What goes on behind the scenes of the making of 'The Grand Tour'?

Amazon Prime Video’s most-watched motoring television show

December 12, 2017 04:30 pm | Updated 08:18 pm IST

As the hour-long drive from West London to the Cotswolds draws to a close, the scenery changes dramatically, to surprisingly quiet and impossibly narrow roads flanked by homes built of stone, glowing a gentle shade of gold in the late morning sun. The rolling hills appear soon after, and a couple of turns later, we arrive at the tent of TheGrand Tour, which seems a tad out of place at first glance. We are here to meet Andy Wilman, Executive Producer of Amazon Prime Video’s most-watched motoring television show, to talk about Series 2.

You get a sense of the scale of this production only when you walk around the tent and linger over the innumerable details, memorabilia, posters and motoring artefacts. That this humongous tent travelled everywhere in Season 1 is astonishing. That has changed now, as it will stay put in the Cotswolds. Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, is known to have remarked that TheGrand Tour is a “very, very, very expensive show”. Wilman goes commits that it is “more than Top Gear and less than what the newspapers claimed of $300 million over three years. It’s a good budget, but it’s a very expensive show. All but one of the films is shot abroad. The touring and travelling is like a big circus on the move.”

A show for everybody

So what stays and what’s gone into Season 2? In Season 1, people let TheGrand Tour folks know very quickly and loudly on social media what they didn’t like. Killing off the guests was a disaster and “was as funny as a toothache,” according to Wilman. There was also a lack of consistency, as they had to travel around without a track. This time, the celebrities are back with something to do — drive on the track. There is also a lot of travelling in Season 2, more than before.

The show reaches a mixed audience across 242 TV territories and, at its peak, reveals a surprising male-to-female viewership ratio of 48:52. The presenters, Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, are a riot. When young kids watch the show, their families begin to watch too. The films are gorgeous and “the car stuff is not too heavy”. There is enough for everybody and the online car enthusiast following has grown tremendously.

The USP of TheGrand Tour is to keep the cars in focus, which Wilman reckons is not a challenge. The bigger challenge is to come up with ideas. “There are only so many places you can go, so many superlatives to be used. The broader audience always wants us to do crazy things. We have got to stick with being global,” states Wilman.


Co-host James May attends Amazon Studio's 'The Grand Tour' season two premiere screening and party at Duggal Greenhouse on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Co-host James May attends Amazon Studio's "The Grand Tour" season two premiere screening and party at Duggal Greenhouse on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)


The GT approach

In a separate interview with ex- Top Gear presenters Clarkson, May and Hammond, it’s evident that the celebrities are really who they are on the show. Their whacky sense of humour is infectious. They are unanimous in offering that Season 2 somehow felt better. It concentrates on taking people to exciting places they wouldn’t otherwise go.

Given Hammond’s craze for bikes, one would expect to see some of that come alive on the show. Quips Hammond, “Well, for one, the ape can’t ride one. And for another, people don’t speak the language of bike, people speak car.” The show is made with the awareness that TheGrand Tour’s viewers are not petrolheads. They are passionate about people and TheGrand Tour ’s unique approach is that journalistically, cars come to life only when you introduce people to the equation. “Is it about display, is it about social commentary, is it the industry or the environment — that’s what’s exciting,” says Hammond. So Hammond rides on his own time. “I am glad we don’t have bikes on the show because I don’t want to turn that into work,” he explains.

According to May, the raw ideas for the show come from everywhere. “Many ideas come from our researchers, colleagues, producers, sometimes viewers, and at times, children write in. If it’s a good idea, we thrash it out. If it’s a really good idea, we make it happen,” adds May. The decisions on places to visit depend on the stories. The core of the show is journalistic, so at the beginning of the year, the team sits down with a number of stories and decides which ones they should do. Will India feature any time soon then? “We would love to come to India. It’s chaotic and there are different rules — good rules, by the way. If you go with the flow and follow the rules, which is essentially ‘after me’, it actually works. It’s a big cultural shift, but a great place for us to visit!”

Looking back

Of the many memorable experiences (each episode takes 6 weeks to film), Clarkson recounts how they shut down Pau, in South West France. He throws in a rare ‘sorry’: “May I apologise profusely to the 140 residents of the city who were ticketed.” The city had been shut down for racing, so that the streets would be free for filming. The residents were given notice to move their cars. However, 140 people didn’t do so and had their cars towed away. They were fined €140! They started in Pau and drove down over the Pyrenees in an Aston Martin DB4 GT Lightweight.

Italy is another favourite for Clarkson. “I would refuse to do a series without doing one episode in Italy. Driving in Rome is one of the greatest pleasures in life. When the lights go green, it means the race has begun!” In Turin, they re-made the 1976 eight-minute film, Rendezvous, in a sense. They blasted through Turin in a Chiron. “It looks really good, fast, and wrong — to see a Chiron rip through a city at that speed through red lights. It’s a nice finish to that film.”

The trio’s love for travelling and motoring appears indefatigable. “What a fantastic way to see the world. That is the biggest privilege in all that we have done. We go to places and meet people in that context. We are not tourists and we are doing something. We meet people who fix cars, who can actually get us across a river. We meet people in their everyday avatar and hopefully that shines through,” concludes Hammond.

The Grand Tour, Series 2, airs new episodes on Amazon Prime Video every Friday, and premièred on December 8. The writer was invited to The Grand Tour Series 2 International Press Junket in London and Cotswolds

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