Chris Evans is the new host of Top Gear, the BBC announced yesterday (16 June).

Evans has reportedly signed a three-year deal to front the BBC2 show, replacing Jeremy Clarkson who was forced out after a ‘fracas’ with a producer  in March.

The BBC also confirmed that James May and Richard Hammond wouldn’t return to the show. There’s no word yet on who will join Evans as co-hosts – there could be a couple of permanent sidekicks, or a rolling roster of regulars and/or special guests appropriate to the individual programme.

Veteran broadcaster Evans is a well known car enthusiast with a penchant for classic Ferraris. In recent years he has owned the ex-James Coburn 250GT SWB California and he currently holds the keys to a Daytona Spider, 250 GTO and a LaFerrari. He is the driving force behind CarFest and various driving tours, all held in aid of Children In Need.

Evans is a long-time friend of Clarkson as well, the pair appearing together in a sketch on the TFI Friday revival edition last week. When Clarkson’s contract wasn’t renewed he immediately counted himself out of the running, then revised his position to “never say never.”

After the announcement Evans tweeted: “I would like to say Jeremy, Richard & James are the greatest. And NO I’m not leaving the R2 Breakfast Show.”

That last point is significant, but we’ll circle back round to it. Though something of a divisive character, Evans is undoubtedly one of the UK’s most talented and innovative broadcasters. His work on TV and radio in the Nineties on the Radio 1 morning show, The Big Breakfast, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush and TFI Friday was revolutionary. He went off the rails, as he openly admits, in the early 2000’s, then his rehabilitation began in 2005 when he took over the Saturday afternoon slot on Radio 2. He moved to the weekday Drivetime show in 2006 before replacing the retiring Terry Wogan on the Breakfast Show in 2010. It was a huge gamble, but it paid off. Evans completely revitalised the show, mixing family-friendly features and lots of audience interaction with his infectious enthusiasm. There were doubters, but he at least maintained Wogan’s 8 million-plus audience.

He returned to BBC TV in 2010 as Friday co-host on The One Show, bringing a welcome note of amused bewilderment/cynicism to the decidedly scatological format. Then there was the triumphant, one-off return of TFI last week, which drew one of the biggest audiences Channel 4 has had in years.

It’s fair to say, then, that Top Gear is in safe hands. Evans is a died-in-the-wool petrolhead with huge creative energy. It’s worth remembering that executive producer Andy Wilman – the show’s Major General, if you will – has also left; it wouldn’t be surprising if Evans assumes that ‘creative lead’ role, as well.

However, the show will necessarily be very different, as Evans will carry on as Radio 2 Breakfast presenter. That precludes doing as many, or any, big, multi-day shoots as has been the case in the past. As such, it may become ‘smaller’. Filming is scheduled to start in the next couple of weeks. It’ll be fascinating to see what happens.

As for Clarkson, Hammond and May (and possibly Wilman), they are understood to be close to sealing a deal with Netflix. It’s the best place for them, as it works to the same subscription model as the BBC, and they will probably be allowed completely free reign. They’ve been growing old disgracefully for more than a decade; don’t be surprised if they ramp up the antics even more.

In the meantime, BBC2 will show the ‘missing’ final episode of the Clarkson era, combining the films from the two episodes that were cancelled when he was suspended, on 28 June.

By Only Motors