Tuesday 10 December 2019

Clarkson shouldn't be sacked, he's not a racist – just a blithering idiot

Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson who has said he is on his final warning following a racism row. PA
Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson who has said he is on his final warning following a racism row. PA

Matthew Norman

Eeny meeny miney moe,

Is he racist or is he slow?

Should he stay or should he go?

Eeny meeny miney moe

This ancient children's counting game, which leading scholars believe was invented as long ago as Thursday lunchtime, remains in vogue among senior BBC management to this day. Its subject is Jeremy Clarkson, who used an even older version while filming a 'Top Gear' episode in 2012.

According to the "team of digital forensic analysts" hired by British newspaper the 'Daily Mirror', which came into possession of the unbroadcast clip, Mr Clarkson spoke the N-word featured in the rhyme's traditional second line. Whether he actually did so has been the source of much confusion, as the testimony of various expert witnesses establishes. A certain Mr Jeremy Clarkson, for example, insisted on Thursday that Jeremy Clarkson detests the word, would never use it, and indeed did not use it while deploying eeny meeny to highlight the identicality of two Japanese cars.

Taking a slightly different view, meanwhile, is a Mr Jeremy Clarkson, who, in an online video statement, "begs forgiveness" for intoning the word his namesake would never utter, while denying that he ever actually said it at all. He states that "In two out-takes, I mumbled where the offensive word would normally occur . . . now when I viewed this footage several weeks later, I realised that . . . if you listen very carefully with the sound turned right up, it did appear that I'd actually used the word I was trying to obscure."

And isn't this just the kind of linguistic mishap that might afflict anyone? In trying desperately to avoid an offensive word, who hasn't found an alternative in the offensive word we were striving to avoid?

"I was mortified by this. Horrified. It is a word I loathe," it continues. "I have here the note I sent at the time to the production office, and it says: 'I didn't use the N-word here, but I've just listened through my headphones and it sounds like I did.' Please be assured," this anguished mea culpa ends, "I did everything in my power to not use that word."

To sum up, in a last-ditch bid for clarity, Mr Clarkson succeeded in not using a word he would never use anyway, although it sounded that way, and for that triumph he now begs forgiveness. As the UK's Education Secretary, Michael Gove wisely put it "He's been clear in his apology. I think we should leave the matter there."

Alas, Gove's advice will probably be ignored. So uniquely, viscerally repugnant is the N-word, and so endlessly intriguing is Mr Clarkson's perpetual struggle with the dictates of good taste, that this one has petrol left in the tank.

And as so often with Mr Clarkson, it strikes me as more a question of poor taste than of outright racism. That, and being a bit thick. He would score well in an IQ test, and he is no dummy at making a fortune (£14m last year from 'Top Gear' alone). Yet colluding in his team's description of the Mexican people as fat, flatulent and bone-idle hinted at a certain sluggishness on the autobahn towards appreciating that witlessly crude national stereotyping is no longer acceptable. His more recent 'Top Gear' depiction of an oriental as a "slope" has been carbon-dated to 1956.

It isn't necessarily that the bison-headed bruiser wants to cause offence. Part of the problem is mistaking the cussed cleaving to outdated terminology for showing moral courage in refusing to be cowed by that branch of political correctness that is a synonym for good manners.

As with Carol Thatcher's likening of a black tennis player to the jam-jar Golliwog, it is the inability to perceive that offence will be taken. It is a failure of the imagination.

Ms Thatcher was dropped by the BBC for that private remark, but one would bet that when the Beeb's management has finished playing its version of eeny meeny, it will conclude that Mr Clarkson should stay. If so, it will be the right decision made for the wrong, if financially compelling, reason that 'Top Gear' is the most prolific cash cow in its herd. Any other contributor would have been metaphorically frogmarched out of Broadcasting House by security on Thursday evening.

He should stay because what he did was silly rather than nasty, and in the kind of civilised society for which the BBC likes to regard itself, often fancifully, as the gold standard, silliness should not be a firing offence.

One presumes from the grovelling non-apology apology that he has finally learnt his lesson, and had some of the swaggering braggadocio knocked out of him. Even so, the BBC should take pity on a man who claims to have spent an hour searching in vain for an alternative counting game, and send him on an IT course. On this new-fangled thingummy they call the internet, I found a dozen in three seconds.

How a well-educated chap who mixed in Chipping Norton with the highest in the land reached 54, without comprehending that the N-word – however garbled, and after howsoever heroic a losing battle to think of substituting it with "teacher" – is simply too toxic even to contemplate using, is a mystery easily resolved.

He may have built a spectacular career on driving exceedingly fast cars, but Jeremy Clarkson is the Robin Reliant on the intellectual forecourt of national life. One wheel short of the full set, adored by lovers of the comically retro, and very, very slow. © The Daily Telegraph


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