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The future of Top Gear, the BBC's popular motoring programme, has been thrown into doubt after reports that James May and Richard Hammond may leave the show.

Sources said that the presenters of the hit BBC Two series had not yet signed their new contracts even though their current agreements expire at the end of the month.

It has been claimed that there has been "a meltdown" in negotiations and that the pair "turned down flat" the first offer from the BBC.

They were said to be arguing that they deserve a pay package similar to that enjoyed by Jeremy Clarkson, their co-presenter.

Mr Clarkson is thought to have struck a multi-million pound deal last month with BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the corporation, which on top of his wages would give him a stake in the profits made from exploiting the Top Gear brand in the UK and abroad.

His new salary is said to put him among the highest-paid presenters at the BBC, alongside Jonathan Ross, who reputedly earns 18 million over three years, and Graham Norton, who is thought to take home 5 million over two years.

A source said yesterday: "Internally there is talk that there might be a chance for the first time that there could be a break up of the team. It has got that bad.

"There has been a lot of pulling out of hair, a Mexican stand-off. For the first time it is possible that one or both might leave."

He added: "They don't want to accept second status anymore. There has been a meltdown in negotiations."

The negotiations come at a difficult time for the BBC, which is having to make cuts in key departments to make up for a funding gap left by a less-than-expected licence fee settlement.

The BBC Trust, the corporation's governing body, published a review last month into the pay of the BBC's top talent, which concluded that it was not paying over the odds for on-screen and on-air presenters.

However, Sir Michael Lyons, the trust's chairman, said that the BBC had to be prepared to "walk away from deals that do not offer value for money"

Mr May laughed off suggestions that he had not signed his new contract because he was angry about Mr Clarkson's new salary.

"The only reason I haven't signed my contract yet is because it has not yet been finalised," he told The Daily Telegraph. "The current one doesn't expire until the end of July. I'm sure a new one will be sorted out soon."

He added: "I'm not stomping around about Jeremy's contract with BBC Worldwide. Quite frankly, I couldn't give a **** about it."

A spokesman for Mr Hammond declined to comment.

A BBC spokesman said: "We never comment on contract negotiations."

I should be writing about this week's show, but if you'll excuse me I have to take a moment to say a few words about the stuff in the papers, which basically states Richard and James are leaving unless they get a million pounds a minute, and that Jeremy is already on four million pounds a minute and also trousers 98 percent of all the profits from Top Gear, Dr Who, Strictly Come Dancing, The Tweenies and Big Brother.

I think from all the pieces I've read, the Gold medal for talking made up bollocks goes to the Mail, the Independent gets silver, and the rest can split the bronze.

Just for the record, Richard and James's contracts are up soon - no big deal, contracts do end - and their agents are negotiating new ones.

They want an amount, the BBC wants to pay a different amount - again, no surprises there, that's how business works every minute of every day - and there'll be horse trading until a number is reached.

But let me also say Richard and James have never ever ever asked to be on equal pay to Jeremy. They are the first to admit that he came up with the new show, and that he does nothing but this show and is the engine room of it, whereas they, quite understandably, like to do other projects as well as Top Gear, and therefore the pay should reflect that.

Secondly, all this stuff about Jeremy being on so much money that the bank manager at his local branch has had to reinforce the floor - it's bollocks.

Real bollocks.

Just look at the show for God's sake - it looks expensive because every penny we can put on screen goes on screen - the best cameramen, soundmen and editors, quality directors, grading equipment, locations, stunts, editing time - that's where the money goes.

If Jeremy was taking home six billion pounds a second - it may have gone up, I'll have to check the Daily Mail - we'd be filming a Scalextric track on the living room carpet.

Don't get me wrong, they're all in telly and they get good money when you look at the country as a whole, but there's no stupid avarice and greed going on here, and the stuff in the papers comes, frankly, out of their arses.

I'm British, and I loathe talking about other peoples' salaries, but it pisses me off that people who like Top Gear will read this crap and then think they're actually watching three cynical money machines in action.

Jeremy, Richard and James are mates, they bicker, and they all know Top Gear is the best job in the world.

I 'm reminded of this when we record the show on a Wednesday, and they sit in their crappy room in our crappy Portakabin (yes the one you saw on the trails really is our office) and rehearse the script together, and you get all the same cocking about and laughter you see on the show.

Then they read the papers about them all leaving and demanding millions, and then take the piss out of each other some more - how Jeremy would buy gold electric gates with a supercharger on them, how James would acquire a fleet of dangerous pre war planes so he can kill himself differently every week, and how country boy Hammond would fill his yard with more crap cars he'll never get round to restoring.

Old bangers brings me finally and neatly onto this week's show. I think our first two from this run have been solid but not classics, but, and I hope I'm not sounding boastful here, Sunday's show is back right up there.

The Bentley power test is a thing of beauty - stunning work from the camera boys, the Director and the Editors - and then there's the Alfa challenge.

We've always said on TG that you can't be a true petrolhead until you've owned an Alfa, so this week the boys are given a grand each, sent off to buy a car of their choosing, and then the adventures unfold.

Why do I think it's one of our best?

Well, the focus is bang on - basically the love you can have for a car, especially a shit, charismatic one that provides so many mishaps and laughs, and I also think it shows the three boys at their best.

Part 2 in particular is vintage Clarkson Hammond and May.

Let's not forget that at the heart of this show lies the chemistry between the chaps, and the best script in the world can't engineer the laughter and quarrels that spew forth.

Right, I'm off to get the papers. I might find out that Joan Armatrading is taking over from Richard.
Haha, man, the entire Top Gear crew has a great sense of humor. Just reading that update made me lol a few times.

Gold electric gates with superchargers.... brilliant!
I read the post on Autoblog, and thought it was utter garbage. I was going to post something along the lines of what Andy Wilman wrote.
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