March 22, 2023

Jeremy Clarkson’s talent for saying controversial things is so reliable that Jeremy Clarkson: king of controversy (Channel 5) was already in production last year, before its latest controversy. You know: the newspaper column in which he said he dreamed of the day when the Duchess of Sussex “would be forced to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain as crowds chanted ‘Shame!’ and throw pieces of excrement at him”. They could have actually made this documentary anytime in the last 20 years and had enough material for a program. No wonder it lasted nearly two hours.

It was that Channel 5 staple – archival clips and talking heads – and a look at Clarkson’s greatest hits: Top Gear’s gag about lorry drivers murdering prostitutes, the statement on The One Show according to which the strikers should be taken out and shot, right? back to one of his early car reviews in which he raves about “the first Ford I can remember that looks good enough to break the elastic in your pants at 50 paces.”

These clips were linked by friends and former colleagues of Clarkson, who saw him as a very mean boy who is impossible to stay angry with for very long. Jonathan Ross diagnosed his pal thus: “My experience of men who went to public school [Clarkson went to Repton] it’s that they don’t grow like in the real world. There are so many rules in place, and such a hierarchy, that many of them remain in a permanent state of adolescence. And so is Jeremy.

As noted by contributors such as Jeremy Vine, Clarkson brilliantly transformed Top Gear from a decent car show into an entertainment giant. He can be very funny and clever – his One Show remarks were designed to show the absurdity of BBC executives demanding guests agree to provide ‘balanced’ views on the political hot potato of the day.

But he can also be a rude bully – hitting a producer for not being able to buy you a steak dinner is not the same as hitting Piers Morgan for posting nasty things about your family. Still, he survived that one. And I don’t believe the Sussex kerfuffle will kill his career. Clarkson’s controversial brand is loved by millions.

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