British television went through a revolution in the 1990s. Until then, one of the most rock ‘n’ roll shows on the box was “Top of The Pops”, which featured fake dancing and miming bands.
But in the early ’90s a raft of chaotic and unscripted live shows — including “The Word,” “TFI Friday,” and “Noel’s House Party” — began to supplant the tired, recorded, scripted fare that broadcasters tended to rely on.
It was in this febrile, anything goes environment that “Live Aid” organiser Sir Bob Geldof co-founded Planet 24, the production company that took “The Big Breakfast” to UK broadcaster Channel 4 in 1992.
An antidote to the sterile, sofa-based chat of other breakfast programmes at the time, the show was brash, anarchic and unpredictable: Its most-popular host, Chris Evans, once got hit with a snowball and stormed off during a live link. The comedian Lenny Henry broke his arm testing a mini motorbike on the show, and finished the broadcast with his arm in a sling.
But “The Big Breakfast’s” colourful history has caught up with Evans in recent weeks. He was accused of sexual harassment by a former colleague, and stories about him flashing have been splashed across the tabloid newspapers.
“He’d walk into a room naked”
Business Insider has spoken to ex-coworkers of Evans about the culture of the show and Planet 24 at the time. We reached out to Evans’ agent repeatedly, too, but our messages were not returned.
Some of Evan’s former coworkers said the environment allowed the presenter to regularly expose himself during production meetings. He once inserted a peanut up his bottom in front of set cameras (it wasn’t broadcast). Others, however, were nostalgic about how much fun they had working on the programme, and its wild atmosphere.
Carrot-topped motormouth Evans was a Radio 1 DJ when he signed up for “The Big Breakfast.” His antics alongside co-presenter Gaby Roslin made him a huge national star and he has rarely been out of the headlines since.
Indeed, since his ill-fated decision to succeed Jeremy Clarkson as the main host of BBC motoring show “Top Gear” last year, Evans has been haunted by stories from his past — the most serious of which come from his free-spirited days on “The Big Breakfast.”
He has been accused of sexual assault by a female ex-colleague. The former “Big Breakfast” crew member told News Corp-owned right-wing website Heat Street in May that Evans grabbed her breasts and regularly walked around naked. The complaint was forwarded to the police, who are now investigating.
“I have no idea if he was getting some gratification out of this, but he used to get his penis out every time I saw him. He’d either just get it out, or he’d walk into a room naked. Sometimes it was erect, sometimes it wasn’t,” the woman told Heat Street.
Others echoed her claims in Facebook posts. “I was subjected to that. Though for me it was more like a baby minnow helplessly flapping for life on a pile on beech leaves,” TV producer Nicola Gooch said while swapping stories about Evans on Facebook.
The presenter is expected to be questioned on an informal basis in the near future and Business Insider revealed on Tuesday that the police have approached other “Big Breakfast” producers who worked with the presenter as part of their enquiries.
Source: We regularly saw Chris Evans genitals
Business Insider has spoken to four producers who worked on “The Big Breakfast” during Evans’ tenure from 1992 to 1994. Two had firsthand experience of being flashed by Evans, while a third accused the presenter of regularly bullying junior staff.
One source said: “I never forget during 5 a.m. production meetings, before we went on air. Chris Evans would be sat there in his dressing gown and wouldn’t cover his modesty, so you would see his ginger nuts. It was always a bit unpleasant.”
A second former colleague of Evans added: “He would simply drop his towel during production briefings. There was a working bathtub in the ‘Big Breakfast’ house so it was very easy for him to be naked. His behaviour was really unusual and quite shocking, particularly if you were a young woman working on the show.”
Business Insider has put the allegations to Evans’ agent Michael Foster, but he has yet to respond to requests for comment.
Charlie Parsons, the cofounder of Planet 24 and “The Big Breakfast’s” executive producer, said: “I don’t really want to talk about that,” then put the phone down when we contacted him for a statement.
Channel 4 declined to comment, but a spokesman did make clear that the broadcaster has not been contacted by the police about the allegations surrounding Evans.
So how was Evans — who will continue to host his BBC Radio 2 breakfast show after quitting “Top Gear” this week — able to get away with this alleged behaviour? And why did no-one complain to Planet 24 bosses and Channel 4 at the time?
“The Big Breakfast” was filmed in a lock keepers’ cottage in East London. According to people who worked on the show in the early 1990s, it was a den of debauchery.
“The environment was permissive and very drunk. Everyone was doing coke. It was one big party and it was very wild,” said a third source, who wished to remain anonymous, but is now a senior figure in the British television industry.
Another added that “it was anarchic, loose, and live,” before recounting a story of the type of “banter” that was typical from Evans on the show.
“We were doing a Christmas tree report once in 1993. There was a camera left on and there was a bowl of nuts on the table. [Evans] shoved one up his backside and then unclenched his buttocks and it flew out.”
Both sources agreed that the atmosphere on the production helped legitimise Evans’ behaviour, and the show’s success made him virtually untouchable. “The flashing was a power thing. It was his way of saying: you can’t answer me back,” one explained.
The former crew member added: “People didn’t complain. It was a young company and people would be fearful of being sacked.”
This sentiment was echoed by another source: “Who were you going to complain to? You were either part of the gang or you weren’t.”
Former “Big Breakfast” producer: we made groundbreaking TV
In this respect, “The Big Breakfast” was very of its time. The 1990s antics at the lock keepers cottage would not be tolerated on modern television sets. Neither would Evans’ alleged flashing.
But one former Planet 24 producer took a different view. Tamsin Summers — who produced items for “The Big Breakfast” and “The Word,” another of the company’s cult hits for Channel 4 — said the environment was young and wild, but ultimately fulfilling.
“I would compare my time on the Big Breakfast to going to university. The production team was full of young people who spent a lot of time together,” said Summers, who now runs Bristol-based production company Drummer Television.
“I made lifelong friendships and have plenty of rock and roll stories, but in the end we produced groundbreaking television. It was tough and you had to deliver, but honestly, it was the best time of my career in television,” she said.