DRIVE: Frances Clarkson who manages her husband Jeremy Clarkson’s career is reportedly divorcing him. Photos: PA
Owing to my total lack of interest in vehicular issues, I've never watched more than a YouTube clip of Top Gear, but though I know he's an overgrown schoolboy, I have a slightly soft spot for Jeremy Clarkson. In the long-drawn-out war between him and Piers Morgan, Clarkson may be silly, but unlike Morgan, he's never sanctimonious. If Clarkson's the cheeky boy throwing ink pellets around and drawing rude cartoons of the teacher, Morgan's the sneak who's telling on him as part of his campaign to become head boy.
Take the row about the clips of Clarkson swinging a finger between two cars and reciting some of the nursery rhyme: "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe". What was aired in February 2013 had him reciting as the following line: "Catch a teacher by his toe." What the left-wing Daily Mirror, which Morgan once edited, got hold of for a shock-horror story headlined 'Clarkson's n-word shame', was an unused clip showing him mumbling what on close examination probably was "Catch a nigger by his toe", the version imported from America that would still have been around in Clarkson's childhood.
Clarkson first denied using the word and then, after viewing, agreed he probably had. In the filmed apology forced out of him by BBC top brass, he read from a note he had sent at the time to the production office saying: "I didn't use the n-word here but I've just listened through my headphones and it sounds like I did. Is there another take that we could use?" He loathed the word, he explained, and begged forgiveness for having said it inadvertently in a clip no one was ever supposed to see.
Clarkson is known to be a neighbour and friend of David Cameron, so it was inevitable that politicians got in on the act. Harriet Harman, Labour's humour-free and relentlessly PC deputy leader, tweeted: "Anybody who uses the N-word in public or private in whatever context has no place in the BBC." (Well, that's most inhabitants of black neighbourhoods banned from broadcasting for starters. For as the Urban Dictionary explains, it's a word "that everyone else is afraid to define except in utter seriousness, for fear of being branded a racist, in total ignorance of the colloquial usage of the word, its characterization in popular culture, and the populations of people it is used most by.")
Michael Gove, the Tories' lightning conductor, sprang to Clarkson's defence, on the not unreasonable grounds that he hadn't intended to say the word or have it broadcast so his apology should be accepted. But Piers Morgan was in like Flynn tweeting his horror at his old enemy's racism. To a response from a member of the public saying: "Piers most people think it's a silly witch hunt, it's a nursery rhyme not a statement!" he opined: "No, they're not. All decent people are revolted."
Among these outraged upright citizens was a British lawyer who announced his firm did not accept the apology and would be writing to President Obama and the ambassadors of every country that viewed Top Gear to ask "if this racist show should continue to be broadcast". And Clarkson's now being investigated by the media regulator Ofcom for allegedly saying something racist on a show filmed in Thailand.
Slightly abashed at having grovelled to save his TV career, Clarkson wrote in the Sunday Times: "I've been told by BBC chiefs that I'm drinking at the last-chance saloon so from now on I shall arrive at work on a bicycle with a copy of the Guardian under my arm, and at lunchtime, instead of moaning about how everything on the menu is vegetarian, I shall cheerily ask for extra lentils in my nuclear-free peace soup." (It's sentences like that that attract support from indecent people like me.)
Clarkson's first wife, Alex, didn't want to be left out. Notorious for having left him in 1989 for one of his best friends after six months of marriage, she claimed in 2011 that they had rekindled their romance in 1999 despite his being re-married to Frances, his manager. "I don't think he ever loved his wife – he loved me," Alex said last week. Frances was divorcing him because of his infidelities, Alex alleged helpfully, and Frances, having "made him into the idol he is today" was entitled to whatever she could get of his £30m.
It's understandable that a chap who hates talking about his feelings might want to spend a lot of time with other chaps driving madly around the place saying whatever comes into his head. If his persecution continues, I might even have to join his 350 million fans and watch Top Gear.