Matt LeBlanc has had his first taste of Top Gear controversy.
The former Friends star — together with the BBC's revamped motoring show — was branded "gravely disrespectful" by a retired British colonel after paparazzi images appeared to show him performing stunts near one of London's most famous war memorials, leaving large tire marks on the nearby streets.
Top Gear bosses defended the show, claiming that the photos looked like the shoot happened closer to The Cenotaph, a WWI memorial in the central London district of Whitehall, but that filming had actually taken place "a respectful distance away" and had all been arranged with the local council.
"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," said former army colonel Richard Kemp, speaking to U.K. newspaper The Daily Telegraph. "Jeremy Clarkson was certainly no saint but I don’t believe he would have ever performed a stunt in such bad taste."
On Monday co-host Chris Evans used his BBC radio show to apologize "unreservedly" for the incident, saying that he "completely understood the furor" it had caused, however close the filming had actually been to the memorial.
"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)," he said. “On behalf of the Top Gear team and Matt, I would like to apologize unreservedly for what these images seem to portray."
Evans later said that the footage shot near the memorial "should not be shown" when the series is aired, although he admitted he didn't have final say.
Despite the incident, the new-look Top Gear — which is set to launch in May in the U.K. on the BBC and BBC America in the U.S. — will still have to go some way if it is to match the levels of controversy achieved by its former hosts Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond.
In their last few years at the helm, the former Top Gear team was, among numerous incidents, forced to flee Argentina after using number plates that seemed to refer to the Falklands War and faced severe backlash after footage showed Clarkson appearing to use the N-word. The BBC eventually dropped the host — who is soon set to unveil his new show with Amazon — after he punched a producer.