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Clarkson Revisited

Clarkson Revisited

26 March 2015 | Lloyd Hughes

There’s been an unseemly to do around the ‘letting go’ of Jeremy Clarkson. His suspension a few weeks ago after apparently punching a Top Gear producer elicited a petition of one million signatures calling for his reinstatement.

That’s the same number that felt compelled to call for the reprieve of a Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy and 200,000 more than the number that signed to call for the release of an Iranian woman imprisoned for attending a volleyball match.

It’s depressing to think that people are more motivated by an interruption to their Sunday night television viewing schedule than they are by the prospect of an actual death.

I enjoy Top Gear, watching it occasionally, and also quite like Clarkson. But I didn’t feel the need to sign the petition. If you verbally abuse somebody in the workplace and then proceed to attack them, you can generally expect to be sacked, regardless as to what you do for a living. Just because people like you, shouldn’t make you an exception to the rule. And Clarkson didn’t get sacked. The BBC simply chose not to renew his contract.

This furore does shine an intense spotlight on the BBC though. From a PR related press point of view there’s a 50/50 split on whether it's sunshine or shadow. Left wing media outlets, generally not being fans of Clarkson, are more likely to praise his departure (delighting in pointing out his past indiscretions), with the more right leaning offering up a lament.

The BBC, apart from taking an inordinate amount of time to process its decision, has actually handled it fairly well. The lack of a definite sacking (although failing to renew the contract pretty much amounts to the same thing) means that they haven’t exactly pissed all over the sentiments of a million licence fee payers.

The organisation has expressed its regret, releasing details of the incident that demonstrate its hands were tied (a 30 second assault before onlookers intervened apparently), whilst also ridding themselves of a persistent embarrassment. The BBC takes an officially impartial stance, but there’s more than a little evidence to indicate its liberal leanings, so I’m sure that many within its ranks will be pleased to see the back of a conservative petrol head with a penchant for saying the wrong thing.

Of course it will miss the money generated by Top Gear, which has been phenomenally successful. And no doubt a rival will snap Clarkson up producing a show called Fifth Ge…ah, that already happened with Quentin Willson. Something along those lines anyway. It remains to be seen if they can get a new frontman (or person as the BBC would say) at the helm, or if James May and Richard Hammond will jump ship with Clarkson and head for new horizons.

I saw on social media yesterday that somebody tried to liken the incident to John Prescott punching a protester who threw an egg at him (“And he didn’t get sacked!”), however I couldn’t help but feel that in this case Clarkson would probably have welcomed an egg. It would probably have complemented his steak nicely. But that support aside, social media has never been a fan of Clarkson (PR week article here), so the BBC won’t see too much opprobrium there. But whilst social media is both especially vocal and left leaning, there’s no denying the powerful sentiment of a million signature strong petition. The BBC must be aware that it risks alienating a large proportion of licence fee payers, so has had to be delicate in its approach. However there’s no escaping the fact that punching someone because you’re hungry isn’t really acceptable.

The BBC has been very much damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t in this instance. It’s probably grateful that the account of the confrontation is so damning for Clarkson. In the wake of the Savile scandal (I am by no way comparing you with Savile, Jeremy, if you’re reading this and feel the need to take a swing for me), it can’t really be seen to be letting its top stars get away with anything untoward without some sort of reprimand. With Clarkson on his ‘last warning’ anyway, the outcome appeared inevitable regardless as to what the show’s viewers wanted or the commercial interests of the BBC.

I just wish people would care more about things that actually matter.

One final aside, Edinburgh police tried to jump on the Clarkson/Zayn leaving one direction newsfest (seriously he’s gone!) this morning by promoting the search for new recruits on Twitter using a picture of the pair and the line ‘LOOKING FOR A NEW JOB?’. Social media users were quick to lambast the account for looking to recruit a ‘racist bully who assaulted a junior colleague’. Perfect police material? An apology swiftly followed. Move along, nothing to see here.