Negative publicity for Top Gear continues after Cenotaph gaffe

The reputation of the BBC's motoring show took another hit over the weekend, after presenter Matt LeBlanc was criticised for disrespecting the memory of British war veterans.

Bumpy ride: Top Gear star gets into hot water during filming (Credit: MrG/LNP/REX/Shutterstock)
Bumpy ride: Top Gear star gets into hot water during filming (Credit: MrG/LNP/REX/Shutterstock)

The former Friends star was pictured together with racing legend Ken Block driving a Hoonicorn Mustang around Westminster.

The show was criticised when photographs emerged appearing to show the duo doing wheel-spins close to the Cenotaph. Retired Colonel Richard Kemp told The Telegraph the stunt was "deeply disrespectful" to the memory of war veterans.

Even The Chancellor expressed his displeasure at the noise that was generated during filming: 

The makers of the show defended it by saying they had obtained permission and that photographs made the car appear closer to the memorial than it actually was.

The BBC declined to comment on the subject while Top Gear has confirmed to PRWeek the footage will not be broadcast.

"The Cenotaph was at no point intended to feature in the programme and therefore will not appear in the final film," Top Gear said in a statement.

"We would like to make it absolutely clear that the Top Gear team has the utmost respect for the Cenotaph, what it stands for and those heroic individuals whose memory it serves so fittingly."

In a twist, Westminster Council has clarified that permission would not have been granted if it had been informed "wheel spins and doughnuts" were to be performed.

Earlier today, Chris Evans, the lead presenter of the latest series, apologised unreservedly for the incident on his BBC Radio 2 breakfast show.

"It doesn’t matter what actually happened, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances were that could explain this away, what is important about this is what these images look like and they look entirely disrespectful, which is not and would never be the intention of the Top Gear team or Matt [LeBlanc]," he said.

"On behalf of the Top Gear team and Matt, I would like to apologise unreservedly for what these images seem to portray... Retrospectively it was unwise to be anywhere near the Cenotaph with this motor car."

Despite the swift apology, the publicity is yet another blow to the lucrative Top Gear brand, which currently generates upwards of £50m annually for the BBC thanks to worldwide licensing and merchandise sales.

Last year, the future of the show was put in jeopardy when Jeremy Clarkson was sensationally fired after punching a producer. An unsuccessful petition was launched to reinstate Clarkson, and he ended up signing a lucrative deal to work on a rival show for Amazon Prime, taking fellow Top Gear co-stars Richard Hammond and James May with him.

While the BBC confirmed that the Top Gear brand would survive following Clarkson's dismissal, controversy has followed the brand. Five months after the show was rebooted, executive producer Lisa Clark stepped down from her role at the show after reportedly clashing with Chris Evans. Reaction to the new presenting line-up, dubbed the ‘Magnificent Seven’, was also mixed when it was announced in February. 

It remains to be seen whether the new line-up will be able to sustain the 350 million-strong global audience that Clarkson, Hammond and May built-up.

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