The month of March this year brought us the news of Jeremy Clarkson being suspended over a fracas with one of the producers of his show. I resisted the temptation to follow in the fashion of so many colleagues of mine. The social interweb was beckoning for a comment – but I reasoned that it wasn’t really either my job or my calling to comment for or against a luminary like Jeremy Clarkson.
He is very close to being an institution in himself. Top Gear, BBC’s motoring show and Mr C go hand in hand to the extent that you really don’t know whether they have separate identities. He has anchored the show, from the days when it was a straightforward car show to one that today has evolved to an extent that most people just call it entertainment. After all what else do you call a show about three middle-aged codgers racing each other around various places in almost anything that moves, with the sundry car report tossed in? The formula works and the show has left competition way behind, earning BBC Worldwide millions of pounds in licence fees and advertising.
But what it hasn’t done is make Mr C an idol for Ms. Manners. He has been caught on camera with racist remarks, bad language and a strong chauvinistic streak. Of course he was always a proponent of British marques, even if he had to take a sideswipe at them to get them noticed. But I don’t think anyone was surprised that he took a swipe at his own producer. Actually, I was surprised that BBC actually told him to take a hike, announcing that Top Gear and Mr Clarkson were parting ways.
In this clash of egos – the BBC seems to have won the battle, but it’s Clarkson’s war to lose.
Something similar also happened with another Mr C that I admired. Charlie Sheen had come a long way from his Hot Shots days, but nothing defined him so accurately or so well as his portrayal of Charlie Harper in Two and a Half Men. Okay, so the serial with its subtle and not so subtle storyline of chauvinism, philandering, alcohol and substance abuse, marital discord and female objectification isn’t really the best choice of a benchmark. But Mr Sheen never denied that he was Mr Harper in essence and seven successful years of the serial backed his credibility. It took another showdown with his producer to snap the relationship, which all his drunkenness and substance abuse hadn’t managed. Now, two seasons later and the serial is coming to an end.
What does that tell us about the pairing of the protagonists’ ego with the identity of the show? They are inseparable – much to the chagrin of BBC that is what they will discover in the case of Top Gear too. There is far too much at stake here for the boffins to refer to workplace practices and employment rules to find an answer. “Thou shalt not land a haymaker on thine colleagues visage” may well be written into the contract, but if the show is to survive, what the Beeb needs is Mr Clarkson and Oisin Tymon to publicly patch up on Top Gear, with proper contriteness and other faff from the anchor as well as a large monetary donation to some anger management helpline from his pocket. He can afford it and will surely not try it again. And Top Gear can get back to doing what it does – entertain people around the world with its antics.
Unfortunately, I had stopped regularly watching the show years ago. The bumbling antics, non-analytical presentation style and rambling plots were not to my taste. But I blame that on my being part of the industry – I don’t need Top Gear to tell me what the best cars are out there. But there are millions who do, so please can we get the show back?
However, if Two and a Half Men ever came back on air with Charlie Sheen at the helm, no one would be happier than I.