James May, who has co-hosted the show with Clarkson and Richard Hammond since 2003, has indicated that he and Hammond would not continue without Clarkson. All three hosts’ contracts are up at the end of the current season.
Speaking to reporters in London on Wednesday, May expressed his dismay at the situation that led to Clarkson’s canning — his physical assault on a “Top Gear” producer during filming earlier this month.
“It’s a tragedy. I’m sorry that what ought to have been a small incident, sorted out easily, turned into something big,” May said, according to DigitalSpy.
In terms of his future plans, May indicated that he would not continue on “Top Gear” without Clarkson.
“The three of us… it works as a package, for very complicated reasons that a lot of people don’t fully understand. So that will require a lot of careful thought,” May told journalists outside his home moments after the BBC officially announced its decision. “Much as I think he’s a knob, I quite like working with Jeremy,” May said, according to DigitalSpy.
A statement issued by May’s agent on his behalf said: “James was disappointed to hear that the BBC will not be renewing Jeremy’s contract, however he understands that it will have been a difficult deliberation all round and respects the decision.”
It added: “As to the future of ‘Top Gear,’ it existed before its current format and will no doubt continue to do so. James’ involvement in that future requires much thought, deliberation and conversation between many people, and at this moment further speculation on that is not useful. James will be making no further comment at this time.”
Judging from his latest tweet, it is far from certain that Hammond will follow the other two, referring to an “end of an era,” and adding, “It’s been an incredible ride together.”
The British press is full of speculation about who might be moving to “Top Gear,” and what may be in store for Clarkson, Hammond and May. There was instant chatter about the trio relocating to Netflix, which has been on a big expansion kick in the U.K., but sources close to the netcaster strongly downplayed the possibility.
“Top Gear” began in the late 1970s as a local automotive news and reviews show on the BBC Midlands surface. By the late 1980s it was distributed across the BBC’s national networks. Clarkson, a well-known journalist and political columnist, joined the show as host in 1988.
“Top Gear” went on hiatus from 2000-2002. It was revived on BBC2 in 2002 with a mandate to add more entertainment and travelogue elements, as well as reality TV-style competitive challenges for the hosts to broaden its appeal.
The camaraderie and friendly (and not so friendly) sparring among the three hosts has taken “Top Gear” to new heights. It is the BBC’s most popular export, with an estimated audience of 350 million (by the BBC’s math) in more than 200 territories, generating some $75 million a year for the BBC Worldwide commercial division. In the U.S., it is typically the most-watched original series on the BBC America cabler.
May and Hammond have both hosted several unscripted series in the U.K. as solo acts outside of the “Top Gear” banner.
Talent reps in the U.S. said there will surely be interest in the possibility of the trio setting up a new show, but they also cautioned that the appeal would still be limited.
(Pictured: Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson, James May)
Leo Barraclough contributed to this article.