The belly of the beast


(c) Daily Telegraph


If the first rule of journalism is that you should never become the story, then I feel sorry for those headline-writers at the BBC news website who today had to break the news on their main page that their venerable employer had just suspended one of its most popular and lucrative presenters – Jeremy Clarkson, the mainstay of the BBC’s watched-in-170-countries, enjoyed-by-350-million-viewers-worldwide, generating-£50-million-per-annum motoring show, Top Gear.  Mind you, Clarkson’s suspension was such big news that the BBC couldn’t not have reported it.  At the moment I’m in India — a country about which Clarkson once famously said everyone “gets the trots” when they visit it — and it was one of the top stories emblazoned across MSN India’s home page today too.


According to rumours (which both Clarkson and the BBC have yet to verify), the 54-year-old presenter was doing location filming in Newcastle last week when, first, he took umbrage at the lack of hot food provided by the show’s caterers; and, second, he took a swing at one of the show’s producers.


Now maybe I’m just a strange misfit, but I really don’t see the great fascination that Top Gear holds for many people, and especially for people who fit my profile, i.e. blokes in their middle years.  In fact, any time I watch Top Gear I feel embarrassed.  I feel particularly embarrassed by the antics of Clarkson, who also happens to be a bloke in his middle years.  God, I think, is Clarkson what those 350-odd-million viewers around the world imagine middle-aged British men are like?


I’m not like that.  I would never want to be like that.  Not like Clarkson with his crappy stonewashed blue jeans, and his crappy big beer-paunch, and his crappy scraggy grey hair, and his crappy saggy don’t-give-a-f**k-about-anything expression.  And his crappy would-be-rebellious political incorrectness (“Slopes!  Lazy Mexicans!  One-eyed Scottish idiots!” etc.), and his crappy reactionary right-wing politics (“Execute those strikers in front of their families!”), and his crappy tedious middle-aged mates (Top Gear co-presenters James May and Richard Hammond and that dorky neighbour of his in Chipping Norton, David Cameron).  Oh, and I bet he has crappy taste in music as well – he’s probably into stadium-era Pink Floyd and other pompous progressive-rock dross from the mid-1970s.  In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a less flattering representative of British manhood in the 40-to-60 age range, apart perhaps from Stephen Wright (56), the Suffolk prostitute-strangler, or Stephen Griffiths (45), the Bradford ‘Crossbow Cannibal’.


(c) The Guardian


Actually, if this allegation against Clarkson is upheld, it’ll be fascinating to see what action, if any, the BBC takes.  Will it do what any normal employer would do when faced with an employee who’s just assaulted a colleague, and show him the door?  Or will the thought of those 50-million-smackeroonis-a-year prove too alluring for the old corporation?  Will it let him off with a mealy-mouthed warning and then hurry him back to the business of making it, and himself, tanker-loads of money?  Which would reinforce the message – sadly commonplace in modern Britain – that if you have enough dough behind you, you can get away with doing anything.


I suspect there are some in the BBC who’d like to retain Clarkson because they believe he proves the corporation’s many right-wing critics (politicians, commentators, newspapers) wrong.  With Clarkson — who’s an unashamed petrol-head and who seemingly shares his politics with Attila the Hun — on board, the BBC can’t be as those critics claim it is.  It can’t be entirely a hotbed of trendy-lefty, tree-hugging, nauseatingly politically-correct, Guardian-reading pinkoes.  But Clarkson’s presence has never prevented the BBC from being attacked for that in the past.  The right-wing website Guido Fawkes has just launched a petition to get Clarkson reinstated, to which 400,000 people have already added their names; but I’m sure that Guido Fawkes and many of its petition-signatories have reviled the BBC before and will revile it again for its supposed wishy-washy liberalism, whether Clarkson and Top Gear appear on it or not.


I think the BBC, as a publicly funded organisation, should just let Clarkson go.  Indeed, they should have jettisoned him long before.  For years Clarkson has pushed the envelope with his un-PC babblings, upsetting folk from different places, groups and ethnicities – folk who often live in the UK and have to fork out money every year for the BBC licence fee.  But why should they be obliged to pay that money to fund a broadcaster whose most visible star is someone who takes seemingly-limitless glee in slagging them off: Asians, blacks, Scots, Liverpudlians, people with special needs, and so on?


If he ends up working for a private broadcaster, fine.  If its subscribers and advertisers want to shell out cash to keep him onscreen being a knob-end and keep him in the lavish lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed, that’s their business.  I’m sure there’s a huge audience who worship their defiantly un-PC hero so much that they’ll still tune in to hear his wit and wisdom, no matter how costly the subscription fee and how different the format of his future programmes are from that of the much-loved Top Gear.  Win-win all round, I’d say.


Actually, the perfect place for Clarkson to end up would be on Rupert Murdoch’s barmy right-wing American outlet, Fox News.  I’m sure the likes of Bill O’Reilly would be delighted to have Clarkson join the team.  No doubt they’d regard him as a fine, upstanding paragon of sophistication, manners and good taste from Merrie Olde England, and one blessed with an intellect to rival that of Stephen Hawking in his prime.  Yes, you always know class when you see it.