Our best worst TV presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, has, in a rather predictable turn of events, become the centre of another controversy concerning appropriate conduct at the BBC, after supposedly punching a producer in a catering row. For the past ten years, the BBC have grown accustomed to clearing up Clarkson’s impulsive blunders and raging tantrums, whilst often facilitating his reckless behaviour. It would not be surprising if this cat’s nine lives are up with a catalogue of misdemeanours, but his scandals have always divided opinion as supporters encourage the offended to lighten up. It is difficult to determine where the BBC’s recklessness ends and where Clarkson’s begins with public outcry and Ofcom reports seldom resulting in serious consequences for, well, anyone. It seems that since Top Gear’s reboot in 2002, the show has exploited its unique immunity to responsible practice, pleasing Clarkson’s band of merry followers and provoking the regulatory fist-shakers. Repeated episodes of troubling slurs concerning race, sexuality and disability attest to his perpetual shelf-life as an indestructible BBC personality.
No Jezza, driving your Toyota Hilux into a tree in Somerset to determine its durability will not go unnoticed by Churchill Parish Council – a rather surreal incident in 2004 that resulted in £250 compensation from the apologetic Top Gear bosses. Clarkson’s use of offensive rhyming slang shamefully escaped the filtering of Top Gear’s production team, opting for the phrase “ginger beer” to allude to the supposed homosexual qualities of the Daihatsu Copen in 2006.
Drinking alcohol alongside co-presenter James May while driving, or “sailing”, over frozen water to the North Pole in The Top Gear: Polar Special caught the eye of the BBC Trust, stating that the program, “could be seen to glamorise the misuse of alcohol”. A Nazi-salute in 2005 when discussing the design of BMW’s Mini – with a sat-nav “that only goes to Poland” – naturally caused insult to the German government. With a growing international awareness of Clarkson as the BBC’s buffoon, it seems bizarre for his antics to not end there.
Complaints mounted in 2008, backed by Labour MP Chris Mole, as Clarkson jibbed during a lorry-driving challenge about lorry drivers murdering sex workers: “Change gear, change gear, check mirror, murder a prostitute, change gear, change gear, murder. That’s a lot of effort in a day.” Excusing the incident due to viewers’, “clear expectations of Jeremy Clarkson’s long established and frequently provocative on-screen persona”, it was evident that King Clarkson’s reign would continue.
Even when his comments have not made the final edit of the programme, his many Top Gear faux pas have not gone unnoticed. Insults aimed at Gordon Brown in 2009 during a pre-show warm-up made headlines, and insensitive homophobic remarks in 2010 were reported by guest Alastair Campbell. Further international censure flooded in after the 2011 Christmas special, in which Clarkson distastefully slighted Indian culture, and two months later, a comparison between a Japanese car/camper van hybrid and “people with growths on their faces” outraged UK charity Changing Faces.
In 2014, the Top Gear: Burma Special included another ethnic insult, and the Top Gear: Patagonia Special showed Clarkson driving through Argentina in an ‘unfortunate coincidence’ in a Porsche 928 under the license plate H982 FKL, with some locals believing this to allude to the 1982 Falklands War. The shy, retiring JC’s sweary rants, after being called out yet again for causing upset, don’t make him the poster child of remorse, yet he still has a backing of almost one million strong demanding to ‘Bring Back Clarkson’. Filmed at Thursday night’s Roundhouse Gala declaring that Top Gear “was a great show and they’ve f**ked it up”, it seems that a bitter Clarkson is far from taking responsibility for his actions.
Accountability is an important aspect of any on-screen profession. By permitting the continuation of his offensive behaviour, ‘persona’ or otherwise, the BBC has failed to protect viewers from a prejudice that they ought to be banishing to reinforce its unacceptability off camera. It would take a lot of forgiveness from the BBC to not treat Jezza’s misbehaviour as the final nail in his dismissal. Perhaps his careless outburst alludes to certain fate.
Photograph: Tony Harrison (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)