Right now, you’re either celebrating, or banging a spanner furiously against a wall. There is no middle ground. You are either for Jeremy Clarkson, and a dedicated fan of the hugely popular motoring show—Top Gear—that he presents, or you support his dismissal as its lead presenter. Its viewing figures suggest many will be weeping into hub caps: Top Gear is broadcast in 200 countries to an estimated 350 million viewers.
Following a two-week suspension and investigation, Clarkson was fired by the BBC on Wednesday for an “unprovoked” physical and verbal assault on a Top Gear producer.
Now, the North Yorkshire Police is investigating the incident, and have asked the BBC to pass on their internal investigation of Clarkson’s assault on producer Oisin Tymon. The police say they will take action “where necessary.”
On Twitter, where he has 4.84 million followers, Clarkson has changed his job description profile to “I used to be a presenter on the BBC2 motoring show, Top Gear.”
Clarkson’s firing came after the release of a report conducted by BBC Scotland boss Ken MacQuarrie into what the corporation originally called a “fracas” that led the 54-year-old Clarkson’s initial suspension. The national outcry that followed even led to Prime Minister David Cameron voicing his support for his friend Clarkson.
In deciding Clarkson’s fate, the BBC was also weighing serious financial implications. The commercial rights to Top Gear, owned by the BBC, are worth an annual $74 million and its numerous spin-offs generated annual profits of £27 million.
“A line has been crossed,” said Tony Hall, the BBC’s Director General. “There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”
The presenter punched Tymon after he was told his desired evening meal of steak was not available at Simonstone Hall Hotel near Hawes, North Yorkshire, where the Top Gear crew were staying after filming on March 4.
The Daily Mirror reported that the hotel’s chef had gone home by the time the Top Gear crew arrived, and so Clarkson was offered a cold meat platter. He blamed Tymon for not organizing hot food.
MacQuarrie said in his report that Tymon was subject “to an unprovoked physical and verbal attack by Jeremy Clarkson. During the physical attack Oisin Tymon was struck, resulting in swelling and bleeding to his lip. The verbal abuse was sustained over a longer period, both at the time of the physical attack and subsequently.”
Tymon had been physically attacked on the hotel’s patio for around 30 seconds by Clarkson, MacQuarrie said, until a witness had intervened. Tymon “offered no retaliation.”
Clarkson’s verbal abuse of Tymon continued inside the hotel “and contained the strongest expletives and threats to sack him.” Tymon, “shocked and distressed” and believing he had lost his job, then took himself for treatment to a nearby hospital. After the incident Clarkson tried to apologize to Tymon, and then reported the incident to BBC bosses.
MacQuarrie concluded: “It was not disputed by Jeremy Clarkson or any witness that Oisin Tymon was the victim of an unprovoked physical and verbal attack. It is also clear to me that Oisin Tymon is an important creative member of the Top Gear team who is well-valued and respected. He has suffered significant personal distress as a result of this incident, through no fault of his own.”
In a statement Tymon said, "I've worked on Top Gear for almost a decade, a programme I love. Over that time Jeremy and I had a positive and successful working relationship, making some landmark projects together. He is a unique talent and I am well aware that many will be sorry his involvement in the show should end in this way."
On Wednesday, Tymon became the victim of vicious, pro-Clarkson Twitter trolls, even though he had been the victim of assault.
Tony Hall, the Director General of the BBC, said he had taken the decision to sack Clarkson “with great regret.” Hall added, “It is not a decision I have taken lightly. I have done so only after a very careful consideration of the facts and after personally meeting both Jeremy and Oisin Tymon.”
He took “no pleasure” in publishing the findings of McQuarrie’s report. “I know how popular the program is and I also know that this decision will divide opinion.”
“The BBC is a broad church,” Hall said. “Our strength in many ways lies in that diversity. We need distinctive and different voices but they cannot come at any price. Common to all at the BBC have to be standards of decency and respect. I cannot condone what has happened on this occasion. A member of staff—who is a completely innocent party—took himself to Accident and Emergency after a physical altercation accompanied by sustained and prolonged verbal abuse of an extreme nature.”
Of Tymon, Hall said, “This has obviously been difficult for everyone involved but in particular for Oisin. I want to make clear that no blame attaches to him for this incident. He has behaved with huge integrity throughout. As a senior producer at the BBC, he will continue to have an important role within the organization in the future.”
