Clarkson: Yorkshire hotels, dales and lightening conductors

The saga of Jeremy Clarkson’s “fracas” in a Yorkshire hotel seems to be dying down temporarily no doubt to rise again after the BBC makes its decision. It is important not to prejudge what did or did not happen and wait for an investigation result. That said I am always somewhat dubious about any organisation’s internal disciplinary proceedings as all too often the outcome is decided long before any evidence is even gathered and is only partially related to the incident in question.

Clarkson’s tenure at the BBC and what it says about the BBC is perhaps somewhat more interesting.

Jeremy Clarkson was a motoring journalist on a relatively serious car magazine by the name of Performance Car. He then left to join the deeply dull old BBC Top Gear programme. His contributions were arguably the most interesting but it did not prevent the programme from being scrapped. Incidentally Performance Car later morphed into a sort of almost soft porn magazine complete with adverts for car accessories complete with scantily clad women before dying out itself.

Clarkson then went with a friend to the BBC and proposed a new programme (also called Top Gear) but the similarities between new and old Top Gear are limited.

Clarkson is a no longer really a motoring journalist: even at first he was less specifically a motoring journalist than many. For serious experts on cars a previous generation had LJK Setright who happily quoted literature whilst writing about cars very well (if somewhat pretentiously). The journalists from Performance Car largely moved to a new title called Evo set up by Harrison Metcalfe a wealthy farmer and car enthusiast who was also an extremely good motoring and even motor industry journalist. Metcalfe eventually moved on to a job with Jaguar Land Rover. Currently for serious if fun motoring journalists one has a number mainly online such as Chris Harris (who incidentally is usually to be seen with a copy of the Guardian in his cars).

Clarkson as noted above whatever his talent for writing about cars is more a general amusing polemicist rather than a writer about cars: his Sun and Times columns have little enough to do with cars these days. Equally Top Gear is in many ways no longer a car programme but rather a sit com about three men making car programmes. Clearly cars feature but to regard it, as a car show is a bit like regarding Last of the Summer Wine as a programme about the Yorkshire Dales.

Clarkson is said to be the creative talent behind this outrageously commercially successful show but he is also one of the actors. His character is the posh yet loud mouthed, politically incorrect one: a combination of Compo and Foggy to continue the Last of the Summer Wine analogy.

The question is always to what extent the Clarkson of Top Gear: right wing, politically incorrect etc. is the Clarkson of reality and to what extent the television show requires him to be himself or act other than himself. To an extent one could see him as a bit like Kim Kardashian who appears to be an actress who plays only one person: Kim Kardashian. To what extent the person portrayed in the “reality show” is actually the real person is debatable. With the likes of Sasha Baron Cohen one can see a clear creative talent creating ludicrous spoof people: even when interviewed Cohen usually remains in character. With Clarkson (and Kardashian) it is unclear where the reality ends and the character begins.

The problem is that the character Clarkson plays is in many ways the antithesis of what the BBC is perceived as: too white, posh and middle class certainly but also liberal and intellectual. Clarkson’s character arouses the ire of many liberals with the likes of the Guardianistas hating him and it would seem many in the BBC wishing to see the back of him.

This creates problems for the BBC which have been dwelt on in some detail. Top Gear generates many millions for the BBC: it is by far their most successful export being watched in many different countries. That creates a dilemma for the BBC: Top Gear and Clarkson may be offensive to many a liberal sensibility and may not really be what the BBC sees itself as about but it does generate the money. If they sack Clarkson there is a high chance that their product (Top Gear) will be highly even terminally devalued. There is also the suggestion that Clarkson is considering jumping ship to front a very similar show on another broadcaster.

There is also a further problem which few seem to have picked up on. Clarkson is clearly highly popular within the UK. He (or at least the character he plays) appeals to an upper working and middle class largely male demographic who dislike liberals and political correctness and feel they should be allowed to say a great deal more of what they mean. If the BBC were to get rid of Clarkson that would feed into the standard right wing critique of the BBC that they are a metropolitan elite out of touch with much of the UK yet paid for (very handsomely – Clarkson as well) by a poll tax for non payment of which poor people are routinely sent to gaol.

