Upon hearing of the ex-Top Gear trio’s new show, most of us were likely excited to see how it would compare to the old one. But to avoid possible legal action by the BBC over the format, the trio had to be incredibly tedious—they even made sure to call African scenery “shit” because they said it was beautiful on Top Gear.
Host Jeremy Clarkson talked about the scene in the Namibian desert and plenty of other things The Grand Tour had to be conscious of in a column for the Sunday Times. We learned in August that the guys have strict rules on what they are and aren’t allowed to say, but from the column, it seems like most of the filming went that way. That can be expected, since the BBC didn’t just toss out Top Gear when the trio began working with Amazon Prime on a new show.
Rather, the BBC continued with Matt LeBlanc and the now sacked Chris Evans leading a pretty similar show in terms of format and production value. That meant the ex-Top Gear hosts—Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May—couldn’t just do their old thing and get away with it.
Prior to Clarkson’s column written for the Sunday Times, executive producer Andy Willman described the Namibia scene as quoted by the Telegraph:
He said: “They got funnier and funnier. We went to Namibia to make a big film. The lawyers got out a film we had done [for Top Gear] in Botswana. The lawyers go through everything and they said, ‘There’s a scene in [Top Gear] where you’re in the middle of the Okavango and you go, “This scenery is beautiful”, so watch that you don’t do that.’
“So we were in the desert in Namibia and we had to go, “for legal reasons, this scenery is shit’.”
But it wasn’t just about what they could and couldn’t say. Here’s what Clarkson wrote on his worries about the BBC’s restrictions on intellectual property rights, from the Guardian:
“The Star is a Reasonably Priced car, the Cool Wall, the Stig – all that had been left behind … and replaced with other stuff,” he wrote in the Sunday Times magazine. “Would that be like the Rolling Stones suddenly appearing on stage in tweed suits and doing Abba songs?”
Filming in a static location would also present legal problems with the BBC, he claimed. So he and co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May are doing a studio recording at a different place each week from inside a huge tent, which will be packed up and relocated for each of the £4.5m episodes in the 12-show series.
Clarkson said he had that “eureka” moment while watching, in his underpants, an episode of True Detective in which a Baptist minister preaches in a tent. “Yes,” he exclaimed to colleagues the next day, “We’d be rootless, peripatetic, like music teachers in the 70s. Or gypsies.”
The, er, “gypsies” had plenty of struggles and legal concerns to avoid in filming The Grand Tour, and the Independent adds that those concerns included the use of a test track. Just as Top Gear had, The Grand Tour used a former Royal Air Force airfield for time trials. Clarkson said the use of a test track was essential to any car show, so they went along with it.
But the legal challenges don’t mean we should expect any less from the show. The group has a $3.2 million opening scene, and they said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that they’re going straight into filming the second season.
We’ll see how everything played out when the show debuts on Nov. 18. And if anything seems a bit weird, just find comfort in that it might have been done for legal reasons.