Punching a colleague in the face is a sure fire way to lose your job, but a former BBC boss has admitted the British broadcaster should be kicking itself for losing Jeremy Clarkson.
In a Sunday Times interview, former BBC director-general Mark Thompson admitted it was a mistake to lose him – and one that could prove costly, given that the revamped Top Gear failed to achieve the same level of success in its first series.
“Clarkson can be a deeply objectionable individual, and I say that as a friend. I don’t think people should punch their colleagues. It’s hard to keep them if they do,” he admitted.
“But I would say his pungent, transgressive, slightly out-of-control talent was something the BBC could ill afford to lose. He spoke to people who didn’t find much else in the BBC,” he added. Thompson is now head of the New York Times.
Clarkson avoided being fired, but his BBC contract was never renewed after punching producer Oison Tymon and so he was unable to return to the BBC Two motoring show, which he helped revamp in 2002 – the year Richard Hammond joined the line-up.
His co-stars, Hammond and May, followed suit and were quick to make light of the fact they were job-less. But soon Amazon outbid Netflix for the services of the trio and ex-Top Gear executive producer, Andy Wilman, and The Grand Tour was born.
The BBC was quick to point out it had made more money than ever from selling licences of the new Top Gear show, which starred Chris Evans (before he quit), Matt LeBlanc, Rory Reid, Sabine Schmitz, Chris Harris and The Stig.
The real test, of course, will be how well it sells in light of being panned by critics and the massively reduced average audience. Plus Clarkson and company make their Amazon Prime debut in the autumn of 2016 onwards, meaning things are only likely to get tougher for the Beeb.
In the same interview, Thompson recalled another example of Clarkson getting into trouble. “Clarkson phoned up out of the blue when I was on a day off. His first words were: “I won’t apologise, I don’t care what you say: I won’t.”
He added: “I said: “Er, why would I want you to apologise?” He told me that he’d just called Gordon Brown, who was then Prime Minister, “a one-eyed Scottish idiot” and a “c***”. We agreed that he would apologise for calling him ‘one-eyed’.”
Soon after departing from the BBC, Clarkson was similarly honest about the situation. Speaking at a charity event, he said: “The BBC have f***** themselves. [Top Gear] was a great show and they f***** it up.”