The BBC has suspended today one of its most iconic stars, Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson. According to a statement from the network, Clarkson is suspended pending an investigation into “a fracas” with a BBC producer. The Guardian reports he threw a punch at a producer. This also means that Top Gear will not be broadcast this Sunday.
Clarkson is a hugely popular global star whose show generates tens of millions in revenue for the BBC. But in the UK, where Clarkson appears in the media in some capacity on most days of the week, familiarity has begun to breed contempt.
While car fans across the world will be disappointed, many Britons will smile at the idea of Clarkson’s career possibly being cut short.
Over his decades-long career, in fact, Clarkson has managed to annoy loads of people, from ethnic minorities to politicians to entire counties.
Many would remember him for punching current Mail Online editor-at-large Piers Morgan at a press event in 2004. (Morgan enjoys a similar reputation and many Brits regard this incident as a victimless crime.) But Clarkson’s troubles started much earlier.
Back in 1998, Hyundai officially complained about the BBC presenter for his “bigoted and racist” comments at a motor show in Birmingham. On that occasion, he allegedly said that the Hyundai staff at the show had eaten dogs, suggesting that one of the firm’s designers had probably eaten a spaniel, according to the BBC. Hyundai pointed out that “when he drives a French car it is not as if he says that the French eat horses and frogs.”
Clarkson might not offend the French, but when testing a BMW Mini he managed to enrage the Germans, like when he performed a Nazi-style salute while driving on Top Gear.
Indians have also been mocked, in 2012 he took his trousers off in public to show a couple of Indian dignitaries how to use a trouser press. Indians are the largest ethnic minority in the UK.
Despite his long list of controversies, Clarkson has rarely apologised and the BBC has often let the controversies die out on their own, rather than disciplining its presenter.
In 2009 he set his eyes on then British prime minister Gordon Brown, whom he called “a silly c-–” in comments that were not intended for broadcast while recording for Top Gear. Clarkson was not publicly disciplined after the incident, something that politicians on both sides decried. “Many people will find that word in particular very offensive, I am surprised he felt it appropriate to use it,” said John Whittingale, an MP for the Conservatives and a political rival to Brown.
After calling Norfolk a “flat and featureless” county where people where surprised to see a car, Norfolk promptly set up a “We hate Jeremy Clarkson” club.
People take Clarkson seriously because he is an enormous figure in the British media scene. He is often present at media events and has been a presenter for Top Gear since 1988. The program is among the most successful at the BBC: an average of 350 million people from all over the world watch it every week. It contributes up to £150 million a year in revenues to the BBC, mostly from foreign countries where viewers don’t get to hear about his off-screen antics.
Clarkson also writes regularly for two of the country’s most famous newspapers, the Sun and The Sunday Times, and has a loyal group of fans: in 2008, a Facebook group suggested he should run for prime minister.
His most recent incident before today was in October 2014, when he drove through Argentina sporting a licence plate that appeared to refer to the Falklands War, between the UK and Argentina in 1982. On that occasion, he had to flee the country among protests. The BBC did not discipline him and called the licence panel “a very unfortunate coincidence.”
The same year he was filmed using the n-word in footage that didn’t air on Top Gear, and yet kept his job.
The Brits understand that Clarkson is a media clown, an entertainer who can’t be taken seriously. But the act is getting stale. And this time, it looks as if the even the BBC is bored of it.
This video — of the n-word incident — contains offensive language.
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