We’re not sure, so we asked a couple of people who we thought might know. These former colleagues didn’t get a lot of face-time with Clarkson (just helmet-time), but they certainly know the ins and outs of the Top Gear track – and the show itself. Nowadays they’re known as Perry McCarthy and Ben Collins – but all we know is, they were once called The Stig.
Former Stig 1 – Perry McCarthy (2002-3)
Can Top Gear continue without Jeremy? You would be taking the fire out of it. I think you’re going to have a diluted product. I don’t think it will have the value that it did, here and overseas. And God help any soul who takes his place, because that’s like signing up for your own firing squad. The only person who could take it on would be some- body who has nothing to lose. Someone like me, but I don’t think I’m in the running.
The presenting mix at the moment is perfect. The three guys work brilliantly together. There’s such great chemistry between them. We’ve got these solid characters now, who are almost parodies; it’s almost Last of the Summer Wine. Jeremy is the grumpy one, Richard is the happy, chirpy one, and James doesn’t know what’s going on.
Could Top Gear continue with a neutered Clarkson? It won’t work. The charm and the brilliance of Jeremy are that he is a slightly loose cannon, you’re not quite sure what he’s going to do next. There is an unpredictability coupled with creative genius. I think he is God’s gift to British broadcasting, and a brilliant journalist. And I’m not shamelessly puffing him up; we’re not close and I never see him, I am just genu- inely in awe of his talent. If you take him, as he is, out of that mix, that mix is dead anyway. It’s like having a Ferrari in your garage, but with a Ford engine.
Former Stig 2 – Ben Collins (2003-11)
Top Gear has achieved huge status and Jeremy has certainly been part of that because he’s got such a big personality… he’s an unstoppable force. But fans of the programme love it for lots of different reasons. Jeremy is certainly one of them, but not the only one. There’s a big production team there who all work incredibly hard. None more so than the young producers, particularly in terms of generating the show’s crazy ideas. It’s an incredibly creative and fun environment to work in.
I do think it’s become harder for Top Gear to reinvent itself, so it’s possibly starting to strain under the weight of its own success. But things will evolve one way or the other. I don’t think it can be only anchored in one person. The Bond franchise, for instance, changes and moves forward. Top Gear will always continue. I think it’s a great programme and it would be ridiculous to take it off air – I don’t think that’s what anybody wants and I’m sure that won’t happen. It will carry on and continue to be successful because millions of people watch it.
I was there for eight years but it came to a natural conclusion. I handed in my notice and had discussions with the BBC and they decided to go to court [over his plans to reveal his identity in a book], which was a real shame and not what I wanted. Was Jeremy supportive? No, he wasn’t. We haven’t spoken since.
But I get on really well now with the guy that hired me [executive producer and Clarkson’s best friend Andy Wilman] and I’m really delighted about that. A lot of us cut our teeth on that programme and the memories for me remain very special.
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