Revealed: producer of Top Gear drives a Honda Jazz
Andy Wilman tells Sean O'Grady of his economy drive – just don't let on to Jeremy Clarkson
Monday 23 March 2009
W hat sort of car do you think the producer of Top Gear – the creator of phantasmagorical automotive telly – might drive? Answer: a seven year old Honda Jazz (1.4, petrol).
When I asked Andy Wilman this most personal of questions – for a petrolhead a far more intrusive query than asking if he's ever had an affair or suffered from piles – I wasn't that surprised by the response. No, really. What shocked me was that there was no "and" at the end of his answer. No "and there's my old Camaro in the garage, I just haven't got round to fixing it". No costly Lamborghini Countachs for him. OK, he's thinking about a new Kia Soul, but that doesn't really count as glamour, does it?
No, Andy Wilman prefers to live out his fantasies vicariously, on beta tape. The new series starts in mid-June and they're filming it now. A DVD of their hour-long travel specials – where they "arse around" in Wilman's phrase – in places such as Botswana and Vietnam is out on 23 March, for TG junkies who can't wait that long for their next dose of Clarkson and friends.
But things will be different in this series. They are not so high on gasoline that they can ignore the biggest economic downturn in three quarters of a century. Wilman says: "This series we were going to do a really big road trip film with a Lambo and a Porsche and something else... but now it will be cars like the Toyota iQ because they're smart and clever and you can sense that mood. We're not that thick." Even unfashionable classics such as an old Citroë*Ami 8 and a Lanchester will be featured in the next run (they're under a grand each apparently).
No more supercars, then? "The big sexy cars we've always treated like pin-ups. If you were testing a £250,000 Zonda, how many of our viewers – Abramovich? – are actually seeing what it's like because they might buy it? The recession hasn't made any difference because they're watching it as car porn and dreaming."
Thoughts about how Top Gear might mutate in future also seem at the forefront of Wilman's creative mind. He has considered the concept of a programme called Boring Top Gear which would provide the sort of down-to-earth consumer advice about motoring that has been cheerfully junked in favour of playing darts with scrap cars and blowing up caravans. It appeals to Wilman if only because it would allow him to be the producer of the first show with the world "boring" in the title.
Is Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson unthinkable? "No," says Wilman, but he feels it wouldn't have the "life force" it has now. "If you've got a Clarkson you're halfway there. That guy is known for his presenting, but as a TV brain he is phenomenal". The key is that Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond are all part of the editorial process, not mere actors looking for someone else to write their lines. The presenters' "triangle is getting flatter" he says. Thanks to Hammond and May's other TV work "they've found their voice".
But what do the ladies see in Jeremy, Richard and James? Wilman goes into a lengthy, chuckly riff on their subtle sex appeal: "If there was a poll of girls like one of those Heat magazine polls of which TV presenter would you like to shag the brains out of they wouldn't win it. But which TV presenters would you like a night out with - they'd win it, because they'd think, 'I'll have real laugh and they'll see me safely to my door'. And also because they've got a passion about what they do. They're like men in allotment sheds, and I think girls watch them thinking 'well my partners like that and my partner's not so bad now because he's like those three twats on the telly'."
Those "three twats on the telly" are doing rather well at the moment. Clarkson's outbursts don't worry him, and, while the BBC management see him as a "danger presenter", he thinks Jeremy won't end up in a Brand/Ross mess because he's "smarter than that". Hammond's health seems fine, and, after a 29-second pause for thought, he agrees that he wouldn't put The Hamster through another near death experience. Thanks to Hammond's survival and the chemistry of the three – a sort of holy trinity of the male mindset – the future of the show seems assured. Maybe Wilman should celebrate success by treating himself to a nice, mint Lamborghini Countach?
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