BBC warns Chris Evans for plugging TFI Friday on BBC Radio2 show

New ‘Top Gear’ presenter broke guidelines in his references to the show he founded

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The Independent Online

The BBC has reprimanded its star presenter Chris Evans for his repeated “inappropriate” references on his BBC Radio2 breakfast programme to TFI Friday, the show he recorded for the commercial broadcaster Channel 4.

The verbal warning to Evans over “issues connected with commercial products” comes ahead of the momentous launch of the revamped Top Gear in May, which he will present as the replacement for Jeremy Clarkson.

The BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) was called in to investigate a listener complaint last October after Evans made several on-air references to a forthcoming series of TFI Friday, which was made for C4 by Ginger Productions, a production company which Evans founded before selling it to the STV media group for £225m in 2000, making a reported £75m from the deal. He is no longer involved with the company.

Evans was summoned to a meeting by BBC radio management and given a verbal warning about the rules for mentioning commercial products and “the editorial justifications for mentioning them”.

The episode places additional pressure on the star presenter at a critical time in his career. The success of the new Top Gear is extremely important to the BBC, both in terms of the broadcaster’s public reputation as it goes through its Charter renewal process and because of the format’s commercial value. Evans has recently been engaged in heavy promotional activity for the new show, which is reported to have had considerable problems during production of the new series.

Evans hosted TFI Friday from when it launched on the commercial broadcaster in 1996 until 2000, although guest presenters were introduced at the end of that run. The show returned to the channel last October for a “20th anniversary” series. 

The raucous hit show was originally written by Danny Baker and was the subject of controversy for on-air swearing. It also attracted some of the biggest stars in the entertainment industry. The final series began on 16 October with U2 performing at the beginning and end of the first episode. Quentin Tarantino was among the guests for the final edition on New Years’ Eve. 

As he prepared to focus on the major challenge of presenting Top Gear late last year, Evans spoke of his emotional attachment to the C4 show as it approached a final series. “I never got to say goodbye to it as I left when there were still 10 shows to go. Let’s call it closure. This just feels like the right time, many of us who were involved with ‘the scene’ at that time are back doing what we love and people seem to like it.”

But the BBC complaints unit said that the presenter had gone too far in his repeated references to the commercial show on his popular breakfast programme, which has an audience of 9.4 million.

“As the producers of TFI Friday profit from the sale to Channel 4, it comes within the scope of the editorial guidelines dealing with references to commercial products, organisations and services,” said the ECU in its ruling. “The references to TFI Friday were largely promotional in character, and more numerous than was editorially justifiable.”