The Mail on Sunday has never been known for their subtlety. So today, they
that a BBC official has compared the current affair around Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
punching a member of the production team to the scandal surrounding long time
Top of the Pops presenter
Even though it is clear, even from the scandalising Mail report, that these statements do not imply,
that Clarkson might be a child molester, but that he has the same friendly relations to important
people in society than Savile had, backing his misdemanour, this statement, if it is true, does a
disservice to the BBC in this case.
Clarkson has been suspended, and Top Gear is off the air, because Clarkson allegedly has punched a
member of the production team on some disagreement over the catering during filming. His co-host
James May described the scene as “a bit of a dust-up”.
For the BBC this is a tricky situation: On one hand, Clarkson had a fair share of last warnings,
after several racist, misogynist and other remarks on and off screen. In 2011, he stated, that
striking public sector worker should be “shot dead in front of their families”.
This of course is something, that the BBC can hardly tolerate without beign torn apart by the public.
On the other hand: Top Gear is the most successful factual program the BBC has. It reaches a world
wide audience of a staggering 350 million people. Take DVD sales and merchendising into account,
and it’s a money making machine. And the BBC executives now, that the success is closely linked to
Clarkson. It’s -despite the popularity of his co-hosts- Clarkson’s show.
Clarkson of course, knows that all to well. So think he’s been so smug about the whole affair,
because he knows that the BBC doesn’t want to lose it’s flagship show. And it is hardly the first
time that Clarkson got physical. In 2004, he punched writer and journalist Piers Morgan
in the face.
Although the incident sparked a lot of media response, it didn’t lead to a public outcry, personally,
I believe, mostly because Morgan is not the most popular figure himself, so many people thought
Morgan deserved it.
When I was visiting the BBC Broadcasting house for a guided tour a few years ago, I asked a BBC
employee, what the BBC intended to do with the, then newly abandoned, Television Centre, other than
allowing Top Gear to use it as their private indoor race track.
The reaction I got wasn’t quite what I expected. The answer I got had nothing to do with the plans
for the Television Centre, but included the words Clarkson, arrogant and bastard in one sentence.
Obviously, this person had had the pleasure of meeting Mr, Clarkson on set. I thought it was best to
drop the topic.
So, Jeremy Clarkson is, at least at times, an unpleasant person on air as well as off air. And yet
a petition on change.org has nearly hit
it’s goal of 1 million supporters. Why is that?
Speaking from my own experience, I always enjoyed watching Top Gear, although I don’t have the
slightest interst in cars, especially not super cars. I think the car, as a status symbol is a
20th century thing, and no one needs a car with a thousand break horse power. But there is hardly
anything on British television, that is so beautifully filmed and composed as the racing shots in
Top Gear. Except for the nature documentaries filmed by David Attenborough and Alastair Fothergill
The film crew from Top Gear makes something as boring as the presentation of the newest hatchback
car actually look stunning!
More important though, is that Top Gear isn’t even about the cars. It’s about three men, who simply
refuse to grow up. And by acting like nine year olds, they throw all the conventions of our society
about what’s approprieate or not, overboard.
They play a role, they are the ancient petrol heads, living fossils left over from the 20th century,
including their macho-attitude and their buddy-charme. And this is why they are so popular: In this
role, they get to say all the things, we consider ourselves to civilised to say.
We live in a society in which social control is the norm. Maybe even more than in, say,
Victorian times, because every careless choice of words can be amplified through the internet,
even for people who aren’t in the limelight.
There also is a bigger sensitivity in most people for the feelings and sensitivities of others.
When it comes to race, gender or sexual orientation for example, that is a positive development.
But it also asks us, to restrain ourselves. But even if we are modern and enlightend people, who
truly believe in equality and the “green way”, we sometimes have these moments, where we want to
say something rude. Like when you stand on the platform, half an hour late, and waiting for the tube,
which wouldn’t come, because of the train drivers stike. Who never thought:
“God, can somebody please shoot them?” Of cause, we don’t want them shot in reality, and I think
most of us sympathise with their strike. But when all your plans blow up, because of a train not
arriving, you’d want to let of a little steam.
Jeremy Clarkson says all these things out loud. He says them, so we don’t have to. In this way,
he is like the jester in a medival court. He says the things, we don’t want to say, giving us the
guilty pleasure of breaking the rules. Not because we agree with the racist or misogynist things he
said, but because of the thrill it brings, if someone dared to say it. And, of course, then takes
the public beating for it.
And all this, so we can feel better about ourselves. In that sense figures like Jeremy Clarkson
play a vital role in our society. And, knowing this, I cannot feel offended by anything Clarkson
says, even though, given his history of misogynist and homophobic remarks, I’d have good
reason to be.
Hammond used to call Clarkson the “Orang-Utan” on the show. And would you be offended, if an
Orang-Utan gave you the finger? Exactly.
So the whole Clarkson affair is nothing like the Jimmy Savile affair. Savile was the exact opposite
of Jeremy Clarkson. As a public figure, he always tried to please everyone, and not to spark
controversy. He was the nice, funny guy, you’d like to have a pint with. The public outrage was as
big as it was, because people were disillusioned, when allegations surfaced, that in truth
he wasn’t the nice man, but had a vey dark side and he used the admiration that young people had
for him to exploit them.
Not only is Clarkson’s rudeness incomparable to sexually abusing minors, it is also as calculated as
the outcry that follows. The scandal is part of the show, and we all know that. And if Clarkson
leaves, society will find another whipping boy, who gets paid to take the beating.