20 Mar 2015

Jeremy Clarkson and the outrage industry

As a close (female) friend once remarked “I just love Top Gear – except for the little boring bits about cars.”

And that’s the point, the family light entertainment/comedy/travel show which Top Gear had become wasn’t about cars at all – it was about being globally politically incorrect, badly behaved, and casually insulting about Johnny Foreigner in a world where so many get so uptight about all three. Bonza!!!21_clarkson_w
In short, Top Gear was UKIP TV – before the party even arrived on the national stage – except with more cash and better gags.

It became a weird national safety-valve allowing Clarkson to sound off like millions want to, but can’t now because they fear everything from Twitter hysteria through to an industrial tribunal via some unsmiling HR robot who never saw the funny side.

So it was Men Behaving Badly and One Man Really, forget cars – that’s what people liked.

In an age when rock stars, sport stars (except football) indeed stars of all sorts and political stars most of all are essentially dulled by walls of PR and PC flummery – Clarkson and Top Gear stood out.

Misbehaviour was the whole point. Auntie tolerated it nervously and creamed off the money from the global cash-cow this shouty, insulting, expensive panto had become.

That’s why Nigel Farage has done so well in the polls – he’s a political Clarkson – he never quite received the PC/PR memo and very many people adore that in these times when above all else everyone in public life is terrified of actually saying what they feel. He’s to politics what Clarkson is to the telly.

The instantaneously, precious world of easily-offended social media heightens all this of course.

Being offensive: this is what Clarkson was for. He personally and the show generally.

The entire charade of course has long become increasingly hackneyed, ever more scripted and contrived to create offence at all cost editorially and allow Clarkson a stage to do it personally with the oh-so-scripted faux upsets with two other presenters who  increasingly only exist to set Clarkson up to Clarksonise.

So off to India they went to find ways of being insensitive, boorish and yes pretty funny about Indians and their culture.

Off to the USA to – unusually this – extract the Michael from southern rednecks unable to countenance the concept of being gay. Let’s face it: hilarious.

Thus a show pretending to be about cars goes to Argentina and bangs on as hard as possible about the Falklands War until finally, at last, hooray, they managed to create a row and could blow it all up into more ho-ho headlines.

You see the momentum here? Doing Men Behaving Badly thing and getting found out and apologising and then saying “I’m no racist” is all part of the game, the brand.

However, momentum means acceleration and the gathering of pace and impact damage come the crash. Inevitably Clarkson would come up against the BBC which quite properly has to protect staff.

The alleged victim in this case was a colleague of Clarkson who is not mega wealthy; not in the Cameron-Brooks Chipping Norton set; not powerful; not famous and apparently not able to fight back which is possibly why Clarkson felt able to do what he’s widely reported to have done.

Funny that, not.

Unfortunately for Clarkson the apparently powerless one did fight back and exercise his right not to be treated in the way he was.

That principle is worth protecting more I suggest than a once-entertaining show which is well-past its sell-by-date.

Not that Clarkson need worry. In a TV game long on milking ideas way beyond their value, pitifully short on originality and utterly terrified of anything genuinely challenging, Clarkson, May and Hammond will have producers lining up to pay millions more for produce that has essentially gone off.

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11 reader comments

  1. Andy Moore says:

    Agree with much of this except the bit about being past it’s sell-by date. It isn’t. It’s a good show and Sunday evening is worse for it not being on.

  2. Christopher Dart says:

    There is something in what you say, I’m personally not sure how much. I can’t see deliberate offence is true. Sure pushing at the boundaries of political correctness I’d go along with. A bit of intentional risk gave another frisson of excitement. Yes I’m a fan. As we have seen Mr Clarkson can look after himself so I defend a fan’s point of view only.

  3. Aidan Turner says:

    I always thought it was only a matter of time before Jeremy Clarkson organised a Coup.

    Although I deplore a lot of his comments/ behaviour, I have to confess that if he is forced into retirement, it will be a loss to the general merriment of the Nation. He really is a bit like Basil Fawlty – awful, but often hilarious!

