Jeremy Clarkson and his Emmy Award-winning car show “Top Gear” are a ratings and financial juggernaut.
With a broadcast show seen in 212 territories by 350 million viewers, a live stadium tour, 3 million YouTube subscribers, and a magazine with 1.7 million readers, “Top Gear” and its bombastic host reach fans seemingly everywhere.
In fact, “Top Gear” entered the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012 as the world’s most watched factual television program.
However, after the BBC suspended Clarkson for alleged throwing a punch at a producer due to inadequate catering, leading to the cancellation of the show’s 22nd season, the gregarious TV personality and his show are more visible than ever.
In the days since his suspension, those who despise him have been loud and determined, while his supporters have been equally vocal. More than three quarters of a million people have signed a online petition asking the BBC to reinstate Clarkson.
But if you aren’t familiar with Clarkson, then you must asking yourself “who is this guy with the weird hair and bad teeth?” or “Why is his face on CNN?” or “Why is he on my news feed!?” or most importantly “Why the heck are people talking about him?”
So here’s a brief take on why Jeremy Clarkson is as beloved as he is loathed.
Clarkson is loud, brash, and doesn’t take himself too seriously
Part of what drives Clarkson and “Top Gear’s” popularity is the his disregard for “political correctness.” His biting humour has certainly ruffled more that a few feathers over the years. Everyone from truck drivers to the German government have logged complaints over jokes that aired on “Top Gear.”
But, perhaps the most common subject of his sharp humour is Clarkson himself. He frequently makes fun of everything from his own beer belly to his thinning hair, from his laziness to his lack of male endowment. The guy simply doesn’t take himself to seriously.
Over the years, his look has been frequently ridiculed:
There’s the goofy outfit in his Top Gear debut in 1988 …
… and this monstrosity from 1991. Obviously, he’s playing a character for the camera.
On the current incarnation of “Top Gear,” Clarkson generally plays the role of the neighbourhood buffoon — the less competent, simpleminded foil to his more thoughtful co-hosts, James May and Richard Hammond.
This often leads to strife among the hosts — and for the audience, comedy gold. In one episode Clarkson built a speedboat out of a pickup truck. Not only did he set it on fire during the construction, but he also managed to capsize the vessel, with the shoreline in sight.
Another time, Clarkson ran into the back of May’s SUV while driving down a treacherous mountain road in Bolivia. May responded by confronting Clarkson with a machete.
Clarkson and “Top Gear” do have actual achievements
In 2007, Clarkson and May became the first people to drive to the North Pole, making the journey in a modified Toyota truck for “Top Gear: Polar Special.”
However, even this achievement came with its requisite controversy. During the episode, Clarkson and May can be seen partaking in a gin and tonic while behind the wheel. The hosts’ explanation for all of this? Since they were over a frozen ocean, they considered the behaviour to be drinking while sailing.
And in another episode, the trio of hosts sailed across the English Channel in Nissan pickup truck that had been converted into a powerboat. That’s right — an actual Channel crossing!
Clarkson is a good writer
For all of his buffoonery, Clarkson’s is actually a skillful writer whose skills were honed by decades of practice as a newspaper reporter, automotive journalist, and syndicated columnist.
Some of Clarkson’s columns serve as explainers for his controversial comments, while others fuel his feuds with people like Piers Morgan. But then there are some, such as this one from last June about the death of his mother, that offer a glimpse behind his public facade.
In fact, compilations of Clarkson’s weekly Sunday Times column have been turned into a series of books titled “The World According to Clarkson.”
Clarkson is a history buff
In addition to “Top Gear,” Clarkson has also produced a series of well-received documentaries on inventor Isambard Kingdon Brunel, the story of the Victoria Cross, the 1942 raid on St. Nazaire, and the WWII allied convoys in the Arctic.
Here, there’s no buffoonery or culturally insensitive jokes. Just elegantly shot footage along with effective and eloquent storytelling.
All in all, there’s no telling what the future will hold for “Top Gear” and Jeremy Clarkson at the BBC. But his legions of supports will remain as vocal as his detractors. Love him or hate him, he’s likely to be around for ages.
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