CMI: “The latest controversy to engulf TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson could be the straw that broke the Vauxhall’s chassis, following his suspension from flagship BBC show Top Gear for allegedly punching a producer. The situation is symptomatic of the dilemmas managers face in dealing with talented and successful – but provocative – staff.
According to reports, Clarkson allegedly hit Oisin Tymon, 36, after being told no dinner had been laid on for the presenters after they finished filming for the BBC 2 show one evening last week. Clarkson was suspended on Tuesday morning, and the remaining three episodes of Top Gear’s current run have been pulled from the schedules.
Since Top Gear’s revival in 2002, Clarkson has been accused of making a series of offensive remarks –but his irrepressible, bullish style has turned him into global star. So can the BBC afford to let go of Clarkson, potentially leading him, his fans and his lucrative activities to rivals ITV, Channel 4 or Sky?
Top Gear makes millions of pounds for BBC Worldwide every year, and just hours after news of Clarkson’s suspension became public, an online petition spawned by political blogger Guido Fawkes demanded his reinstatement. At the time this article was published, the petition had notched up almost 450,000 signatures.
Last May, BBC Director General Tony Hall intervened on a row over Clarkson’s alleged use of the “N-word” in an outtake that crept off the cutting-room floor, which apparently showed him mouthing the expletive as he recited a nursery rhyme. Following that incident, BBC Controller of Television Danny Cohen wanted to suspend him – but Hall swept in to put the high-value frontman on a “final warning”. Other incidents that blighted Clarkson’s CV last year included his reference to an Asian man as a “slope”, and the Top Gear team’s careless move to trigger a riot in Argentina by driving a Porsche with a number-plate message that deliberately inflamed tensions over the Falklands War.
Critics have complained that Clarkson has too often been given a pass on his indiscretions by the BBC because ofTop Gear’s immense profitability – indeed, the show is sold to 214 territories, and ranks as the most popular factual television programme in the world.
Given that the BBC has allowed him to become synonymous with the Top Gear brand – rather than demonstrating at a much earlier stage that no individual presenter is bigger than the show – are we heading for a situation where Hall’s final warning wasn’t worth the paper is was printed on?
And if so, what does this mean for the value of his current suspension?
The answers may lie in the lap of Cohen, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the executive ranks and is tipped as a future BBC director-general. In the wake of the “N-word” incident, Cohen signalled an implacable unwillingness to put up with the 54-year-old petrolhead’s offensive gaffes, and ordered an investigation into Top Gear’s culture and practices. “It’s like football clubs,” he said at the time. “No one is bigger than the club. I found [the racist language] entirely unacceptable.”