'Top Gear' Debacle: What the BBC MUST Learn From Chris Evans' Departure

05/07/2016 16:22 | Updated 06 July 2016
VALERY HACHE via Getty Images

And so, with a crashing inevitability, Chris Evans has succumbed to the terrible ratings, the dismal reviews, the all-round disappointment that greeted his short but interesting tenure at the helm of the BBC's biggest show, and announced he won't be back behind the wheel for Series 2.

To borrow heavily from Macbeth's description of the ailing King Duncan, "nothing became Chris Evans in Top Gear like his leaving it". He was gracious in defeat, telling his Twitter followers he'd given it "his best shot" and that he remained a fan of the top team he left behind.

However, despite his decent words, it was clear, that, in this age of referenda, the people had once again spoken. For weeks, there's been a burbling of criticism, a growing torrent of negative comment.

Chris Evans may call it a "witch hunt", his dismayed viewers may simply perceive it as their right to be heard, particularly when there's a licence fee footing the bill for all those Emperor's New Clothes or, bizarrely, in this case as it happens, one yellow T-shirt.

However, the BBC must assume some responsibility for this mess they now find themselves in, which of course dates back to the success, and untimely exit, of the previous hosting trio.

Throughout Clarkson's time at the wheel, the Corporation became increasingly aware of the dilemma at the show's heart - that its same sense of mischief and recklessness that ensured it was always about a lot more than motoring, that drew an audience to the BBC brand across the world and helped fill its coffers back home, could often cross the line of acceptable cultural standards and land them with a bollocking from standards committees and, occasionally, viewers.

The Beeb issued yellow card after yellow card to Chris Evans' polarising but irresistible predecessor, only finally issuing a red ticket when their hungry host actually clocked someone.

With the golden goose let fly to more lucrative lands, his co-presenters and producer tucked into his wings, the BBC were left with another dilemma on their hands - should they completely reinvent the brand as something quite different, or try to put a very similar Top Gear back on the road?

What they opted for, as we now know, was a hotch-potch of both, and where they got it right was with their championing of new voices, particularly ones as authoritative, enthusiastic and charismatic as Chris Harris, Rory Reid and Matt LeBlanc respectively.

Where they got it hopelessly wrong was putting one overwhelmingly star figure at the show's fulcrum, one whose broadcasting record of success meant he expected to be listened to and agreed with on most issues. The result? Well, behind the scenes, reports of bullying and fall-outs were denied, but the atmosphere was admitted to be "tense". On-air, a series was delivered that depended very much on one polarising figure's appeal to an audience far bigger (on paper) and more diverse than those tuning in for Don't Forget Your Toothbrush.

For all his shouting, however, the blame cannot be laid entirely at the Ginger One's door. Those BBC bosses watching the jewel that was Top Gear crumble in their hands must ask themselves today why they once again remained in thrall to one 'talent' for all those months the show was in production, why more questions weren't asked when an experienced exec producer quit the show over "differences", why one person's caprices were allowed to go unchecked when so many viewers' expectations were set to be disappointed, so many licence fees gone to waste?

The first bit of good news is that those same bosses don't have plans to repeat their mistakes and find yet another highly-paid star to walk in Evans' shoes. More by accident than by design, the show has found its necessary charisma quotient in Matt LeBlanc, and he and his co-presenters will now be allowed to shine and occupy a more central space without the schoolyard foghorn that was Evans' commentary on proceedings.

This feels, finally, like a nod to the BBC of yesteryear - those glory days when the Corporation had the courage to nurture unknown faces and voices, un-smug presenters they could satisfy with earthly salaries and necessary reminders of exactly who was in charge. As Richard Bacon would no doubt testify, a timely telling-off can do wonders for a blossoming career.

One of the ironies of this series of Top Gear is that much of the diva-led chaos has stemmed, not from a high-earning, Emmy Award-winning TV sitcom star used to having someone carry his car keys, but, as it turns out, someone from within their very own walls.

Only if the BBC sits back today and reminds itself that it always has been, and should remain, bigger than any one of its many 'talents', can it hope to avoid a repeat of the disastrous debacle of the last year of their biggest show, one in which all the behind-the-scenes commotion has caused so much more comment and intrigue than anything on the screen.