By John Stringer
I really likeTopGear, Jeremy Clarkson and James May (and the other good-looking one from The Monkeys). I watch it on rainy sunday afternoons, or with beer and dogs while Her WithinDoors is away and I have the man house to my rule-breaking self.
The three (plus The Stig) have a chemistry and a lad-ishness that gives me hope as a 50-something white flabby male. It’s either that, or take up Himalaya trekking and swimming. I’m not a petrol head, but once had a Jag (well, actually a Daimler Series ii , but everyone thinks it was an XJ6 and it’s made by Jag) and a 1939 Austin Minx (which I reminded everyone was born while Hitler was driving into Poland).
It was about the characters and the writing; May’s dry wit and Clarkson’s gorgeous turns of phrase. The three irresponsible petrol gurus take no prisoners, they are not beHOLDEN to corporate auto conglomerates who pay mega amounts to have their cars castigated and belittled. They are also passionate about driving, cars and on road awesomeness.
They’ve drawn millions like me, into a stupid car geek programme and made it thrilling, funny, entertaining, and made The Beeb millions (TopGear is their star programme). 12 seasons.
And so this debacle with Jeremy Clarkson, the tallest moai on this Easter Island, was like a very British spinster stoush unfolding on Coronation Street. Auntie Beeb and that tart Mrs Clarkson going at each other with handbags and hair nets. The Mirror reported Clarkson had made an “expletive-laden rant at a charity event” against BBC exec.s earlier in the week, later qualified as “meant in jest.”
But May was right, it was initially a fairly small private meltdown that became way bigger than it should have which was a “tragedy.” See here.
James May has done a series of on camera reactions from the front door of his modest Council-style flat (ya gotta love those Brit celebrities and their humble ‘ostentation’).
So initially I played this as a case of Political Correctness gone mad. Yes, there was the off camera ‘N’ bomb (which you can hear endlessly by any Black comedian and Rap artist over and over again, including in films) and the “slope” comment, which was obliquely racist but a really funny pun in the context of the sloping bridge. (Let’s be honest, EVERYONE does that behind closed doors; all human groups nick-name other groups).
But the Beeb – as May said on the clip – probably had their hands tied. It was not really about blokey Blokiness standing up to oppressive Stalinesque modernism that is hand wringing political correctness. No, it seems Jeremy is suffering from MANopause and went too far. As May says, “He’s a Nob.” The Sydney Morning Herald said he was a victim of his own behaviour. Brilliance and hubris; like that myth that all artists are manic depressives, their genius stalked by a converse.
But you have to give The BBC credit, they’ve handled this pretty well. Sure, it got away from them, but like a honed working-class British greyhound, they hauled in that runaway fluffy bunny and mouthed it several times. Tony Hall conducted a thorough investigation, and spoke to both parties about the incident. It was reported Clarkson had turned up at the producer’s house to make an apology, but was cold-shouldered.
Seems to me Clarkson was a bullying oaf; a 20 minute tirade of abuse against an innocent victim based on perceived elevated celebrity status and not getting special treatment (prima donna stuff) and then some sort of ‘handbagging’ incident. Various reports about a punch or not. Probably just some middle-aged man shuffling.
Reading Halls’ explanation (in full here below) you have to accept The Beebs position and actions. Clarkson is brilliant, loved by millions for his irreverence (note his Twitter count) and Britishcock a snoop, but was a bully and lost control. Tony Hall initially stepped in to delay an immediate sacking. Pproducer Oisin Tymon (opposite) was attacked and endured a sustained superiority tirade, in a work context. Unacceptable. Bullying is bullying, and no one should have to endure that, especially at work.
“First – The BBC is a broad church. Our strength in many ways lies in that diversity. We need distinctive and different voices but they cannot come at any price. Common to all at the BBC have to be standards of decency and respect. I cannot condone what has happened on this occasion. A member of staff – who is a completely innocent party – took himself to Accident and Emergency after a physical altercation accompanied by sustained and prolonged verbal abuse of an extreme nature. For me a line has been crossed. There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.
“Second – This has obviously been difficult for everyone involved but in particular for Oisin. I want to make clear that no blame attaches to him for this incident. He has behaved with huge integrity throughout. As a senior producer at the BBC he will continue to have an important role within the organisation in the future.
“Third – Obviously none of us wanted to find ourselves in this position. This decision should in no way detract from the extraordinary contribution that Jeremy Clarkson has made to the BBC. I have always personally been a great fan of his work and Top Gear. Jeremy is a huge talent. He may be leaving the BBC but I am sure he will continue to entertain, challenge and amuse audiences for many years to come.
“The BBC must now look to renew Top Gear for 2016. This will be a big challenge and there is no point in pretending otherwise. I have asked Kim Shillinglaw [Controller of BBC Two] to look at how best we might take this forward over the coming months. I have also asked her to look at how we put out the last programmes in the current series.”
Right result. Oisin Tymon will stay on, Clarkson has gone for unacceptable behaviour after a final written warning.
What next? Well, channels will be falling over one another to hire Clarkson for mega gazillions. Netflix is already a rumoured suitor. A successful rival may buy-up James May, Richard Hammond lock stock and barrel and parallel a similar show, or something new. The fans will slide and wheel burn over, and it will make the new company tonnes of money. But they’ll have to pay high, as Hammond and May also have other BBC shows they are involved with.
And I suspect Hammond and May without Clarkson will not work, like The Two Ronnieswithout sexual innuendo. But I hope they all work together to complete a successful 2015 series, perhaps with a funny focus on Clarkson’s departure. That would have class.
I like Clarkson, we need brigands like him, irreverent, Churchillian bulwarks against namby pamby, metrosexual hand-creamy politically correct 1984-ness. They give us hope. Clarkson is a kind of Beowulf epic hero, clad in furs with a dripping metaphoric battle axe of wit, double entendres and scathing put-downs.
So, Clarkson has been bumped on a pedestrian crossing and rushed to ER, where he’ll revive, arise as an anti-Beeb phoenix albeit somewhat shattered on a fast ferrari windscreen, and get paid even more. And as admirer Tony Hall director general of the BBC admits, “continue to entertain, challenge and amuse audiences for many years to come.” Like a revered but slightly naughty vintage classic that leaves too much oil on your driveway.
This was a very British debacle. The issues were all traversed through the tabloids, no one got too hand-wringy, the issues got put, there was perspective, and values, and a hard call (worth several gazillion to the BBC) taken in the interests of fairness, equal treatment. We got an actual outcome (Clarkson got sacked) , the victim was reassured and cemented in his employment (as the innocent in all this, he was). Clarkson was cut adrift with respect and acknowledgement today to slew new speedways, but without covering up or failing to acknowledge his offending Nob-ishness.
We await the next lap with petrol-heady expectation.
~ John Stringer