How producers made Top Gear’s drive-in audience work in behind-the-scenes video

The motoring show returns to television tonight in a radical new format.

Top Gear presenters Paddy McGuinness, Chris Harris and Freddie Flintoff in front of series 29's drive-in audience

A new behind-the-scenes video reveals how the producers of BBC One’s Top Gear orchestrated an ambitious drive-in audience for the latest series.

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Shot during the coronavirus pandemic, it was not possible for the show to retain its usual format, which involves packing an audience into an enclosed indoor studio.

To protect the health of the cast and crew, the decision was made to shift Top Gear to an outdoor setting, populated by an audience safely distanced from each other in separate cars.

The huge drive-in cinema was set up at Dunsfold Aerodrome in Surrey, where an audience of 500 people gathered across three nights to watch the recording of Top Gear’s 29th series.

The ambitious set-up was revealed in an epic aerial shot, showing off Dunsfold’s famous white 747 jumbo jet that provides a fitting backdrop for the thrilling proceedings.

In total, 160 cars were used for the shoot, ten of which were supercars provided to the production by manufacturers, with Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche among the brands on display.

The vehicles were strategically placed to ensure a good view of the stage, where presenters Paddy McGuinness, Freddie Flintoff and Chris Harris introduce all the action, displayed on large eight-metre high video screens on both sides.

“This is the first outdoor Top Gear and obviously we’ve had to do it within the lines of being COVID friendly and social distancing, but actually it’s quite a happy accident really because it looks absolutely amazing,” said McGuinness.

After some growing pains following the departure of Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, the current Top Gear line-up have catapulted the show back to a very strong position.

The most recent series was so well-received that it prompted the BBC to shift the motoring programme from BBC Two to BBC One, for the first time in its long history.

Executive producer Clare Pizey added: “This was a big gamble putting it out here. I think it looks beautiful and obviously we’re out here because of COVID, but what it really does prove is sometimes when you have to come up with a solution to a problem, you actually end up somewhere better.”

Check out the behind-the-scenes video below:

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Top Gear series 29 begins on BBC One tonight, Sunday 4th October. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide, or take a look at our new TV shows 2020 page to find out what’s airing this autumn and beyond.