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Sunday 29 March 2015

   

Lentils all round: the BBC mishandles Clarkson affair

I can't excuse his recent behaviour but I like Top Gear's irreverent presenter, as do quite a few others


A man dressed as Top Gear's 'The Stig' delivers a million signature petition by tank to the BBC at the New Broadcasting House, London.

Bean is a Facebook friend with whom I agree about little. He votes Sinn Fein, so when it comes to politics, as it usually does, we accuse each other of being tunnel-visioned and bigoted and mostly don't engage in argument because there's no point.

But we rather like each other and got on when we met, probably because we often don't take life seriously. This was illustrated last week on my Facebook wall, where I posted an article relating to the row over Jeremy Clarkson punching his producer, Oisin Tymon. A few people dismissed him as a thug, but not Bean: "The strange thing is...I like Clarkson, and I always have done. I liked his, 'Hey, listen, I don't give a f*** about you and your lefty PC crap, I'll do it my way' attitude."

High fives, Bean! Me too.

I've never watched Top Gear, as talk about cars brings on narcolepsy, but I look at the odd Clarkson moment on YouTube and avidly follow his career, his gaffes, his triumphs and his misadventures. I loved his response to the last scandal: "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."

I like him too because I can't stand many of those who loathe him, particularly the smug senior people in the BBC bubble. Last week, Alan Yentob, the Beeb's "Creative Director", appeared on Newsnight to explain that common people shouldn't panic about Clarkson's services being dispensed with: "there are quite a lot of programmes which reach out to audiences which are C2s, DEs, which aren't the metropolitan elite."

I was delighted on behalf of the common people when a tank was driven up to Broadcasting House carrying a petition asking the BBC to bring back Clarkson. It was organised by Paul Staines, an English-born Irish citizen better known as Guido Fawkes, a scurrilous, frighteningly well-informed, sometimes reckless right-wing blogger feared by politicians of all persuasions.

Guido can't stand pretension, hypocrisy, mealy-mouthed cant or the BBC. "This is a sad day for Top Gear fans," he wrote, "BBC licence-fee payers and the 1,033,933 people who signed the petition to reinstate Jeremy. No doubt his enemies within the BBC will be cheering that they have finally found an excuse to get rid of him. Lentils all round."

Guido also can't stand the rise of the thin-skinned, the humouring of the easily offended and all the other concomitants of the creeping feminisation of public discourse. Little boys are reported to the police if they fight in the playground or call each other names.

Yet men mostly like swift justice: it's the way they're made.

Bean's view is that "if Clarkson did in fact smack Oisin Tymon in the mouth, and called him a 'lazy Irish c***', then why oh why didn't Tymon simply respond by breaking a bat across Clarkson's brown teeth? It would have all been done and dusted on the evening, and no one would have been any the wiser."

Now that would have been fine with Clarkson. His response when smacked in the face by a custard pie from a green protestor when receiving an honorary degree at Oxford Brooks University (for championing high standards in engineering) was to say "Good shot!"

But actually, Bean, this was not a practical suggestion. Tymon didn't have a baseball bat and anyway he's much smaller than Clarkson and the BBC would have sacked him. And even if one could defend a momentary loss of temper, there was no excuse for Clarkson haranguing Tymon for 30 minutes over the absence of a hot dinner.

What's more, it's absolutely disgraceful how Tymon has been treated by many Top Gear fans. As Clarkson said the other day: 'All I would like to say is ... I wish people would leave Ois alone because none of this was his fault."

The BBC had no option but to suspend (and later sack) Clarkson but were wrong not to broadcast the Top Gear programmes they had in the can. They have also failed in their care of Clarkson, whose intimates were well aware that he was having a mid-life crisis (mourning his mother, divorce, too much smoking and drinking and prissy responses from the Beeb over unimportant complaints).

I hope Clarkson recovers and makes many more successful programmes that I won't watch, that Oisin Tymon will again be on his team, that the BBC, rueing their lost millions, have a re-think about their contemptuous attitude to the common herd who pay their salaries, and that Bean and I continue occasionally to agree.


Ruth Dudley Edwards

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