Going back to your roots can often be a grounding experience. In the case of The Grand Tour and presenters Jeremy Clarkson Richard Hammond, and James May, it was more a case of grounded.
A show accustomed to far-flung filming locations, courtesy of Covid, all storylines involving international travel – some of which had already been set in motion – were shelved, indefinitely.
“We were supposed to go to Russia to shoot another big, movie length, faraway place,” says The Grand Tour’s producer, Andy Wilman, 58, of the timing of lockdown.
“Obviously, next thing we know, we’re all queuing for flour outside Waitrose.”
With the show’s grandiose plans and unpredictable antics suddenly restricted for the first time, Covid resulted in the much-loved series taking a well earned staycation.
Swapping the Soviet Union for the Highlands, The Grand Tour: Lochdown special saw the presenters adopting something of a ‘back to basics’ attitude.
Describing the forthcoming “mini special” as “an unplugged album”, Clarkson, 61, says it’s a change of pace that “some people might quite like”.
“People have been saying that my farming programme – because it’s so gentle and down to earth and local – is better for it. So maybe they’ll think the same of this Grand Tour,” notes the presenter, nodding to his recent Amazon Prime series, Clarkson’s Farm.
The album analogy is one seconded by Wilman, who says the forthcoming special has a distinct “charm” and “warmth” to it.
“They dug deep,” notes the producer, affectionately known on-screen as ‘Mr Wilman’, of the presenting trio.
“It’s like a band who’s got all the time in the world, and all the producers they [could] ever want, and all the studios in the world to make an album, suddenly being thrown into the first studio they were ever in when they started out – and they’ve got 10 days.
“And then they make the best album, because in those conditions, you just dig deeper.”
With the mischievous trio itching for an adventure, the special sees them set out to answer what might be the greatest question of all: given the classic US cars dominating the TV shows of their childhood, why did the classic 70s American automobiles never take off in Britain?
Stepping up to the plate with an iconic Cadillac Coupe De Ville as driven by Elvis, a Lincoln Continental as driven by Dallas’ Jock Ewing, and a Buick Riviera as piloted by Clint Eastwood, the three hosts take on the Highlands (and lowlands) of Scotland in true Grand Tour fashion.
“Something happens when we three work together,” says Hammond, 51, of the trio’s chemistry.
“I remember in the special we just made in Scotland, Jeremy saying, ‘This is weird, when I go away on my own, caravans don’t suddenly become disconnected from cars, boats don’t sink, car wheels don’t just jam up and stop all of a sudden. None of that happens’.
“And it doesn’t to me either and it doesn’t to James – we go about our lives in a normal fashion. But when we’re all three together, everything goes wrong,” smirks the presenter.
With the Lochdown special encompassing more than simply four-wheeled modes of transport, Hammond’s voyage into treacherous waters is likely to leave audiences with a bit of a sinking feeling.
“I’m really rubbish with boats,” declares Hammond, ”it’s not the first time I’ve proven that.
“But I proved it again – I completely unexpectedly sank a boat… When things go wrong like that for most shows, it would have been a disaster. There would have been a real sense of panic on the set, of ‘Oh my God, he sank the boat! What now?’
“Whereas before I’d even hit the freezing cold water, I realised, ‘Oh, it’s brilliant! The boat is sinking!’ It’s one of the better things we did by accident.”
Describing Hammond’s disastrous mode of transport as “sort of posh caravan”, fellow presenter May, 58, goes on to elaborate that “when I say posh, I really mean expensive.
“It floats but it’s still a caravan with a tiny kitchen and cramped beds. But somehow boating is glamorous and a caravan is just rubbish.”
An adventure that sees the trio venture to some of the country’s most picturesque locations, Clarkson notes that Covid was quick to dampen the usual perks served up by such a trip.
Recalling he was “a bit sad” when a day off in Aviemore turned into a case of remote sightseeing from his hotel window, the presenter says he “just had to sit in the hotel room for 24 hours” instead.
“In the big scheme of things, that wasn’t the end of the world,” says Clarkson.
According to Wilman, the presenter’s fear of contracting Covid was only exacerbated by a lifetime of smoking.
“Jeremy was – and he’d be the first one to admit it – a bit nervous,” says Wilman, describing the presenter as having smoked “three quarters of a million fags” in his lifetime.
“Jeremy, ever the optimist, was going, ‘we’ll never get there, we’ll never get there’” smirks Wilman of the run-up to the shoot.
“The context of all that was that Amazon has these protocols for filming in Covid times – as you can imagine, because they come from the west coast [of America], you could fill a phone book with them.
Referencing the now infamous audio recording of Tom Cruise shouting on the set of Mission Impossible 7 after a crew member was seen breaking Covid protocols, Wilman says his initial reaction to the footage was “good on you”.
“Everyone in the film industry thought ‘good on you’ for that, because he had to do what needed doing.
“If somebody’s a numpty, then the chain reaction just wipes out a production.”
The Grand Tour Presents: Lochdown will launch Friday, July 30, on Amazon Prime Video