BBC TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson, most famous for presenting Top Gear, is no stranger to controversy. He is a bloke’s bloke and his irreverence and lack of political correctness have frequently landed him in hot water. In May 2014 he was told in no uncertain terms that just one more incident would see him sacked. Clarkson himself described this as being akin to having a death sentence hanging over him and the case would not be if but when.

In early March 2015 Clarkson was involved in a ‘fracas’ with a TV producer over the lack of hot food at a hotel after a day’s filming. The altercation led to the producer receiving a cut lip. Clarkson was immediately suspended pending an internal inquiry.

Clarkson’s suspension provoked great outrage that divided the country. On one hand some argued that he had gone one warning too far and should be sacked (as would a regular employee who did not have the protection of celebrity status) for attacking a colleague. On the other hand he received popular support, even to the extent that a man dressed as The Stig handed the BBC a petition bearing a million signatures in support of reinstating Clarkson. Even Prime Minister David Cameron initially waded in by saying it would be a shame to see Clarkson removed from our TV screens as his children enjoyed watching him.

Love him or loathe him Clarkson is a divisive figure.

What were the issues that the BBC had to consider?

1. The first and most important issue is that Clarkson’s conduct warranted immediate dismissal. He had received numerous warnings and it was clear that he was on his last chance. As far as the BBC were concerned his attack on the Top Gear producer was the final straw.  Look at the list on the left to see his most unacceptable behaviours.  It is considered that attacking a fellow employee went way beyond his previous conduct – and there is a powerful argument that even if this had been his first ‘offence’ it would have crossed too many lines..

2. Top Gear is a major revenue source for the BBC. According to Wikipedia it is shown in 170 countries with a global weekly audience of more than 350 million people (making it one of the most popular TV shows in the world). Its roadshows, merchandising and DVD sales also provide a significant income for the BBC. Clarkson is very much seen as the figurehead of the show with Richard Hammond and James May being perceived as his sidekicks.

3. The BBC may be particularly sensitive to be seen as doing the right thing in the wake of ‘Operation Yew Tree’. This was an investigation following the revelations that Jimmy Saville had used his status as a BBC celebrity to at first gain access and then sexually abuse vulnerable people including children, hospital patients and the elderly. The wave of publicity that followed has led to a number of convictions of prominent BBC celebrities of the 1970s and 1980s including Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and David Lee Travis. Investigations are ongoing with other celebrities of that era. What appears to be apparent is that there was an endemic culture at the BBC which cultivated opportunity for such predators as a blind eye was turned. As a marked contrast no such culture appears to have been apparent at other UK TV stations. In the wake of this the BBC needed to be seen as being decisive.

4. Sky Sports had set a precedent when in 2011 they sacked Andy Gray and Richard Keys who were caught off camera making chauvinistic remarks about a female assistant referee’s ability to understand the offside rule. There is a common association between a TV station’s values and those of its celebrities. Clarkson is part of the BBC stable and as such his conduct and views could be seen as representative of the BBC’s values.

Following the inquiry the BBC announced on 25 March 2015 that they would not be renewing Clarkson’s contract. While Clarkson’s immediate future seems uncertain he will undoubtedly remain a popular media figure because many find his ‘blokishness’ appealing and in a world of political correctness gone mad Clarkson speaking his mind offers a refreshing change.

© 2015 by Richard Horton (Omega Support Services)

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Exercises

Read the article on the left before answering the following questions connected with the article.

Comprehension

Go through the article and look at the underlined words and phrases.  What do they  mean?

1. bloke’s bloke (Paragraph 1)

2. irreverence (Paragraph 1)

3. political correctness (Paragraph 1)

4. in hot water (Paragraph 1)

5. told in no uncertain terms (Paragraph 1)

6. being akin to (Paragraph 1)

7. fracas (Paragraph 2)

8. altercation  (Paragraph 2)

9. [David Cameron] waded in (Paragraph 3)

10. loathe (Paragraph 4)

11. divisive figure (Paragraph 4)

12. warranted immediate dismissal (Paragraph 5)

13. figurehead (Paragraph 6)

14. sidekicks (Paragraph 6)

15. vulnerable (Paragraph 7)

16. endemic culture (Paragraph 7)

17 set a precedent (Paragraph 8)

18. in the wake of (Paragraph 8)

19. the BBC stable (Paragraph 8)

20 blokishness (Paragraph 9)

Before moving on to the speaking ensure that you understand any other vocabulary that is not mentioned above.

Speaking *

1. Look carefully at the arguments presented on both sides concerning whether Jeremy Clarkson should have been sacked.  Summarise the dilemma the BBC faced in your own words.

2. Are there any other issues that the author has overlooked?  If so what are they?

2. Should commercial or popular considerations come before ethical and moral ones?

3. How far do you think the BBC overreacted in the aftermath of Operation Yew Tree?

4. Do celebrities represent the views of their employers? Should they?

5. Should Jeremy Clarkson have been sacked?

* You need to prepare these questions for conversation during your next online / face-to-face session with your tutor.