That it now looks as if the BBC will be allowing Jeremy Clarkson, his co-presenters, and Top Gear producer Andy Wilman, to remain within their employment is hard to accept following their latest debacle in Argentina.
Clarkson, a professional ‘troll’, who has previously been disciplined for making jokes about murdered women (who happened to work as prostitutes), Indians and Mexicans, and for using the ‘N’ word, was found guilty this year of making racist comments by Ofcom. Since then, Clarkson has been reportedly “drinking in the last chance saloon” having been, yet again, reprimanded by BBC chiefs.
The lack of any direct action from the BBC following the number plate controversy, which referenced the date of the Falklands War is troubling enough, but Clarkson’s accusation that the Argentinian government ‘orchestrated’ the protests, in which he claimed "lives were at stake", only adds fuel to the fire. It also suggests an element of desperation on Clarkson’s behalf.
I cannot speak for the BBC Trust's Board of Governors, but the BBC’s reply to my complaint, that the programme makers: “would like to assure viewers that this was an unfortunate coincidence and the cars were neither chosen for their registration plates, nor were new registration plates substituted for the originals” does not wash. I, for one, was not born yesterday, and I prescribe to the Argentinian view that the events were not "an unfortunate coincidence".
If it were just the number plates it might have been possible to have given the show's producers/presenters the benefit of the doubt, but one aspect of the controversy has been overlooked: the specific choice of a Porsche 928 (Clarkson's mode of transport in Argentina, and the vehicle which displayed the number plate H982 FLK).
In the film Risky Business (1983), a Porsche 928 is accidentally sunk in a river, and following its retrieval and delivery to a garage, Tom Cruise's character ‘Joel’ and his friends are asked by the garage owner "who's the U-Boat commander?" See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bodVVtqmbZE
Clarkson et al know their popular culture very well - especially any films that feature 'snazzy' sports cars - and this is just one coincidence too many for my liking. Although a somewhat obscure ‘in-joke’, if this is not a reference to the British submarine that controversially sank the ARA General Belgrano, I don't know what is.
How am I so sure? There can be no doubt that a great deal of highly detailed planning would have gone into the show (clearly one reason for the show’s success), and such references fit the programmes ‘laddish’ Modus Operandi, and Clarkson’s jingoistic (xenophobic even?) world-view perfectly. I’m pretty certain that Clarkson’s ego would also have relished the thought of cruising around Argentina in a metaphorical ‘submarine’ – even if it was built by ‘ze Germans’.
Clarkson and his colleagues must now be beyond redemption, should the BBC choose to act. But it looks increasingly unlikely that they will, because, akin to the bankers who brought the country to its knees in 2008, Clarkson is the biggest kid in the playground, who scares the teachers and thus never suffers the full consequences of his actions.
As in the City and politics, much of this is related to the Old Boys Network, and it is vividly represented within the Top Gear production office, for the show’s producer, Andy Wilman, went to public school (Repton) with Clarkson. Consequently, Wilman has been eager to protect his old friend and colleague to the hilt, by previously dismissing racism as “light hearted wordplay” . The main reason for the BBC’s lack of action however, is commercial.
The Top Gear franchise is one of the BBC’s biggest money making ventures. But, tellingly, only after the Corporation had to purchase Clarkson’s share of the rights to the show (The BBC paid £8.4m for his 30%, Wilman owned 20%) in 2012. With shows such as Doctor Who and Top Gear making the BBC's commercial arm more than £300m in 2013, can the BBC afford to sack the goose that lays the golden eggs – no matter how problematic?
The commercial basis of the decision to give Clarkson ever more chances is a wider societal problem in microcosm. The rhetoric of Clarkson’s friend, and fellow member of the ‘Chipping Norton Set’, the Prime Minister, that so-called ‘wealth creators’ deserve or warrant tax breaks, or that banks are ‘too big to fail’, is replicated in the BBC’s ineptitude. Just as no high-ranking banker has faced any criminal charges for industry-wide fraud, Clarkson gets away with making racist remarks or carrying out offensive pranks on a public broadcast channel because he generates money. But, beyond his £12m contract over three years, at what cost to the BBC?
As a public broadcaster, funded by the license fee, the BBC should put commercial considerations behind those that ensure that it remains "independent, impartial and honest", or help in "sustaining citizenship and civil society". Repeatedly defending a presenter/producer who has been found guilty of racism can only damage the reputation of the BBC, at a time when it has faced criticisms for political bias and financial profligacy.
The time has come for those in charge of the BBC to make a decisive stand. Either they sack Clarkson and Wilman, or they publicly state that everyday racism is an acceptable aspect of the Corporation’s activities. Option one is, of course, the only viable course of action, for Clarkson’s ‘last drink’, like the public’s patience, looks like it has run out.