Blog: Dave LeggettTop Gear's storm in a teacup

Dave Leggett | 12 March 2015

Overseas readers may be picking up media reports of a 'fracas' and a presenter's suspension at popular TV programme Top Gear and wondering what's going on. In essence, it looks like an incident involving the popular BBC programme's main presenter - the unforgettable Jeremy Clarkson - and a junior producer on the programme. Let me summarise the main points of this saga in the spirit of our editorial mission to add value and demystify wherever possible. Here are some thoughts, observations and background on this vitally important matter:

  • BBC Top Gear is a huge money-spinner for the BBC; it is by far the biggest overseas earner for the publicly funded BBC (there are no ads and we Brits pay a mandatory 'TV licence fee' to fund it, so any supplementary income from overseas sales of programmes or franchising is most welcome). Top Gear is watched in 200 countries by an estimated 350m people.
  • Jeremy Clarkson is the programme's main presenter and was at the core of the creative development of the programme that turned it into a hugely popular show for enthusiasts rather than something for the more sedate car consumer that preceded it ("strap yourselves in folks, here's the new Toyota Corolla"). He is also said to have amassed plenty of personal income through a lucrative production company and through Top Gear spin-offs such as the world tours and magazines.
  • Jeremy Clarkson is a somewhat controversial figure, loved by many and loathed by many, seemingly in equal numbers. He is in many respects an un-PC throwback who appears to revel in making remarks or jokes that are controversial. While some of his reported comments and remarks look very ill-judged (the fact that ex-PM Gordon Brown has one healthy eye is not relevant to anything), others are clearly not to be taken seriously. However, we live in an age when people are quick to claim offence and jump on bandwagons. My cat has a twitter account (see how easy it is to indulge in Clarkson-esque exaggeration?). Dropping the occasional 'edgy' joke or remark into his newspaper column or the guys-in-the-bar Top Gear 'banter' is part of his modus operandi.
  • The BBC has certainly been embarrassed by some of the remarks/antics that emanate from Clarkson and he has reportedly been on a 'final warning'. One suspicion is that the liberal leaning elite in the top management at the BBC might not be natural Clarkson supporters and could be looking for any excuse to show him the exit door.
  • The current suspension of Clarkson by the BBC (and the pulling of some TG episodes) follows a 'fracas' (the BBC statement's quaint term) on a Top Gear shoot. It is reported that Clarkson and an assistant producer got involved in the fracas over dining arrangements at the hotel at the end of a day's filming. 'Fracas' suggests it got physical. Some reports said a punch was thrown, others that there was a slap. A report apparently coming from a source close to Clarkson says 'handbags and pushing'. We don't know the details or the full background, but the reporting thus far suggests a playground-style altercation over something pretty trivial (at source; I'm not saying that the incident itself is trivial for those concerned, just that it's apparently over dinner provision). The other party has, however, not been suspended. 
  • There will be an investigation of the incident at the BBC. What, exactly,were the full circumstances? "Was it a slap or a punch? Handbags?"
  • If Clarkson is told to leave, it's hard to imagine Top Gear continuing without him. 
  • The British media is ludicrously captivated by this story as it is clearly much more important than developments in the Middle East, the crisis in Ukraine, the upcoming UK General Election or the serious problems facing the global economy. 
  • Clarkson will be fine whatever happens and the world will continue to spin on its axis, with or without Top Gear. It's 50:50 on some kind of accommodation or Clarkson deciding he's had enough and leaving of his own volition. Can't imagine the BBC, when its managers have looked at the numbers and taken a deep breath, will have the balls to sack him unless he really leaves them no other course (eg, he is utterly unrepentant and refuses to apologise for hitting out at someone for no good reason, if that's what he did).
  • Physical violence is no answer, but haven't we all been a bit irrational while tired and/or hungry at some time or other? If that's the case, say sorry and 'fess up. No one is perfect and we learn from our mistakes. I do (I like to think, anyway).
  • Loved fellow presenter James May's deadpan description to TV cameras of there having been a 'bit of a dust-up' and Richard Hammond's suggestion that 'Last of the Summer Wine' would make a suitable replacement during the pulled slots. Hammond's tweet is a good reminder that the programme has become, in many respects, more about the chemistry of the three presenters and their adventures built loosely around themes for people who are a bit interested in cars. It's eminently watchable, but I thought the recent "take-down" of Peugeot and Peugeot drivers was worryingly devoid of any real point or wit and I did wonder if the programme has lost its way a bit. Hopefully, it can get back on track and the silliness can stop.
  • Right, that's more than enough; I need to get on with some proper work.

If you want to know more, the Daily Mail has more on what is being termed 'steak-gate'.  

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