  4. Tom Dewhirst says:

    Another blokey white bloke describing racism, sexism and misogyny as light hearted family entertainment. You lot are cut from the same supremacist cloth. The sooner there is a hundred per cent less of you and your kind in influential places, the richer, more tolerant, more beautiful, more successful, more understanding, more happy and prosperous we will all be.

  5. David Wilson says:

    Why the heck can’t the Beeb just fine Clarkson and be done with it. With a warning about a bigger fine next time. Surely the lawyers can fix this in a few hours?

    1. Howard Holt says:


      You (and many others) miss the point; even without the issue of bullying, Clarkson committed what is considered gross misconduct in employment contracts throughout the world. Additionally he was on a final warning. These things must never be allowed to be settled by money. There are so many connected issues; the BBC should have sacked him.

  6. John Wellington says:

    You’ve covered most of the issues pretty well. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned, and if you actually like cars, and far too many people do, is that the BBC, not being dependent on advertising, can give the Top Gear team a lot of freedom to criticise cars they don’t like. It’s quite refreshing and though I can’t speak for anyone else, it’s a definite plus for the show, when I actually watch it, which is rarely. Can you imagine this same freedom on a commercial channel? I suspect car and car related advertising counts for about a third of peak hour advertising revenue in most TV stations; there’d be a lot of unhappy TV advertising clients if Clarkson and Co continued their amusing, and sometimes pretty accurate, lampooning of cars that were being advertised on the same channel.

    However, whilst a lot of what you say is true, the cars are important and not a side-show. Cars are not only the ultimate symbol of status and selfish individualism but our addicted accommodation to the private motor vehicle has been the ruin of our cities and environment and is now destroying the whole planet. Our car obsessed culture is the ethos that drives this show.

  7. Carntyne says:

    Clarkson:- A middle aged overgrown schoolboy, with pranks to match.

    Grow up Jeremy.

    A forlorn hope I know…

  8. TomStig says:

    The outrage industry wouldn’t exist if it were not for the politically correct industry.

  9. Philip Edwards says:


    I think it was Tom Paine who said we get the government we deserve.

    You could also say that about Brit mainstream media. Most of it is made and presented by jobsworth cowards.

    Until enough people have the courage to boycott morons like Clarkson his kind of oblong-headed seedy tabloid TV will continue to stink out the ether. Everybody associated with that “programme” should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

    Of course the BBC long ago lost whatever reputation it had for quality productions – now it is simply a vehicle for the kind of trash peddled by the likes of James May and Clarkson, true representatives of everything wrong and sick in this country.

    In the end we deserve those creeps for even giving them the time of day.

  10. H Statton says:

    Clarkson harks back to 70s television where flagrant innuendo and racist, sexist stereotypes were deemed perfectly acceptable. To watch the repeats of these programmes on a z-list Freeview channel at Christmas is terribly cringe-worthy. I can’t even stand 30 seconds of it; there is no nostalgia or sentiment involved.

    I watched Top Gear from its inception up until a few years ago. It seems more about global fieldtrips and three blokes having a laugh during their own preposterous motoring escapades rather than the actual cars these days. I wish I could get paid for racing a Mini Cooper around the hillsides in Jaipur.

    Admittedly, it did provide the odd laugh or two. Hammond trying to cross a river in Tanzania with an armchair on the roof of his Subaru was slightly amusing. Of course the inevitable happened – it went down like the Titanic. Rehearsed I would bet.

    ‘Tis true that this unholy trinity would not work without Clarkson. But what Auntie will do about this is very much speculative. Having said that, I would not at all be surprised if Hammond and May quit the show, despite the obvious enjoyment they get from it.

    There is only one Clarkson, and some people will be saying – that’s a relief, and others – reinstate him. I find the expression “National Treasure”, nothing but mawkish. Paid handsomely (!) to speak the unspeakable, make up engineered and unspontaneous larks…the milk has turned sour.

    If Clarkson was a football player he would have been sent off long before now. A line had to be drawn. In any other workplace his behaviour would not have been tolerated, but in telly-land it appears semi-forgivable; but not this time.

    Clarkson’s antics, rude comments and ultimate dismissal aside, the show has indeed lost its mojo.

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