Top Gear trio drive across taste line
Comedian Steve Coogan laid into 'Top Gear' presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May yesterday saying the trio were guilty of "casual racism" and describing them as "three rich, middle-aged men laughing at poor Mexicans".
His attack came as the Mexican ambassador to the UK complained to the BBC about the "outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults" made on the show after Hammond joked that Mexican cars reflected national characteristics, saying they were "lazy, feckless, flatulent".
But Coogan said the adjectives better described Hammond's comic approach.
He also criticised the BBC, saying its "initial mealy-mouthed apology was pitiful" and its defence of the presenters amounted to "tolerance of casual racism".
The corporation wrote to His Excellency Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza to say it was sorry if the programme, broadcast on January 30, caused offence.
But it claimed that national stereotyping was part of British humour and the remarks were akin to labelling Italians as disorganised and over dramatic or the French as arrogant.
Writing in the 'Observer', Coogan said: "All the examples it uses to legitimise this hateful rubbish are relatively prosperous countries full of white people. How about if the lads had described Africans as lazy, feckless etc? Or Pakistanis?"
Coogan said he was a "huge fan" of 'Top Gear' and normally regarded the presenters' irreverence as part of the "rough and tumble" that goes with having a sense of humour. But he said there was a "strong ethical dimension" to the best comedy, which actively challenges prejudices rather than reinforcing them.
Whereas with his character Alan Partridge, the joke was obvious, he said: "With 'Top Gear' it is three rich, middle-aged men laughing at poor Mexicans. Brave, groundbreaking stuff, eh?"
He continued: "(Hammond) reminds you of the squirt at school as he hangs round Clarkson the bully, as if to say, 'I'm with him'. Meanwhile, James May stands at the back holding their coats as they beat up the boy with the stutter."
Coogan, who admitted he was now unlikely to be invited back on the show, said the comments were all the worse because with its high viewing figures 'Top Gear' was often the "public face of the BBC".
In the episode, James May described Mexican food as "like sick with cheese on it" and Jeremy Clarkson predicted they would not get any complaints about the show because "at the Mexican embassy, the ambassador is going to be sitting there with a remote control like this (snores). They won't complain, it's fine".
But Clarkson could not have been more wrong, according to the 'Independent on Sunday', which said the ambassador was in fact a "one-man crime-fighting machine", a nationally respected figure who headed Mexico's secret service before taking on his country's notorious drug barons.