Clarkson and “Top Gear” are familiar enough to many Americans; but across the pond, the anticipated announcement of Clarkson’s fate was live-blog material.
That was due, in part, to “Top Gear’s” massive importance to the British broadcaster: “The magazine show is one of the BBC’s biggest properties, with overseas sales worth an estimated £50m a year for the corporation’s commercial arm, BBC Worldwide,“ according to the BBC. The show, which Clarkson hosted with Richard Hammond and James May, has an estimated 350 million viewers around the world, and the premiere episode of its 22nd season was simulcast in more than 50 countries.
But there’s another reason so much attention was paid to Clarkson’s fate: his history of being, well … Jeremy Clarkson. That is to say, controversial.
Here is a guide to what led to Clarkson’s firing and some background on the now-former “Top Gear” host’s previous tussles with management.
Why was Jeremy Clarkson fired?
On Wednesday, the BBC released quite a few details about what led to the dismissal.
It began on March 4, when Clarkson was in a North Yorkshire hotel with, among other people, show producer Oisin Tymon. Clarkson and Tymon had a “fracas.” Per BBC’s news division: “The row … was said to have occurred because no hot food was provided following a day’s filming.”
The BBC investigation found that the attack lasted about 30 seconds, during which Tymon did not retaliate. Clarkson continued directing “verbal abuse” at Tymon after a witness intervened in the physical assault. Clarkson’s verbal abuse included “the strongest expletives and threats to sack him,” and was “at such volume as to be heard in the dining room.” Clarkson continued using “derogatory and abusive language” towards Tymon and other members of the production team for a “sustained period of time.”
Tymon believed he had lost his job following the altercation. He went to the hospital for examination.
However, the report says, Tymon did not file a complaint against Clarkson. Instead, after “Clarkson made a number of attempts to apologise to Oisin Tymon by way of text, email and in person” over the next several days, the star presenter reported himself to BBC management.
As a result, he was suspended on March 10.
In announcing the decision not to renew Clarkson’s contract, which expired this month, BBC Director General Tony Hall said that “a line has been crossed. There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”
Okay, but you said Clarkson was already controversial. Why?
Clarkson has a habit of saying things, often intended as a joke, that prompt outrage. There are enough examples for entire listicles, but let’s take a look at a few:
• In 2008, while driving a truck on “Top Gear,” Clarkson made a joke implying that “murder[ing] a prostitute” is a common pastime for professional truck drivers. The joke prompted at least one elected official to call for his firing.
• In 2011, the BBC received more than 20,000 complaints from viewers after Clarkson responded to a question on “The One Show” by making a joke about “executing” striking workers in front of their families.
• In May 2014, Clarkson announced that he was on “final warning” from the BBC, saying he would lose his job if he makes “one more offensive remark, anywhere, at any time.” That was shortly after British media accused Clarkson of saying the N-word in an unaired clip from a 2012 “Top Gear” episode. Clarkson also apologized for that controversy:
• Oh, and one time he punched Piers Morgan, who was, until recently, his public nemesis.
But Clarkson is popular?
Yes! In fact, his history of cracking offensive jokes is, for some fans around the world, part of his enormous appeal. A change.org petition asking the BBC to reinstate Clarkson took in more than 1 million signatures. That petition was delivered to the BBC in a tank:
Although Clarkson’s suspension and eventual termination stemmed from a physical altercation off air, many of his supporters saw it as a culmination of the BBC’s past handling of the host’s many controversies. “I’m signing because the far bigger evil is censorship via political correctness which the BBC have been indulging in for far too long,” petition-signer Edward Prince wrote.
Daniel Harter wrote: “Jeremy Clarkson represents the view of the majority of the licence paying public. We are sick of paying our license fee to be spoon fed your political correct left wing crap. Let people speak their mind and exercise their right to offend. At the end of the day, if you are offended by something on TV/radio, turn it off?”
David Chandler simply wrote:”I hate the BBC lefties.”
Clarkson is generally considered to be conservative, and he’s friends with current Prime Minister David Cameron, who has called Clarkson “a huge talent.” But as the BBC explains, the personality “rarely” weighs in on “party-political issues.” Instead, the BBC notes, “his role is seen by some as more of a tribune of disgruntled middle England.” But, as The Post’s Adam Taylor explained , Clarkson’s popularity doesn’t stop in the United Kingdom. “Top Gear” has a broad international appeal in some pretty improbable places:
Yet for all of Clarkson and company’s old-school entitlement, it’s largely their personalities that drive the show’s international popularity. “His humor is so inappropriate and not at all what you hear on state TV — that must account for some of its appeal,” the BBC’s Darius Bazargan said of Clarkson’s popularity in Iran in 2013, adding that Clarkson was “about as opposite to [now former] President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad as you can get.”
So what happens to “Top Gear” now?
The BBC is going to try to keep the show on the air. But it will be difficult, as the broadcaster’s own statement on Clarkson’s firing makes clear:
“The BBC must now look to renew Top Gear for 2016. This will be a big challenge and there is no point in pretending otherwise,” the statement reads, noting that the company still has to decide what to do with the rest of the current season.
It is difficult to overstate the role that Clarkson, Hammond and May have played in making “Top Gear” successful. Sure, gearheads might watch the show for the cars. But a lot of its audience stays for the team’s antics. And it looks like neither Hammond nor May is completely on board in continuing to do “Top Gear” without Clarkson.
Gutted at such a sad end to an era. We're all three of us idiots in our different ways but it's been an incredible ride together.— Richard Hammond (@RichardHammond) March 25, 2015
May has already changed his Twitter bio to “Former TV presenter.” He told Sky News that the three hosts were “a package,” and that his future involvement with the show would require more thought.
Hammond and May both have expiring contracts.
What will happen to Clarkson?
A better question might be: Where will Clarkson, Hammond and May try to migrate? There’s already some speculation that competitor ITV could pick up a version of the trio’s show, although it’s not clear whether the name “Top Gear” would stay with the BBC.
In any case, it appears that the North Yorkshire police were interested enough in the BBC’s investigation to ask for a copy, meaning that Clarkson could potentially face a police investigation as well.
“We have asked the BBC for the report which details the findings of their internal investigation into the matter,” the police said in a statement. “The information will be assessed appropriately and action will be taken by North Yorkshire police where necessary. It would not be appropriate for North Yorkshire police to comment further at this time,” a statement from the police reads.