Jeremy Clarkson, the BBC and nonsense?


It's been said..... ‘TOP GEAR is bigger than the man and Clarkson can be replaced.’ TOP GEAR has been on the BBC since April 1977. Yawn. At the turn of the millennium the BBC sold a chunk of the format rights to Jeremy Clarkson and another chunk to his producer partner Andy Wilman in their joint venture called Bedder 6. You have to assume the BBC did this because they thought Top Gear was finished. Clarkson took a tired, dog-eared show with all the mass market appeal of a bus driver’s sock and turned it into a monster success. Lo and behold aren't these the very same rights that last year BBC Worldwide apparently forked out £8.4m to Clarkson for his share! Get real! This is not like Dr. Who, a role you can change with another actor. Despite the undoubted skill of all the others involved, Jeremy Clarkson came up with the successful format that is now Top Gear, stars in the damn thing, comes up with the ideas and writes most of the script. (Yes, sorry, it's not all ad lib)! Maybe it's the audience itself the BBC no longer wants? But replace Clarkson and keep it…? No way.

...and another thing

There are reports saying the BBC has a liability of around a million pounds for the purported cost of what has been so far spent on the three outstanding shows; i.e.£1m of our license fee money has been lost.

This seems a myth as big as announcing the Loch Ness monster is the star of the next Sir David Attenborough natural history documentary. (A legendary broadcaster the BBC lost to SKY).

As everyone keeps trumpeting, Top Gear is seen by a gabillion people in a gazillion countries. Yes, many receive the show via BBC owned channels but a huge number watch the show because it has been sold or ‘licensed’ to a local broadcaster. These broadcasters in normal industry practices would have committed to buy the series with the number of episodes and delivery dates having all been contractually set. Non delivery in TV is a huge no-no.

I worked in TV distribution for over 20 years so I do have some idea what I am talking about. Non delivery is a knuckleduster punch to broadcasters’ schedules, as the shows have to be replaced. Finding replacements (in this case three one hour episodes that are not part of another series) that you can drop into the slot quickly is not easy and can be expensive. On top of that advertisers, sponsors and licensers of merchandising as well as DVD sales are all impacted. Even if the Top Gear shows were completed but delivered late, to find room for them later in the schedule that has been set many months in advance would be like trying to sew buttons on fog.

How much is non delivery going to cost us, the license fee payer, both in terms of lost revenue from sales as well as compensation to other broadcasters; let alone a drop in the value of Top Gear itself? Can someone please come clean on the real economic impact of non-delivery?

...and another thing

The BBC knows its audience.

Really? Top Gear attracts a significant slice of the one audience broadcasters would allow publication of their expense accounts in the popular press if they could be sure to attract; Youth. Young people just don’t watch much scheduled broadcast TV.

However the youth audience doesn’t love Top Gear because it’s just about cars. That’s what the old Top Gear was all about. It’s about men playing at boys (so there is hope in old age after all). The three well matched presenters spend an hour living out many people’s fantasy whilst thumbing their nose at authority, making jokes at each other’s expense as well as other people’s. Some jokes backfire but comedy by nature has to cause some mild offence to somebody…even if it’s just a chicken (that for some reason decided to cross the road).

So who thought a documentary about the Red Arrows (1 million viewers) was a suitable alternative last Sunday for Top Gear (5 million+ viewers). Clearly losing 75% of the audience is a justifiable near miss in programming terms at Broadcasting House. Most TV companies would not put up with such a fiasco; a huge and inexcusable misreading of the audience.

An avid Top Gear watcher said to me.

” A Red Arrows documentary? The programming department must think I’m as dumb as dog slobber if they think I’m watching that.”

The online support has gained about 1,000,000 signatures which is by far the biggest in the organiser’s ( history Yet a report in a newspaper commented that despite that huge public reaction it still left around 63 million people not supporting Clarkson. The same logic would suggest that because only 6,038 people signed up saying the last remaining Hurricane fighter plane should remain in Britain that the rest of us want it sent away. Daft!

...and another thing

There is no excuse for signs of such stress on location.

This to me is barely believable coming from a company with a production arm. Outside of a war torn location, TV and films sets are one of the most stressful environments on earth. Anyone at the BBC who has even been near one knows it.

I have been on film sets where the star knocked out the Director and an other where an actress stormed off for the day because her trailer was a foot shorter than her co-star. Of course neither was reprimanded.

One of the reasons set catering is of such high quality and vital to the smooth running of a shoot is that it is a physical embodiment of the Producers saying “We care about you, we know you are all going to complain with a squillion problems so let’s make sure food and drink ain’t one of them”.

To return to your hotel after what seems to have been a bad day and not be able to have a hot meal and lose it is something I can relate to, even if not condone. Yes, it would appear Jeremy Clarkson may have lost his temper and behaved badly. However it was he who rang the BBC to apologise with a ‘mea culpa.’

Not containing the problem and somehow having the incident appear in the press is crackers but then commenting on it further would appear to be border asinine. Even more gobsmacking is that it appears someone suggested support for Clarkson and turning a blind eye to his excesses, to being in the same vein as support for indulging in a serial sex offender like Jimmy Saville. Doh!

Couldn’t this ‘fracas’ have been set aside until completion of the series? What is the point of the BBC’s own Inquisitor General putting Jeremy Clarkson’s on the rack when his contract is about to come up for renewal? Is this about the show and viewers or personalities and political correctness? Whatever happens Joe Pubic picks up the tab. It would not take Sherlock Holmes long to come to the conclusion that blowing the biggest documentary show in the world that makes tens of millions for the BBC might be ‘ill advised’. Elementary..?

...and another thing

In the long-term this will have no effect on the BBC

The BBC charter is up for renewal and that includes setting the amount of its licence fee. I do have some rather radical ideas on that. More for another blog….

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  1. Chris says:

    Whilst the show might be a great and all that, if one of the presenters or any boss for that matter could with impunity berate and physically attack their co-workers at the drop of a dime that’s surely something we should not accept under any circumstances. All the talk is about the show, the personalities and the money, but if were my child that had been physically attacked and berated, shall we say I’d not be amused. Over the years we’ve allowed people like Jimmy Savile and others to get away with very bad behavior because of their celebrity and whilst Clarkson is no Savile the principle remains the same – we simply should not accept or turn a blind eye to any kind of double standard just because one person is a celebrity and the other is not.

    • Mark Grenside says:

      Thanks so much for your comment.
      I would never condone assault (though arguments that get physical on set or during a shoot is sadly not unusual).

      This is a developing story and conjecture is replaced by facts as time goes by. I still contend that the way this story broke, how it was played out in the press and lack of transparency of the financial consequences were wrong. I also call into question the decisions made on the replacement show and if the BBC understand what it is that makes Top Gear so attractive to millions of viewers. I suspect more revelations to come.

  2. David Wilks says:

    your observations are oracular.

  3. Winston says:

    It appears from all of this that the BBC could not organize a one car parade. Some junior achiever ninny thought they had won at the game of gotchya on Jezza, slaying their philosophical nemesis. The BBC’s hatred of Clarkson’s success is emboldened by their lack of perceived need for financial accountability. If as said they receive 50 mil a year in excess on Top Gear that is just the beginning, in the US and other markets they are charging cable and satellite companies for carriage based on viewership numbers for BBC America et al. How do you think future negotiations will evolve on fees with the loss of such substantial viewership?

    • Mark Grenside says:

      I can’t speak to what the BBC think or hate, I do despair of loss of value in an asset paid for my Lincense fee!

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