What a fracas!

March was a month of big news stories. These included the upcoming general election, Richard III’s reburial, a terrorist attack in a Tunisian museum and the plane crash in the French Alps. Despite all these big, rolling news stories, another story seemed to dominate in the newspapers and television news: Jeremy Clarkson’s fracas with a producer on Top Gear. Even when there wasn’t much to report such as Jeremy Clarkson saying he hadn’t heard anything, it still became news probably much to the annoyance of the BBC.

So what was the fracas all about? The early reports made available to the media stated that Jeremy Clarkson had been suspended from Top Gear/the BBC and that Top Gear would not be transmitted the following Sunday following a fracas with a producer on the programme. The connotations of this indicated that it must have been a serious incident to get Jeremy Clarkson suspended after a string of controversies over the past few years (racism, sexism and general rudeness for example). It also brought the word ‘fracas’ back into the vocabularies of the British public!

Following the initial reports, there was very little information yet reactions from Clarkson and his co-stars still made the news agendas of several news programmes and papers. Dedicated fans of Clarkson and Top Gear created a petition to reinstate the presenter and end his suspension. As time progressed and little new information, the press were like vultures circling Clarkson for any indication of news. Clarkson joked with the press mostly but was also overheard at a charity dinner swearing about his employer, the BBC and the situation. To his fans, this just fuelled the fire that the BBC was at fault and garnered more support for their petition.

Finally, some details emerged which could be classified as news rather than the non-stories about the incident that many programmes had been repeating. Clarkson had been suspended for punching producer Oisin Tymon over food provisions during filming for Top Gear. Clarkson had wanted a hot meal but this was not provided (though food was available for him). Was this a case of a producer not doing his job or Clarkson’s expectations and ego too big? The physical act, whilst not on screen like many of his previous controversies, was obviously a serious incident that warranted a suspension and internal investigation. As days passed, further information was leaked including that Clarkson had been on a final warning but had reported the incident to the BBC himself – a show of remorse and honesty perhaps?

Following an investigation, the BBC had to make a decision. Recently, the BBC director-general made a statement which clearly set out Jeremy Clarkson’s future. The BBC will not be renewing Clarkson’s contract and are therefore “sacking” him. The report stated that Oisin Tymon was subjected to a tirade of verbal abuse by Clarkson before the physical assault. Tymon did not retaliate but had to go to Accident & Emergency for the injuries sustained by Clarkson’s attack. To anyone with common sense, it suddenly became clear why the BBC had to let him go.

This wouldn’t have been an easy decision for the BBC. They were right to sack him; in any other job if an employee assaulted a colleague they would be sacked. As Clarkson was on his final warning anyway after a string of controversies, they wouldn’t have been able to keep him. However, Clarkson was one of the biggest presenters at the BBC and Top Gear is an extremely successful format. It is exported globally through BBC Worldwide and the brand makes the BBC a LOT of money. The decision would have been a disappointment to the BBC given the popularity of the show but I think the BBC did the right thing in this situation. As a public service broadcaster, it has an accountability to the public to ensure that it provides content without corruption. The BBC has had to work hard in the last few years especially in the wake of the Jimmy Saville scandal to show that they work honestly, transparently and correctly so that the trust between them and the public is not damaged.

Clarkson will probably be snapped up by a competitor for a similar programme (in an echo of what happened following Jonathan Ross’ sacking). He also writes a column for a newspaper – he is not without an income or source of work. The constant attention during the whole saga – or should I say fracas – suggests to me that he is easily marketable. Disappointed fans need not worry. The BBC may feel the impact of Clarkson’s sacking in ratings should they reboot Top Gear with a new presenter or new team of presenters but they have acted with dignity and in accordance with the law throughout this situation. As a public service broadcaster they should be applauded for making decisions to serve their public. Well done BBC!

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