Many fans of Top Gear have written off the re-boot of the BBC’s motoring show after frankly a poor first season. However, I was lucky enough to be in the audience for filming of the first episode of the brand new season, which airs Sunday March 5th and I can confirm that this new Top Gear fronted by Matt LeBlanc, Rory Reid and Chris Harris will not disappoint. The BBC could have easily pulled the plug after the comparative flop of last season compared to its former glory, however they have come back with a far stronger TV show that if the first episode is anything to go by, petrolheads will definitely enjoy.
Not sure whether to watch the new season of Top Gear? Watch our MANthoughts video for 10 Reasons to Reconsider Top Gear: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3Kd2NWHxIY&t=112s
Attending a Top Gear filming
Applying for tickets for new Top Gear is not like how it was when Clarkson, Hammond and May were running the show and quite possibly could have been made even easier after the results of last season. There was no waiting list ten years long, instead I joined Lost in TV – the official ticket partner of Top Gear, and after failing to secure Saturday tickets, re-applied and managed to get tickets to the very first show of the new series last Wednesday (22nd Feb).
The tickets stated arrival before 12:30pm would guarantee entry so we arrived at Dunsfold for midday and parked up on the airfield and waited for the bus to take us to studio. I would highly recommend doing the same if you go, as although people who did arrive after that did get in, there was a cut-off point where cars and ticket holders were being turned away.
It was a long wait in the cold and horrible rain. Maybe because it was the first show and it was a new team and as we found out later a new studio, this could have caused the delay. It was approaching 2:30pm when we finally were able to board the bus, drive past the actual Top Gear test track and to the studio itself.
We were ushered into the studio which was awesome (more on that in a minute) and we instantly chose to stand next to the stunning LaFerrari. It is amazing the amount of lighting and cameras a pokey motoring show – as Jeremy Clarkson would call it, needed. What did amaze me was the jib operator – the camera that swoops over the audience, was wearing a Grand Tour t-shirt. Surely he must know that was a bit of an idiotic thing to do!
Once everyone was in place and the floor manager had got us to record some laughter and clapping – which initially I thought might have been to test audio levels but seemingly were an insurance policy by the director to dub over any jokes that didn’t quite hit the mark, we began filming.
Filming started around 3pm and we were still there by 7pm for the main show. Maybe first show nerves but very rarely was anything done in one take and it was clear Matt LeBlanc was running the show, constantly going off stage to consult with the crew or discussing a plan of action with the fellow presenters.
What surprised me was we were able to get an early viewing of the films in their entirety which was brilliant! The show was shot pretty much in sequence with a break half-way through the show for refreshments. For fellow attendees this is when limited Extra Gear tickets are available which we quickly snapped up. You need to be quick, a marshal told us 600 people would be in the studio for the main show and there was just 70 tickets for the BBC Three exclusive after-show.
Filmed almost straight after the main show – with time in-between just to alter the set and bring in seating (a welcome relief after standing all-day), Extra Gear took about an hour to film. Again it may just be the first show and the debut of new host George Lewis, but there was a number of lengthy breaks and retakes. This was far more informal as Chris Harris would share his unbelievable car knowledge and a great sense of humour in-between filming and especially when shots took longer to get. Interestingly, we didn’t get to see these films but this may have been a time issue as the evening rolled in.
Even for non-car fans or people who are not overly keen of any iteration of Top Gear, it is an absolutely fascinating experience to be involved in filming. People who question the chemistry of the new trio needed to be there in-between takes, they were natural, sharing a laugh and joke with each other. This was also true for on-camera moments which were far more comfortable than last season. It’s clear this trio genuinely gets on well together.
One thing I did notice was Matt LeBlanc left the stage pretty quickly when the main film started just before the break, this could be his Hollywood side showing or just a way to escape the barrage of inevitable autographs and selfies.
The actual show
Ok, I won’t keep you waiting any longer, and if you want to avoid any spoilers it may be best to end things here. One thing I will tell you is, who have nothing to worry about. If what we see translates in transmission on March 5th, it’s going to be a great season.
