Will Top Gear and TFI Friday destroy BBC Radio 2?

Chris Evans was destroyed by TFI Friday's workload. It's back - with Top Gear. What now?

By James Cridland
Posted 17 June 2015, 12.57pm edt

Television is really hard work. Really hard work.

What's particularly hard is a weekly car show with long, highly-produced inserts. You need to travel places: Argentina, Japan, Australia, Italy; you need to work long hours, and do take after take. After the end of a long, hard day of filming, tempers can boil over:

“Everyone on Top Gear has been under increasing pressure because they are filming between shows and have an extended run of 12 shows without a break,” said an insider. “The person most under pressure is Jeremy [Clarkson], because he lives and breathes the programme. But he has been under increasing strain this year because of the non-stop workload.” — Daily Mirror

When Chris Evans started to present The Big Breakfast for Channel 4, he felt he couldn't devote the time to his BBC Radio 1 Sunday afternoon show; so he quit radio for the TV.

In 1995, when he joined BBC Radio 1, he specifically included a clause allowing him to work on television programmes. In January 1997, Evans decided he would demand Fridays off from his BBC Radio 1 Breakfast Show, so that he could prepare for TFI Friday. Radio 1 refused, and Evans quit radio for the TV.

Virgin Radio followed, from late 1997 to 2000. At first, the focus was with his radio show; then he bought the station, and then he slowly lost interest in that, too, as he continued to work on TFI Friday. Radio and TV ratings began to slump, he sold the station, and was eventually sacked from the breakfast show: quitting radio, and public life for a while.

The story of Evans at Radio 1 is a template for his approach to all his subsequent projects - an abundance of enthusiasm at the beginning which eventually falls prey to boredom and shiftlessness. — The Scotsman, 2003

Evans has been doing the BBC Radio 2 Breakfast show for five years. That's the longest he's ever been working on a project. It is a proper job, as anyone who's done radio presenting will tell you. It doesn't leave much time for other things.

But now, he's adding Top Gear to his list. Not just presenting - but as Executive Producer of the programme. That's even more work. Yet, both he and the radio station itself is keen to stress that he'll continue on BBC Radio 2, presenting the most listened-to radio show in the country. He doesn't need to; he's now one of the BBC's top earners. Some commentators have already noticed a change.

His recent TFI Friday tribute show - as many recognised - was half a show of brilliance, followed by half a show of tedium about cars and money: perhaps, now, the only two things that interest this happily-married, multi-millionaire. Top Gear is clearly the bright shiny thing captivating him right now; even enough to, oddly, dull the brilliance of TFI Friday's comeback.

Update: Madly, he's also just announced he's doing TFI Friday again, which is back for a new series. As if he didn't have enough to do.

So the question is how long he will keep putting in the effort for his BBC Radio 2 breakfast show. Given the choice of an exhilarating race in fast cars across the Australian outback, or a dreary morning in the desperately-unsexy Western House, it's clear that only the former will keep him creatively interested.

Chris Evans's history is one of a cycle of achievement followed by boredom and self-destruction. If we lose the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show, it would be a disaster for the station; and, by extension, for radio as a whole.

Please don't let that happen.

More information

James Cridland — James runs, and is a radio futurologist: a consultant, writer and public speaker who concentrates on the effect that new platforms and technology are having on the radio business. He also publishes a free daily newsletter about podcasting, Podnews, and a weekly radio trends newsletter.


6 years, 3 months ago

You might, or might not, enjoy this top-of-hour sequence from last week: I don't want to say I told you so, but...

6 years, 3 months ago

It'll all end in tears. He won't be able to help himself. The whole thing is a ticking time bomb. His ego won't be able to help itself.

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