Blindsided 

6 February 2009 tbs.pm/1019

Jeremy Clarkson apologises for calling Gordon Brown ‘a one-eyed idiot’

I said yesterday that:

“Will BBC employees end up being too afraid to say anything remotely controversial just incase the remark(s) might be construed by someone somewhere as being offensive to them?”

At the time it never occurred to me that this assertion would be actively put to the test again so soon – albeit in reverse – and perhaps unsurprisingly the source of the new outrage comes from that serial offender Jeremy Clarkson who was perhaps unconsciously trying to hammer home this point on the back of that recent Carol Thatcher incident.

It may be true that the words “Scottish” and “one-eyed” were in this case used in a purely descriptive context, plus David Blunkett technically speaking did receive much more in this form of abuse when he was in a prominent position (such as jokes about his guide dog) which weren’t actively picked up as such at the time.

Much of Jeremy Clarkson’s popular appeal – apart from his straight-talking nature in an era of public ‘spin’ – is that he is frequently self-depreciating in a manner that many people can relate to, notably behaving like a middle class buffoon who basically hasn’t a clue whilst somehow remaining a reasonably competent journalist.

It’s this attitude that has helped Top Gear evolve over the last five or so years into the hugely popular show that it has become; boys behaving badly but with a human fallibility that most of its audience can relate to. (Indeed a certain Boris Johnson managed to get elected as Mayor of London on a broadly similar premise.)

And yes, we know it’s Clarkson being Clarkson again, plus there’s no doubt that Jeremy Clarkson isn’t the greatest fan of Gordon Brown (to put it mildly); his occasionally abusive past comments about the French and Germans were so outlandish that you would have to be particularly ignorant of Clarkson’s track record to take them at all seriously.

(He has an admiration for many things that are German.)

However with someone like Jeremy Clarkson there is always the ever-present risk of overstepping the boundaries of acceptability, and after careful consideration I do believe that on this particular occasion his remarks were unacceptable in terms of their overall meaning, although their impact was most likely to have been miscalculated at the time.

Therefore it was right and proper that he should apologise for what he had said (and has now done so), meaning that he has openly acknowledged his misjudgement; this is particularly critical in terms of preserving his longer term popularity which would be in serious danger of declining without such an apology.

Whether he apologised just to protect his overall standing (and income) remains open to debate – and we will probably never know the truth surrounding this – but we have to accept this apology at face value because that’s all there is to go on currently, and he should consequently learn his lesson even if he is still unaware of the nature of the mistake.

(The viewing public will judge him based on his actions, and the threat of reputation loss may be punishment enough since that could eventually hit his wallet where it hurts.)

But should he be sacked for those comments in a similar manner as what happened to Carol Thatcher? Realistically there isn’t a chance of that happening because Top Gear is far too popular a show at the present time (Top Gear without Clarkson is currently unthinkable), plus it was ultimately just Clarkson being, erm, Clarkson again.

The lesson to be learnt from this incident is a warning that all popular (and unpopular) TV presenters should heed, namely that they should always put their brain in gear before saying something controversial – in Clarkson’s case, top gear, obviously.