Britain divided as BBC suspends Top Gear star
The BBC suspends Jeremy Clarkson over allegations he punched a producer. Clarkson’s fans are demanding his reinstatement — but has the outspoken presenter taken things a step too far?
Jeremy Clarkson is the BBC’s highest-paid star. Top Gear, the programme he presents, is its most popular and profitable series, with an estimated audience of 350 million worldwide. But now the show’s future is in doubt — and it all started with a kerfuffle over catering.
On Wednesday evening, the BBC announced that it was suspending Clarkson over a ‘fracas’ in which he punched a BBC producer on the set of Top Gear. The remainder of the current season has been cancelled pending an investigation into Clarkson’s behaviour.
The news sent Britain into a frenzy. Nearly every national newspaper splashed the news across the next morning’s front page and a petition to ‘bring back Clarkson’ reached 500,000 signatures in a single day. But the man at the centre of the storm was less perturbed: ‘I’m having a nice cold beer and waiting for this to blow over,’ he said.
This is far from the first time that Clarkson has found himself at the centre of a national furore. As one journalist puts it, he ‘has built a lucrative career on walking on thin ice’.
Last year, the Top Gear team fled Argentina amid a flurry of angry protesters after using a car whose number plate appeared to mock the country for its defeat in the Falklands War. He has insulted a seemingly endless list of nationalities, from equating Germans with Nazis to labelling Mexicans ‘lazy and feckless’. His jokes have been attacked for sexism, racism and homophobia and gross insensitivity towards the mentally ill.
Clarkson was also given a ‘final warning’ last year after being filmed using a racist word. ‘I’ve been told by the BBC that if I make one more offensive remark I will be sacked’, he said.
Yet instead of bringing his downfall, each successive scandal has boosted Clarkson’s popularity. His fans see him as an outspoken maverick who dares to challenge ‘political correctness’ and defy the ‘liberal establishment’. In 2008, almost 50,000 of them even called for him to be made prime minister.
‘Jeremy Clarkson is a bastion of light in a dark PC world,’ says one signatory to this week’s petition. Many Top Gear fans agree: the world needs people who are willing to push the boundaries and say and do the things that others don’t dare. Without people like Clarkson to rock the boat, the world would be a place of colourless, well-behaved conformity.
Clarkson’s no hero, counter his liberal critics, but a bully whose mean-spirited gags are aimed at people too weak or marginalised to respond. There is a reason why people don’t mock the disabled, make racist jokes or punch their colleagues: because behaviour like that is harmful and cruel. If anybody else did such things, they’d be sacked — and so should he.
- Should Jeremy Clarkson be sacked?
- ‘The world needs irreverent mavericks who push the boundaries of what is acceptable to say and do.’ Do you agree?
- ‘Political correctness is just another term for being sensitive to other people’s feelings.’ Hold a class debate on this question and put it to a vote.
- Write a letter to the BBC expressing why you think, or don’t think, Clarkson should be dropped from Top Gear.
Some People Say...
“Jeremy Clarkson is a bastion of light in a dark PC world”‘Bring back Clarkson’ petition
What do you think?
Q & A
- What’s so great about being controversial, anti-establishment and non-conformist?
- People such as Clarkson — and UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage is another example — claim to give a voice to those who are unhappy with the way things are. But this is not necessarily the reality of the case. Clarkson has been criticised for his friendship with Prime Minister David Cameron, and often mocks those different and less powerful than himself.
- Surely there are more important things in the world than Clarkson?
- Yes, there are. And thankfully this was pointed out yesterday when the former chairman of the BBC was asked what he thought of Clarkson’s suspension. He said ‘Quite honestly, with what’s going on in the world and the choices facing the electorate, I’m not sure I care terribly.’
- Top Gear
- From its roots as a small show on regional TV, this weekly celebration of cars has grown into an enormous global franchise, including a popular magazine.
- From the Italian ‘fracassare’, which means to cause uproar. The word was most frequently used in 1945, but has drifted away from everyday language since then. The word often implies some kind of physical conflict — but not always.
- Falklands War
- The Falklands are a small group of Atlantic islands close to the Argentinian coast but ruled by Britain as a colony. Argentina claims that the islands are rightfully their territory, and in 1982 it invaded them. Britain retaliated by sending a naval force across the Atlantic and ten weeks of conflict ensued costing 1,000 lives. Britain ultimately reclaimed the islands and forced Argentina’s surrender.
- Political correctness
- This term refers to the social boundaries most of us adhere to in order not to offend, upset or alienate anyone. Political correctness was originally advocated by left-wing thinkers in the 1960s, but now the phrase is mostly used as a term of derision.