Andy Wilman is the Executive Producer of The Grand Tour on Amazon Prime, having set up the show’s production company, W. Chump & Sons, with hosts, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, in 2015.”
Andy played an integral part in creating the Top Gear phenomenon, devising, with Clarkson, the show’s one-hour, studio-based format which became familiar to the show’s hundreds of millions of fans. Andy ran all twenty-two series of the relaunched Top Gear between 2002 and 2015, during which period the show became the world’s most widely watched factual TV programme, seen in 212 territories around the world.”
Before helping revitalise Top Gear, Andy presented segments on the old version of the show, until he was fired for being useless. More successfully, he was also a print journalist and produced other TV series with Jeremy, including Motorworld, Meet the Neighbours and critically acclaimed military documentaries.
How does the new series improve on the first?
“It is an improvement on series 1 mainly because we’re not moving a tent around. Moving the tent around was an experiment where we went to different countries with it. We all said we’d try new things in series 1 and if they didn’t work, they didn’t work but that was the one that gave us the least return. The plan was that we’d go to a country, host the show from that country and show, sort of, little films about the motoring culture in that country and we never got time to do that. We’d just put the tent somewhere, Finland, Holland, Germany, whatever and ended up talking to 350 people from that country with a view out of the window of that country, and it never resonated. People always remember a show from the films, so we might be in Holland with our tent from show five, and people go, yes that’s the Morocco show, because of the film, the actual film was taking place in Morocco.”
Did you know yourself some things weren’t working or did it come from viewer feedback?
“No, we did know ourselves, after a few shows you go, is that really giving us what we want? When you start cutting a few shows, you think, right, there we were in Holland, there we were in Germany, is it really giving us any kind of on-screen value? So I don’t think any viewer said they disliked the idea of us going round the world with a tent, but what they would say is, celebrity brain crash is a bit rubbish and we’d be thinking, ‘no, you’re not wrong there’, so we’ll need to fix that, but we knew it ourselves.”
So you got the tent and moved back in the Cotswolds, why there?
“It’s two minutes from Clarkson’s bloody house! It’s actually a fair few things: if you want guests, you don’t want to be too far from London because if you’ve got American guests coming in, that’s where they’re coming from. There is a track ready-made nearby where we can do stuff, there is the audience, it’s just, kind of, central. We’ve got a great view out of the window, because we are in the rolling Cotswold hills. It’s still important we have a good one [view out the tent]. So, all those things, all those boxes get ticked.”
Has it improved the studio element?
“I think it’s better because we’re not dealing with stuff like how we get to where we go to, is that view right etc. and then being compelled to include the country where we are, whether you like it or not, whether you need to or not, things like that. We’ve got a sharper, more focused show and the business in the tent will be better as a result.”
Take us through some of your favourite films this year…
“Well, morbidly, Richard’s crash in Switzerland is a highlight. I mean thank God he’s well, but you’ve got guys who are essentially TV stars, actually putting it out there, dishing it, you know. No, nobody enjoyed it, nobody wanted it, but it certainly is an indication that everyone gives it their all in the show and if we are here making television, it is a very impactful piece of television. It’s a very geventood film up to that, because you’ve got a Lamborghini Aventador, Honda NSX and that Rimac Concept One. Those supercar road trips really hit the spot with a good broad audience, they are petrol heads, so I enjoyed that one.”
“Then we did a race from New York to Niagara Falls and that came out brilliantly. Richard is disabled completely because of the crash, so the comedy value there comes from the fact that James is the least empathetic carer you could imagine. James May will not run an old people’s home, or I don’t want to be in the one he runs, that’s for sure. And then, it’s like a gift for Richard, because he’s a fantastic comedian of self-deprecation, you know. He knows exactly that his job is to wind James up and be an annoyance and he does that beautifully, it’s just a gift. It’s a very funny and a very exciting film.”
