Radio host Evans to helm Top Gear


London - Broadcaster Chris Evans will replace Jeremy Clarkson as lead presenter of the BBC's hit motoring show Top Gear, the corporation announced on Tuesday.

Evans, 49, signed a three-year deal to present the world's most popular factual TV programme and announced that Clarkson's former co-presenters, James May and Richard Hammond, would not be returning, after months of speculation.

Clarkson, 55, was dropped from the madcap Top Gear programme, which has 350 million viewers a week in 170 countries, after he punched a producer in the face in March.

A BBC spokesman said Evans' co-presenters would be announced "in due course", with production of the new series starting in the next few weeks.

"I'm thrilled," said Evans. "Top Gear is my favourite programme of all time, created by a host of brilliant minds who love cars and understand how to make the massively complicated come across as fun, devil-may-care and effortless.

"Of course, it's anything but and that's the genius of Top Gear's global success. I promise I will do everything I possibly can to respect what has gone on before and take the show forward."

The motoring enthusiast has an impressive collection of expensive fast cars, including rare Ferraris. Top Gear, filled with stunts, road tests, adventures and experiments, has featured his car collection in a previous series.

He will continue as host of BBC Radio 2's The Chris Evans Breakfast Show - considered the biggest job in British radio.

Clarkson's contract was not renewed after an internal BBC probe found he physically attacked producer Oisin Tymon following a lengthy verbal tirade. He is caricatured by fans as a straight- talking man- of-the-people and by detractors as a boorish bigot.

More than a million people signed a petition calling for him to be reinstated.

An extended farewell episode featuring some of the final footage shot with Clarkson, May and Hammond will screen later this month.

May, 52, tweeted his best wishes. "Well: best of luck to @achrisevans and the future of Top Gear (b. 1977). That's a ballsy call, frankly, and to be admired," he wrote.

Ms Kim Shillinglaw, controller of the BBC Two channel, said she was "delighted" that Evans would be taking the show forward. "His knowledge of and passion for cars are well-known and combined with his sheer inventiveness and cheeky unpredictability, he is the perfect choice to take our much-loved show into the future," she said.

Evans rocketed to fame as a fresh-faced TV host in the early 1990s, but went off the rails in a bout of heavy drinking in the dying days of the Britpop era, including some notorious benders with troubled England footballer Paul Gascoigne.

But he made a comeback as an older, wiser and safer broadcaster.

Agence France-Presse