Chris Evans has apologised “unreservedly” after scenes for the new Top Gear series were filmed near the Cenotaph war memorial, adding that the footage was “disrespectful” and should not be broadcast.
Host Matt LeBlanc was seen driving around Westminster in central London as shooting took place for the new series of the BBC2 show, which is due to air in May, and photos show large tyre circles left on streets surrounding the war memorial after the stunt.
Speaking on his BBC Radio 2 show, Evans said he “completely understood the furore” around the photographs and admitted it had been “unwise” to film anywhere near the Cenotaph.
He said: “It doesn’t matter what actually happened, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances were that could explain this away, what is important about this is what these images look like and they look entirely disrespectful which is not and would never be the intention of the Top Gear team or Matt (LeBlanc).
“On behalf of the Top Gear team and Matt, I would like to apologise unreservedly for what these images seem to portray.
“There have been some very incendiary comments written alongside these pictures and I completely understand this furore but the Top Gear team would never ever do that.
Evans said LeBlanc had been filming in a car called the Hoonicorn alongside racing driver Ken Block and filming could continue on Monday and Tuesday.
Speaking outside the BBC on Monday, Evans described the images as “terrible”.
“They look so disrespectful,” he said before adding that there are “mitigating circumstances”.
He continued: “I saw the images this morning for the first time and I felt the same as everybody else.”
In response to a question as to whether it reflected positively on Top Gear, he said: “This is not a good story, no.”
“We’re all mortified by it, so absolutely, 100%, it should not be shown.”
Evans admitted he does not have the final say over the fate of the footage.
“But if it was my decision, then I would say, that particular scene shouldn’t be shown and I think everyone will agree,” he said.
The stunt has been described as “gravely disrespectful” by retired Colonel Richard Kemp.
He told the Telegraph: “This is a sacred tribute to millions of people who have done far more for their country than Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc ever will.”
He added: “Jeremy Clarkson was certainly no saint but I don’t believe he would have ever performed a stunt in such bad taste.”
On Sunday, Top Gear bosses defended the show.
A spokesman for Top Gear said images taken by paparazzi made it look like the filming took place closer than it did in reality. He said all scenes were shot around 40 metres away from the memorial.
He said: “The filming took place a respectful distance away from the Cenotaph and it was all agreed with Westminster council in advance.”
Earlier on Sunday, the chancellor, George Osborne, scolded LeBlanc’s fellow host Chris Evans for making a racket near Downing Street and distracting him from writing the budget.
He tweeted: “Trying to write my Budget, despite noisy episode of @BBC_TopGear being filmed outside on Horseguards Parade. Keep it down please @achrisevans.
The budget is due to be delivered on Wednesday.
On Saturday, Top Gear host Matt LeBlanc and professional rally driver Ken Block surprised a bride and groom and their wedding guests at St Paul’s cathedral as they motored past, with the former Friends star sticking his arm out of the car window to wave.
A seven-strong lineup for the new series of the motoring show includes LeBlanc, Evans and Top Gear stalwart The Stig.
Also on board are Formula 1 commentator Eddie Jordan, German racing driver Sabine Schmitz, motoring journalist Chris Harris and car reviewer Rory Reid.