“Another road show is in Colorado. The premise of that is that Americans never bought Jaguars, because Jaguars have a reputation of bad reliability. Our guys go, “that’s horses**t, we’re going to prove to the Americans that they’re wrong”. So, they buy three old Jaguars and go on this road trip to Colorado, which is the one where they end up skiing. What happened was, there was a ski resort, Telluride, and they said, “we’re down for maintenance in April, do you want to use our ski resort?” and we said “Of course we do”; So, it’s right to the top and then skiing down all the slopes to the bottom, which we thought would be a great test of those Jags. That again is a terrifying thing to do, because you’ve got the black runs – it’s really spectacular.”
“The film we’re calling ‘The Recreations’ is for the petrol heads. Basically Jaguar and Aston Martin have re-built a Mark 4, DB4 GT which is a race car, but they re-built it using all the old methods. Jaguar have done the same with the XKSS which is a racing car. What you get these days is a lot of is an old car re-built with all modern parts. They re-build it using new parts that are all made the old way, so everything is hand milled, all that sort of thing. I think that’s Jeremy’s favourite actually, because they give you petrol head stuff, but anyone who’s not a petrol head can appreciate that they are works of art and also they’re funny, because they’re old, so they’re high maintenance.”
“There’s a film with Ken Block who does these things called gymkhanas which are a driving extravaganza of driving skill and they last about five minutes – Jeremy tries to do one of those. Ken Block’s an amazing driver who does driving stunts and it’s kind of edited nicely – it’s just car porn. So, what Jeremy does is say, “I can do that”, and him trying to make a gymkhana film is a comedy of errors for him. The finished thing looks amazing, but then you see what went on behind the scenes to make it, which is where it all comes undone for him. So, I love that one too. There’s a good balance, I think, they’re consistently better than they were in series one overall.”
How do you balance the cars against the presenters?
“We’ve learned the hard way that if you lose focus of the cars, you mess up the film. Where you do a film that’s totally self-indulgent, because people like watching those three, that breeds us an audience that’s more than just a car audience, but we learnt the hard way that sometimes if you stray over to making a film just about them, you’ll always mess it up. So, we know that you have to keep that balance of the car as a focal point. They can do stupid things, and be The Last of the Summer Wine or whatever, but it’s always got to be around the cars and why and all that sort of stuff.”
How do you come up with all the ideas?
“They do come from everywhere. So, Mozambique, Jeremy was watching Anthony Bordain on a plane, then there’s a film about car refuelling on the move. That will come out of us sitting around going, why have they turned petrol stations into supermarkets now? You’re sitting behind someone at the pump in your car and they’ve gone inside and suddenly start doing a week’s shopping and you think “i’m going to be here forever”. So, we started doing some maths about how long you sit in petrol stations.”
“We could have just mentioned in the news how long you spend of your life sitting in petrol stations but then you go, hang on, isn’t there a film to be done there of trying to come up with a solution? So, some come like that, from there’s a problem we can solve, and we always have those because we never are going to solve them, but there’s always that arrogance that we will. Obviously cars generate stuff, we saw that Rimac and you think, electric Croatian supercar, 1200 horsepower, that’s for telly that is, and then you build a road trip around it and so on.”
Do you have a “Grand Tour” bucket list of things you’d love to be able to do but can’t?
“I’d like to just be able to give you an answer to that, but I don’t at the minute. There’s one that I’m planning for the next series, which I can’t talk about, because somebody will nick it. It’s going to cost a couple of million dollars, so I’m going to need help with that one, but that’s never been done before.”
And are you already started on series 3?
“We’re doing the planning now. There’s no break because we’re going to be playing catch-up, because of the injuries. I think we’ll do the special shoots in January and then straight to series 3. I’ve got people working on series 3 now, just an ideas generation and stuff like that.”
The Grand Tour Series 2 will be available on Amazon Prime Video at midnight GMT on December 8th. If you don’t have Amazon Prime subscription, you can sign up for a free 7-day trial at PrimeVideo.com.