Jeremy Clarkson has “apologised unreservedly” for calling for those supporting the public sector pensions strike to be taken outside and shot in front of their families. I hope this comes as some solace to the grieving public sector workers whose lives have been torn apart by demands for increased contributions to their (occasionally) delayed pensions.
The title of this blog alludes to a comment about Clarkson that drifted through my luggholes this morning from Radio 5 live.
“Clarkson is not a politician, he is an obnoxious controversialist trying to be a comedian”.
There is so much to like in the description, not least its polysyllabic pseudo-authority. I approve of the concept of an apprenticeship for comedians – I hope we are on our way to an Institute of Comedians to which Mr Clarkson can aspire.
I’d like to think we could have more definition around “controversialist”. A Faculty of Contraversionalism at a recently converted poly, a rectorship or two to be awarded and perhaps the odd gong for “services to controversy or even contraversionalism”.
Clarkson has very properly cleared off on holiday, his face plastered across this morning’s papers. He is looking obnoxious and not contrite which is again proper.
Clarkson speaks of course for all the Mums and Dads who gather in rugby clubs on a Saturday nights to drink Sauvignon and proper beer. They are the voiceless professionals who can grumble to each other but dare not put their true thoughts to paper or digital media…. for fear of consequences.
Clarkson is their Lord of misrule. He laughs for them in church, he flicks ink at the teacher’s white-shirted back. Clarkson is a factory outlet for the inappropriate and he will not just bounce back from the union’s vilification, he will move to folk-hero because of the union’s laughable outrage.
All this on a morning when the world appears to be falling apart!
I doubt I have ever woken up to such a cacophony of crisies’. European banks are facing a credit crunch with the option of UK banking contagion. The French Prime Minister has had the brilliant (to him) idea of allowing Brussels to run Europe’s fiscal policies. Iran is pressing on with its nuclear bomb and Britain is worried about the decor of its Iranian Embassy.
In such a context, Jeremy Clarkson, Lord of Misrule, seems as relevent, as appropriate and as responsible as any of our leaders.
Three days have passed since Jeremy Clarkson demanded the public execution of more than two million public sector workers – almost one 20th of the UK’s entire adult population – in front of an even wider audience of their grief-stricken spouses and children.
But as talk of marches, walkouts, picket lines and pensions steadily slip from the water-cooler lexicon, the same cannot be said for the Top Gear presenter, whose remark on The One Show has almost come to surpass, in the public consciousness, the strikes themselves.
Amidst the extraordinary, if not entirely unpredictable, backlash there remains the suggestion that the whole thing may in fact have been an elaborate put-up job. Mr Clarkson, as has been widely reported, has a Christmas DVD to sell, and as Gypsies, the Welsh and the Mexican ambassador to London will attest, a bit of self-manufactured outrage would not be a new tactic.
Some have gone so far as to accuse the BBC of a “conspiracy”, citing three reasons. One, the revelation that Clarkson agreed with One Show producers to make an extreme remark about the strikers, which he duly did. Two, that a question on the matter opened the BBC’s Question Time debate on Thursday night, before the strikes themselves were discussed. And three, that the BBC’s communications manager, Tara Davies, has been handling the issue, who is said to have a close working relationship with him.
But yesterday leading PR practitioners rejected the idea that Clarkson’s remarks were another carefully managed stunt, and that the man himself, who has since disappeared to China, may already be really regretting his most recent outburst.
“Cynics might say it’s a PR coup,” said leading agent Mark Borkowski. “But [the BBC] have had 22,000 complaints, and have apologised very quickly. But it wasn’t a very funny joke, and it was badly timed.
“It’s really important to understand in modern PR terms what generates this sense of virality. It’s got controversy, topicality, and schadenfreude. They make it a powerful story, but above all it’s about timing. Clarkson will almost certainly regret it because of the abuse he’s getting. Was it premeditated? Absolutely not.”
The trade union Unison, which originally said it was seeking “urgent legal advice” regarding the comments and called for the presenter to be sacked, has since accepted his apology in good faith and called on him to spend a day with a poorly paid healthcare worker to see life from their perspective. He is yet to respond to the offer.
“If he agrees to scrub out bedpans for the day, well, he’s damned if he does that,” said Borkowski. “It’s how far the Jeremy Clarkson cult can survive. There are a number of these things crashing in on him now. On this occasion it was more spontaneous, but then the timing, the day, the audience, that makes people more aggrieved. It’s a question of whether people have had enough of him, but I certainly wouldn’t be writing any obituaries for Jeremy Clarkson.”
Celebrity publicist Max Clifford said: “I don’t think it will make too much difference to his DVD sales. I don’t know the man well enough but I doubt he gives a tinker’s what anyone else thinks. He’ll regret it if he loses his job, but that’s not going to happen.”