Top Gear presenter James May was door-stepped by Sky News today and asked for his comments about Jeremy Clarkson’s sacking by the BBC. It is not easy to say the right thing when a microphone is shoved in your face, even if you are a seasoned broadcaster like May, so I don’t condemn him for calling the matter “a tragedy” which it most certainly was not. As May will I am sure acknowledge, a tragedy was yesterday’s plane crash in France, not the sacking of a multimillionaire polemicist from a TV show ostensibly about cars.
I’m sorry that the matter couldn’t be resolved without Clarkson being axed, but let’s face the facts: if you’d gone to work, physically attacked your boss and then launched into a volley of foul-mouthed abuse, how long do you think you’d last? In my last big job in the Civil Service, not very long. Expect Rupert Murdoch’s titles to pile into the BBC. After all, a weakened BBC is a BBC ripe for destroying; Murdoch’s main aim.
There is certainly a great deal of hypocrisy at work here. Remember when Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand carried out their “vile prank” on Andrew Sachs? Whatever the rights and wrongs of what they did, The Sun was at the forefront of trying to get them sacked. Strange how the same anger is not being directed at Clarkson. I am sure it is nothing to do with the fact that Clarkson writes a weekly column for the rag, as well as for Murdoch’s sister paper The Sunday Times. Both columns are the usual right wing bile, ranting against “political correctness” and anyone he deems left wing, which in his case is pretty well everyone except his pals in the Chipping Norton set.
And don’t give me all that crap about Clarkson’s anti-establishment credentials, which are about as inaccurate and simply wrong as those of Nigel Farage. Clarkson is at the heart of the establishment that controls so much of this country by way of his best friend the prime minister and his employer (Rupert Murdoch). In fact, he is regarded as such a vital part of the establishment that he was invited to Margaret Thatcher’s funeral. Forget his casual racism, his right wing rhetoric and his throwaway lines about hoping public sector workers all die: going to Thatcher’s funeral, that is a low. If I had been his employer, I’d have sacked him for that alone.
Will Top Gear survive without him? Frankly, who cares? Well, the hundreds of thousands of people who are not concerned about his violence to a producer for starters. And if that is the main concern in their lives, I suggest they get out more. If Top Gear does come back it will be with a clean sheet of paper and it will look very different from how it does now. It will need to build an audience, as Clarkson did over many years, and if it does, Clarkson will be forgotten. But what about the man himself?
Murdoch will surely overlook Clarkson’s misdemeanours if it means he can get a few more people to subscribe to his TV station and doubtless ITV and even Channel Four will try to build vehicles for him. I’m not sure if it will work. As I have said before, Clarkson is a one trick pony but it’s a very good trick. The question is this: would that trick be repeated on another channel or would a different broadcaster try and create a new format? The man has already been down the chat show format with no discernible success, I doubt that there is a market for him to spend peak time viewing hours railing against political correctness and left wingers, so all that’s left to him is cars, Son of Top Gear. If it’s ITV, then god help him. Many big stars and a lot of smaller ones have followed the money to ITV, they have bombed and never come back. Son of Top Gear on ITV with four commercial breaks in an hour sounds a recipe for disaster too. Hate the BBC all you like, but the production standards on Top Gear were top notch, except for those shown by the producer in the hotel, obviously. C4 is a backwater and Sky would guarantee Clarkson considerably lower viewing figures and, crucially to him, a massive loss of exposure and profile.
It’s an issue for the BBC but it’s also an issue for Clarkson. His future could really be the past and a large part of me feels little sympathy. Another man with enormous power, wealth beyond belief and friends in high places who believed he was untouchable and who finally over-reached.
I’m sorry he’s gone because Top Gear was at the top of its game in the current series, but you can’t hit people at work, or scream abuse to them, and expect to get away with it.