The new series of Chris Evans's new-look Top Gear has been caught up in more controversy amid claims "canned laughter" was inserted to cover up "awkward silences".

Recordings of hysterical laughter are said to have been inserted into the first episode by producers when the audience failed to laugh at jokes by new presenters Chris Evans and Matt LeBlanc.

Watch the first trailer for the all new season of Top Gear.

The first episode of the BBC's motoring series on May 29 was critically panned and drew in 4.4 million viewers- the lowest figures for a series debut in more than a decade.

It comes as leaked BBC audience data supposedly ranked the show as the "worst" on terrestrial television.

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Among the jokes that failed to raise a laugh was LeBlanc's gag about Top Gear and Lawrence of Arabia.

The 48-year-old said: "I don't know about you but I often lie awake in bed thinking when they approach Top Gear to remake Lawrence of Arabia, which they will, which car are we going to replace the camel with?"

A gag from Evans about Jeremy Clarkson and the fact the show will no longer be talking about "catering" appeared to leave the audience unimpressed.

The new series of Top Gear has been panned by critics. Photo / BBC
The new series of Top Gear has been panned by critics. Photo / BBC

According to The Sun, Evans even had to plead with the crowd during filming as they refused to laugh, telling them: "If you find things vaguely funny or you think they were supposed to be funny please laugh."

Fans of the show turned off as it attracted its lowest opening show viewing figures in a decade and was widely panned on social media.

The show drew 4.4 million viewers, with a peak of 4.7 million, while the last series with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May bowed out with 5.8 million viewers.

Evans said last week he would be "disappointed" if the show attracted under five million viewers.

"If we had to guess about the number of viewers we are going to get on Sunday night, you have got to say you would be disappointed if it was under five million. Five million-plus would be great, after that it doesn't matter," he said.

The first episode was rated by viewers as the worst programme on terrestrial television the weekend it aired, according to internal BBC audience data leaked to the Daily Telegraph.

The corporation is understood to have received 370 complaints about last Sunday's relaunch of Top Gear, prompting Evans to introduce a raft of changes to the motoring show, including dropping all jokes about the previous incarnation of the programme under Jeremy Clarkson.

BBC executives have been spooked by what one source at the corporation described as "catastrophic" viewer feedback.

Critics of Evans's first show said that the presenter appeared too shouty and excitable, with some complaining that the programme was a poor imitation of the series under Clarkson.

Evans claimed figures showed the Top Gear had officially been a hit, claiming it had taken 23 per cent of the audience share and that it was the most watched item on iPlayer.

He also hit out at critics and defended the show in a series of postings on Twitter.

He wrote: "The new Top Gear is a hit. OFFICIALLY. 23% audience share. 12% MORE than the opening episode of the last series. These are the FACTS."

The second episode of the new series, which aired on Sunday, was filmed before the corporation received the critical feedback.

However, the third episode contains a number of changes. Sources on the production said that Evans was noticeably less animated on screen.

A running joke at the end of the first two episodes, in which Evans shouts down a presenter who tries to utter Clarkson's traditional "and on that bombshell" sign-off, was also scrapped for the third episode.

A Top Gear spokesman defended the show against The Sun's story.

He said: "There were no awkward silences during filming as reported by The Sun newspaper which clearly has an agenda against the show.

"It's well known that Top Gear isn't a live programme and that the show is edited after filming, but last week's episode was edited in exactly the same way as previous series."

The BBC said all laughter is taken from the studio audience and no artificial laughter is used.