The new studio looks really cool! Integrating a circular, light design and three of the most beautiful supercars; the Lotus Esprit, the Ferrari Testarossa and the Lamborghini Countach. Even the presenters stage has been given a face lift, with very posh and expensive looking leather sofas.
One of the biggest changes for this season is the return of the full Top Gear test track and goodbye to the rally-car and the reasonably priced car. Now celebrities – and in this case the very cool James McAvoy, are tasked with setting a lap in the Toyota GT86 sports car which is an interesting switch.
Celebrities stay with the Top Gear trio throughout the episode this season, with a clearly planned ‘chat’ in between films and the actual lap coming much later in the show. It will be interesting who they get in for this season as they are asking much more of the guests, using them for far longer. At one point Rory Reid whisked James McAvoy off stage to look at a very nice Rimac Concept_One and tried to get him to open the door. This took multiple takes as the car didn’t want to play ball. It will be interesting to see how they cobble this together in the final edit.
The first film we saw which introduced the show and the series was Chris Harris driving the very expensive and exclusive Ferrari FXX K around the Daytona circuit. As you can imagine from Top Gear and Chris Harris, this was a brilliant film and was a brilliant way to open the new series, despite no lap from The Stig unfortunately.
This was followed by the introduction and extended chat with McAvoy which seemingly replaced the news section as the presenters discussed cars they’d like to drive. This included a very funny moment as Matt talked about machinery more than cars. Whilst it may not seem very funny as I say it, watch it next Sunday and you’ll see what I mean.
After that we got on to the main film of the show, driving across the Kazakhstan wilderness. This film was to highlight whilst many of us considering changing cars after a few thousand miles, modern cars can do so much more. The three presenters therefore chose a car each that had travelled further than the distance between earth and the moon. Overall this was a very funny film and created a lot of natural laughter out of the studio audience.
After the first part of this, we took a refreshment break and when we returned we saw James McAvoy’s very wet and very ballsy lap – which unbeknownst to us we saw them filming whilst we were waiting for the bus to take us to the studio. After this came the second part of the film and before we knew it, it was time for the sign-off and that was episode one complete!
It wasn’t the most fluid filming experience with large breaks in sections where they couldn’t get quite the right shot or the script wasn’t quite working in the moment. This is where warm-up Jared Christmas would pipe in keeping the audience entertained with some stand-up and audience participation.
Despite the 50/50 gender split in the audience seemingly not really being enforced anymore, some female audience were ushered to the front during the final shots of the show and the sign-off by the presenters.
As the audience filtered out we were sent up to the top of the stage as they prepared for Extra Gear. While it’s pretty much certain I won’t be seen on TV for the main show, the intimate nature of Extra Gear means you’ll definitely see my lovely face on the BBC Three after show – sat behind new presenter George Lewis. Although it elongates the filming, I would recommend doing this as you get to see a better view of the behind the scenes mechanics of the global TV show and you see a far more natural side of the presenters.
It was an amazing experience and something I would love to do again. To be in the audience for a show I have loved ever since I first saw it is an absolute thrill. Being in the company of some of the most jaw dropping cars and seeing what is undoubtedly one of the most visually emposing TV shows about cars around is absolutely awesome.
I cannot wait to watch this episode again but through a TV screen this time and see what was kept in and what was taken out. It is an amazing experience and gives you and the other audience members an experience that everyone else watching the show across the world will never get. Every show and every recording is unique. From the cars and films down to the playful conversations in between filming and the cock-ups and outtakes.
I was never in doubt that this new season of Top Gear would somewhat return to its old glory and would brush some of the mistakes from last season under the rug. It also showed that they are not afraid to keep altering the format and finding ways to make it different, naturally evolving the show. This was proven by attending the recording and I’m sure others will feel the same when they get to see the show on March 5th and will inevitably say for the rest of the season.
Long live new Top Gear!