As he fired one of the biggest stars, Hall also sought to pay tribute to Clarkson. “This decision should in no way detract from the extraordinary contribution that Jeremy Clarkson has made to the BBC. I have always personally been a great fan of his work and Top Gear. Jeremy is a huge talent. He may be leaving the BBC but I am sure he will continue to entertain, challenge and amuse audiences for many years to come.”
The challenge now was to get a new season of Top Gear ready, Hall added--a big challenge, “and there is no point in pretending otherwise.”
The BBC Two controller Kim Shillinglaw will also be expected to broadcast the remaining three episodes of this season, despite May telling Sky News: “We’re very much, the three of us, as a package. It works for very complicated reasons that a lot of people don’t fully understand, so that will require a lot of careful thought…I’m sorry that what ought to have been a small incident sorted out easily turned into something big.”
“Much as I think he’s a knob, I quite like working with Jeremy," May said, when asked who he might like to work with on the show.
Attention will now turn to May and Richard Hammond continuing with, or quitting, the show. May’s agent said “much thought, deliberation and conversation between many people” would follow before his future with Top Gear was clarified.
Clarkson’s sacking will be seen as a victory for Danny Cohen, the BBC’s director of television, who media-watchers claimed has long wanted the opportunity to get rid of the controversial Clarkson.
Indeed, last year, Cohen is said to have wanted to sack Clarkson over using the n-word, in a never-broadcast segment while reciting the poem ‘Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe.’
"I was mortified by this, horrified. It was a word I loathe,” Clarkson said afterwards.
Tony Hall reportedly over-rode Cohen’s desire to fire Clarkson, who instead was given a final warning over his behavior. Clarkson had intimated he doesn’t get on with his BBC bosses. Presumably other broadcasters will compete to scoop him up now.
The British public remained split, with the pro-Clarkson camp more publicly vocal. Liberals find him a boorish, prejudiced bigot. Right-wingers adore him for being straight-talking. And men seeking their own man-cave TV refuge appear to view his bloke-on-the-street-style (even if he is incredibly wealthy and had a private education) in heroic terms.
As its American fans will know, the show is unapologetically man-centered about cars and driving, presented by three middle-aged men who backchat, grump, and giggle as one would expect from three middle-aged men given an hour to indulge their fantasies and obsession about cars.
An online petition in support of Clarkson garnered over one million signatures, while a YouGov poll found that 45 per cent of Britons thought he should be sacked, while 36 per cent thought he should keep his job. 78 per cent of Top Gear fans thought he should keep his job.
In the strangest, supportive intervention—but perhaps not, in that way the establishment always looks after its own—David Cameron, a friend of Clarkson’s, found time while running the country to tell the BBC’s Midlands Today program: “I don't know exactly what happened. He is a constituent of mine, he is a friend of mine, he is a huge talent. I see that he said he regrets some of what happened.”
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, also got involved, telling radio station LBC: 'The guy's obviously incredibly popular and the show that he does provides entertainment to millions of people, but who is responsible for determining whether he carries on or not is his employers…He is an employee of the BBC, they are his boss and so if they think he has done something wrong... then it is for them to decide.”
Clarkson appeared resigned to his fate (“I’m off to the job center,” he joked to reporters heading to his car one day). To date, he has been a proud, unapologetic controversy magnet, whose “jokes” have long caused outrage and squalls. The Top Gear team were forced to leave Argentina after a number plate they had—H982 FLK—appeared to reference the Falklands War.
In another episode of the show, in Burma, Clarkson used the derogatory word “slope.” Another episode featured him disparaging one car as having “Speciale (the model’s name) needs.”
As a long Guardian list elucidated, Mexicans have been insulted on Top Gear as lazy and feckless, and Clarkson has bemoaned TV executives for getting it “into their heads that if one presenter on a show is a blond-haired, blue-eyed heterosexual boy, the other must be a black Muslim lesbian.”
Slightly lost in the scrum of reporting was the Mail’s report that Clarkson got exactly what he wanted that night at the hotel: the general manager cooked a steak especially for him, which he ate in a private room.
This is an updated and edited version of a previous story.