As such getting rid of Clarkson not only could cost money but could help further increase the claim that the BBC are out of touch and irrelevant and as such should not be allowed to extort the public for money for their own Byzantine empire.

Finally the Clarkson spat presented an excellent distraction from the call by Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, for the resignation Rona Fairhead, chair of the BBC Trust. Hodge suggested that Fairhead was “Either naive or totally incompetent,” in her role as a non executive director of HSBC and a such should resign from the BBC Trust.

Clarkson then has proved a useful money spinner for the BBC (and clearly himself) and a useful lightening conductor to deflect criticism: whether he now goes may be as much about that as whatever happened in a hotel in Yorkshire.

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  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I find it alarming that it’s even newsworthy: “MAN WITH KNOWN TEMPER PUNCHES MAN AND SAYS SOMETHING UNPLEASANT”.

    As Turgon alluded to (I think, apologies if I’ve misinterpreted the author) Clarkson strikes a chord with a certain demographic, to remove him is to further silence and alienate them.

    Many people have been disappointed to find that royal invitations for dinner involve Prince Philip in an apron cooking bangers.

    That implies that the same people (including socialists) had imagined a regency era style feast but were crushed when the royals adhered to frugal norms that we have called for.

    Should we then be annoyed that a character that we the public have helped to sculpt reacts in exactly the way we expect him to?

    It’s a non-story.

    Let rock bands destroy hotel rooms, let footballers be ignorant wife beaters (joking), let property developers develop cocaine habits and buy small helicopters, let Jeremy Clarkson be the caricature that we expect him to be.

  • sk

    If I punch a coworker, I lose my job. Simples.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Brilliant observations on middle england’s views on their televisual treasure. His nonchalant arrogance is mirrored by those mediacrats who think they’ve got their finger on the pulse of the nation. There may only be one of him but he’s good with his fists.

  • Sir Rantsalot

    He should get some legal penalty. Maybe some type of community service. But its not something to lose your job over. Who hasn’t punched somebody and then gone into work on Monday morning? !!! … Certainly many MLAs have done worse in their lives and are still employed. Saying nothing about what MPs have done !

  • Practically_Family

    If all is as represented and he hit someone because he didn’t get the dinner he wanted. A P45 and assault charges are required.

    He’s really quite boring.

  • Jerermy Clarkson lives in Oxfordshire, in the countryside near to David Cameron and Rebecca Brooks. None of them are men of the people in their relations with neighbours, but arrogant squires looking down on the peasants who dare cross their path. So the character he plays is somewhat toned down from the parvenu he is.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    In keeping with your summary, that would make Clarkson the son of peasants. Tea cosy selling peasants, but hardly royalty. He has humble origins, though he might not sing about them.

  • Granni Trixie

    According to the newspapers the man in question allegedly used racist terms when speakng to the man he is alleged to have punched. How can the bbc turn a blind eye – they have to stop treating this man as exceptional (for he has form).

    Btw happy to report I have never knowingly watched TG only touched on it by accident when flicking through channels.

  • Mirrorballman

    A lot of people defending Clarkson on this and demanding the BBC bring him back. If they did so they would send a message to all non ‘star’ employees of that organisation that if a star takes liberties with them then not to bother reporting it as no action will be taken against anyone who makes the BBC money.
    Isn’t that quite like situation with the past BBC stars taking liberties with other employees, who felt for years they couldn’t speak up as no one would care or believe them?
    I like Clarkson and find him generally entertaining however he must be sacked for this. No ifs, no buts!

  • Granni Trixie

    There is ofcourse no wrongdoing in referring to someone as Irish but calling (allegedly) a younger,lower rank g colleague “stupid Irish” is bullying by humiliation in my book – an abuse of power. If they let him off with such grossly bad behaviour who knows what is going on under the radar/bonnet?

  • Granni Trixie

    Oops meant to say also:stereotyping a whole people as stupid is racism

  • Zig70

    For you and me, assault and racist comments should warrant a visit from the police, on top of the job loss.