New Top Gear host Chris Evans and the BBC have both apologised after co-host Matt LeBlanc and a professional driver performed “doughnuts” around the Cenotaph war memorial in London and confirmed the footage would not be aired.
Producers of the popular car show faced a backlash after pictures emerged of smoke billowing from the tyres of a Ford Mustang by the memorial, erected after World War I.
Former British military commander Colonel Richard Kemp criticised the stunt in an interview on BBC Radio, and former James Bond actor Sir Roger Moore tweeted “shame on Top Gear and the BBC”.
“I was brought up to respect those who laid down their lives for this country,” he said.
Evans said on his BBC Radio breakfast show that he apologised “unreservedly for what these images seem to portray”.
“They look entirely disrespectful, which of course was not and would never be the intention of the Top Gear team, or Matt [LeBlanc],” he said.
“The images on the front pages of the papers today — it doesn’t matter what actually happened — what is important is what these images look like.
“Retrospectively it was unwise to be anywhere near the Cenotaph with this motorcar.”
‘Lighten up everybody’
In a statement, the also BBC apologised, saying “the Cenotaph was at no point intended to feature in the program”.
“However, we are acutely aware of how some of the images in the press look today via the angle and distance they were taken and for which, as Chris Evans has already said, we sincerely apologise,” the statement said.
“The driver of the car was briefed by production prior to filming as to where to drive and to not do any manoeuvres close to the monument, an instruction to which he fully adhered.
“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.”
A spokesman for Westminster City Council told the BBC that Top Gear had obtained permission to drive down Whitehall, but that “there was no discussion about wheel spins and a doughnut and permission would not have been given to do so”.
But former driver for the show Perry McCarthy, who played the non-speaking character The Stig, defended the move.
“It’s a question of perspective. It’s a stunt,” he told BBC radio.
“It brings the centre of London, a beautiful part of London and the Cenotaph, to a worldwide audience.
“It was a respectful distance away from it … come on, lighten up everybody.”
Top Gear filming. Not the place for a stunt. pic.twitter.com/9Ut87QBKNG
— RICHARD KEMP (@COLRICHARDKEMP) March 13, 2016