Sacking the Top Gear leader is the right BBC decision


No leader is indispensable

The moment you think you are—you’re not. Jeremy Clarkson led Top Gear in every respect, apart from the technicality that the BBC owned the franchise.

Until fairly recently, he seems to have assumed that for the business franchise that Top Gear had become he was more or less indispensable.  After all, his particular brand of humour and hutzpah had turned the programme into a global entertainment phenomenon.

Someone as irrepressible as Clarkson won’t be off air for long. Some other ambitious, ethically-challenged TV head of entertainment is probably right now making an attractive offer, hoping to snare one of the most successful TV brands.

The return won’t be called Top Gear,. But you can easily imagine Clarkson storming back with “Drive”, “Fast and Furious” or some equally appropriate branding. Yet taking him on could prove to be a poisoned chalice.

The precipitous fall of Bill Cosby in the US, who also headed a major TV series, is a Cosbysalutatory lesson for anyone who ignores the implications of unethical behaviour at work, or even outside it.

The tide of public opinion abruptly turned against Cosby as past accusations gained fresh traction. Appearances were cancelled and Netflix pulled a Cosby performance special from its Black Friday schedule. Another TV channel yanked all its episodes of The Cosby Show including the ones designated for a Thanksgiving marathon.

The ultimate rejection was NBC’s  jettisoning of the man who had miraculously revived the moribund network in the ’80s with his massively influential sitcom. NBC dumping Cosby was like Microsoft informing Bill Gates “you’re not welcome at our next shareholders’ meeting.”

No one is suggesting Clarkson sexually abused anyone. But the BBC has sensibly considered its own history of failing to take action over Saville and others. It has realised just how vulnerable it has become as a major employer if it fails to act decisively over unethical employee behaviour and particularly a high profile leader’s behaviour.

tank delivering signaturesA petition with a million signatures supporting Clarkson landed on the BBC’s doorstep. Provocatively–some would say entirely appropriately–it came delivered from a full size army tank.

Even the Prime Minister weighed in backing the show’s leader “He’s a constituent of mine, he is a friend of mine, he is a huge talent”

That kind of pressure must have made it hard for the BBC to do the right thing. Sensibly, the PM rapidly reversed gear and has rightly distanced himself from Clarkson.

The BBC should be praised for its bravery in taking on someone who apparently bullied and made even the producer of his programme fear for his job. If that is leadership let’s not have it.


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