour going down well in the studio.
McGuinness and A League of Their Own star Flintoff have also struck up a camaraderie with old hand Harris. The only survivor from the Le Blanc and Evans era, Harris appears to have taken on the role of the knowledgable father figure, at one point reminding the audience to drink enough water – to which McGuinness shouted: “You sound like a dad!”
Regular viewers need not worry about too many changes to the series though: staples such as celebrities racing round the track, The Stig and travel films still feature.
At the end of the filming, McGuinness said: “Thanks for making us so welcome,” and jumped onto a car to film the applause from the audience. He may need it should there be any negative press reports about the reaction in the studio, as there was in the Sun after Evans and Le Blanc’s first show.
The millionaire DJ and Hollywood star faced intense scrutiny by following immediately in Clarkson, Hammond and May’s footsteps. There was a backlash from some of their fans and they faced a hard task trying to recreate the atmosphere created by their predecessors, which had been built up over years.
But in the chemistry between quick-witted cricketer Flintoff, self-deprecating car geek Harris and wisecracking comedian McGuinness, the BBC may, to its relief, have found Clarkson, Hammond and May 2.0.
That would be a bombshell for The Grand Tour team.