Top Gear's Jeremy Clarkson is determinedly anti-PC; courts controversy
Broadcaster has caused offense for racist remarks in the past
Friends with UK PM David Cameron and former news head Rebekah Brooks
Editor’s Note: This article contains language that some may find offensive.
At the time it probably seemed like fun: Jeremy Clarkson and a crew from the top-rated BBC TV show Top Gear driving a Porsche in Argentina.
The only problem was that the car’s registration plate, H982 FLK, appeared to refer to the 1982 Falklands War between the UK and Argentina, fought over a remote British colony off the coast of Patagonia, which both countries claim.
The conflict, which claimed the lives of 655 Argentinian servicemen and 255 Britons, ended with a British victory.
Clarkson and the rest of the production team were in the country filming a TV special on a remote highway that passes through Chile and Argentina, and the number plate sparked anger among locals over the perennially touchy subject of the war.
As the crew attempted to flee by road to Chile, they were attacked by an angry crowd who hurled rocks and bricks at the Porsche and other cars in the convoy.
Clarkson, who fronts Top Gear, later said an angry mob tried to attack them with pickax handles and shouted “burn their cars.”
“This was not some jolly jape that went awry. For once, we did nothing wrong,” he told The Sun.
Top Gear producers said the numbers and letters on the registration plates had not been chosen deliberately.
The motoring show, fronted by Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, has made a name for itself globally with risky stunts and a brand of blokish humor that often treads the line and regularly steps over it.
Clarkson is determinedly anti-politically correct among the topics he rails about, both on the show and in his newspaper and magazine columns. Favored topics include environmentalism, traffic laws and liberals.
The latest “fracas” has seen Clarkson suspended by the BBC, which broadcasts Top Gear, for allegedly hitting a producer.
The presenter, who is one of the BBC’s highest earners, has previously caused offense during shoots in foreign countries and regularly court controversy at home.
In July 2014, Clarkson came under fire for a racist comment made during a Top Gear special in Myanmar.
The slur came during a show segment which showed hosts Clarkson, Hammond and May looking at a bridge they had built over the River Kwai as a local man walked over it.
“That is a proud moment. But there’s a slope on it,” Clarkson said.
“You’re right,” co-star Hammond replied. “It’s definitely higher on that side.”
Following complaints, the UK’s media watchdog, Ofcom, said the use of the word “slope,” which is a derogatory term, was offensive and that the episode broke broadcasting rules.
The show’s executive producer Andy Wilman said in a statement, that they “[regretted] any offense caused,” adding, “when we used the word ‘slope’ … it was a light-hearted word play joke referencing both the build quality of the bridge and the local Asian man who was crossing it.”
Over the years, Clarkson has been in trouble for an apparent series of racist comments including characterizing Mexicans as “lazy and feckless” and saying that everyone who traveled to India got “the trots.”
He was also accused of using the “n-word” while filming the motoring show by UK newspaper The Mirror.
“Eeny, meeny, miny moe …,” he sang in video footage published by The Mirror, “Catch a nigger by his toe.”
Initially, Clarkson vehemently denied the accusation on Twitter but following public condemnation and calls for the BBC to fire him, he begged viewers for forgiveness in a video statement posted online.
“I’d actually used the word I was trying to obscure. I was mortified by this, horrified. It is a word I loathe,” Clarkson said.
Among the condemnations was a sternly worded statement from 10 Downing Street, the office UK Prime Minister David Cameron – a friend of Clarkson’s – saying he would “certainly not” use the n-word.
According to the BBC, the PM’s spokesperson added that he felt it was “absolutely right that there has been an apology.”
Both Clarkson and the UK prime minister have homes in an affluent, rural part of central England known as the Cotswolds.
They are part of a wealthy group of media, politics and showbiz acquaintances who live in and around Cameron’s Oxfordshire constituency. They have been dubbed “The Chipping Norton Set.”
Among them is former News International CEO and editor of The Sun and The News of the World, Rebekah Brooks, who came to prominence during the News International phone hacking scandal, for which she was acquitted.
They also include former Blur musician Alex James and Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch.
In an article for the Daily Telegraph, former chief political commentator Peter Oborne described “The Chipping Norton Set” as “an incestuous collection of louche, affluent, power-hungry and amoral Londoners.”
Clarkson’s popularity also comes from regular columns in venerated newspaper, The Sunday Times and tabloid The Sun.
A recent Sunday Times column with the headline “Phrasebook, tick. Local currency, tick. Tracksuit, tick. I’m off to the north” attracted the ire of people from the northern English city of Liverpool.
He wrote: “People up there (north) earn less, die more quickly, have fewer jobs and live in houses that are worth the square root of sod all.”
Local newspaper, The Liverpool Echo, which pointed out that Clarkson is a northerner himself, published a series of responses to the piece from local people who described him as “stuck in the past” and “a fake southerner” whose comments were “as dated as his double denims.”