Thursday, December 08, 2011

Couldn't Beijing Zoo keep Clarkson?

FRIENDS in Edinburgh are rejoicing proudly that Scotland now has more pandas than Tory MPs, twice as many, in fact. Pity the Chinese authorities wouldn't consider a swop or we could have thrown in Jeremy Clarkson.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang, the giant pandas, each of them eight years old, arrived on a special chartered flight at the weekend and are due to spend the next ten years at Ediburgh Zoo, where it is hoped they may breed as well as proving a big attraction.

Clarkson, presenter of the BBC's Top Gear motoring programme, is in Beijing with fellow presenter James May and crew to make a new series from China. Just when we seemed to be getting on so well with the Chinese, as well. Some people have pointed out that the Duke of Edinburgh is getting on and a replacement might be needed to make cringe-worthy insulting remarks to foreigners.

Though I don't normally watch Top Gear, I did watch the programme Clarkson and his mates made last year driving from Iraq to Bethlehem, and it wasn't the Three Wise Men, no myrrh and frankincense, just mirth and ignorance, so I can see what they are getting at.

In fact, Jeremy Clarkson has done quite well upsetting people in Britain in the past week, starting with his charming suggestion on BBC TV that public sector workers striking to defend their pensions should be shot, and going on to write in his Sun column that -"foxy woxy and the birds’ should be left to ‘nibble’ at the ‘gooey parts’ of people who commit suicide by jumping in front of trains.

Appearing on BBC's The One Show after the November 30 day of action, £1 million a year presenter Clarkson claimed airily that the strikers had made it easier for him to get around town at speed (strange he'd missed the streets crowded with demonstrators and the police barriers on Whitehall). He then added quickly "I'd have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families".

It was not an impromptu, spontaneous remark. Clarkson says he had told the One Show producers beforehand what he intended to say. It would seem they didn't object.

By Monday, the BBC had received a record 31,000 complaints from viewers.

Evidently a lot of people who had taken part in the strike, many for the first time in their lives, did not find Clarkson amusing, any more than the relatives of suicides, or the train drivers traumatised by hitting human beings, appreciated his attempt to trivialise such horrific events as merely causing annoying delays in his train journeys.

It did not add to Clarkson's popularity to be reminded that, like former News of the World editor and Murdock executive Rebekah Wade, and our beloved Old Etonian Prime Minister David Cameron, who tried to pass off November 30 as a "damp squib", the BBC's motor mouth is a member of the "Chipping Norton set". ("Why couldn't he go to Chipping Sodbury?", the Oxfordshire Chippy's residents may lament. "Or better still stay in China" say those with little thought for our Oriental comrades' point of view.)

The Telegraph reported that a majority of its readers sympathised with what Clarkson said, which does not entirely suprise me, though many just regarded it as a joke. One boozy night in Fleet Street back in the 1970s a top Telegraph man staggered up to a polite picket line from the Society of Lithograph Artists, Designers and Engravers (SLADE) outside another newspaper and having heard they were defending union recognition, told them that in a year or so their unions would be smashed and they would be lying dead in the gutter. It seemed an inconveniant place to stash bodies, but this was around the time of the Chilean coup, and twenty-five years later our gentleman of the press was consistent enought to defend asylum here for Pinochet.

To remind us that what one in the limelight puts forward as a joke, others as yet more obscure may see as their path to fame, one of my friends on Facebook uploaded an item from the Belfast Telegraph on July 26 this year about two Brits admired by a rather impressionable Norwegian.

Anders Behring Breivik wrote in his manifesto how he liked Jeremy Clarkson's programme, and remarks he had made about the flag. The other Brit he admired, for her views on Muslims and their threat to "our" way of life, is the newspaper columnist whom my friends have dubbed "Mad Mel". Norwegian psychiatrists have now certified that Anders Behring Breivik is a paranoid schizophrenic and was not acting rationally when he killed 77 people. Pity nobody noticed anything wrong with Breivik before he went out with his gun.

But getting back to Jeremy Clarkson, here is the Mail online on Sunday, December 4:

There were growing concerns yesterday about Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘vulnerable state of mind’ and the precarious state of his 18-year marriage after he provoked a fresh storm of protest. The Top Gear presenter made offensive comments about people who commit suicide – the second time that he has been at the centre of controversy in the space of a few days.

One senior BBC insider, who asked not to be named, last night said Clarkson had moved out of the family home he shares with second wife Frances and wasn’t in ‘the best possible place at the moment’. He said: ‘There is a feeling that he’s in a more vulnerable state than he should be and that’s why his judgment isn’t A-grade at the moment.’

We'll leave aside comment about some of the Mail's own contributors and one columnist in particular, and note this is not the first time Clarkson has dodged rumours that he is in the doghouse over his ebullient personality not ensuring domestic bliss.

But some people suggested a more calculated motive for his performance on the telly, and if that was so it seems to have worked. Before he left for Beijing, Clarkson had a DVD to plug, and now the Guardian reports:

Jeremy Clarkson strike outburst: retailer claims DVD sales boost

HMV says sales of Clarkson's Powered Up have soared after he said public sector strikers should be shot

If this was what it was about, what does that say about Clarkson, the DVD-buying public, or the BBC, of course?

Peace and good will, everybody.



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