It’s astonishing how many people have come down on the side of Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson in the past few weeks, as if he’s an embattled hero being persecuted by his wicked employer. Fans will be fans I suppose, and one thing Clarkson has done is to polarise a very large number of people into communities of those who love him and those who love to hate him.
He wouldn’t much care about that. He’s taken a vast amount of pride over the years in saying whatever he felt, regardless of who it upset, partly one suspects because it’s good for the show’s controversial stance, and partly because he genuinely likes to run his mouth. And there are millions of people who love him for it.
Those people seem to number among them the most vocal proponents of the ‘forgive Jezza’ movement, and from what I can tell, they appear to have hinged their argument on two main ideas: that because he’s the spiritual leader of Top Gear, the show will be nothing without him, and that since that’s just his personality, he should be allowed to get away with things that others may not.
When you strip emotion and fanatical fandom from the argument however and examine the facts, the story is pretty simple. An employee, who had already received several warnings for his behaviour, verbally and then physically assaulted another employee.
In most, if not all organisations, that is a sackable offence.
When you’re such a significant generator of revenue however, it brings with it a host of new dilemmas. Forget his celebrity; were Clarkson the number one sales person for his organisation, the same question would have to be asked: if we lose this guy, we lose a whole chunk of revenue. If we keep him, we compromise a rule which we will struggle forever to enforce in other, similar situations. So what do we do?
Let’s be clear: the BBC did not create this situation. Jeremy Clarkson did. The BBC did not pick this dilemma. Jeremy Clarkson did. The BBC, it seems highly unlikely, would have ever chosen to cause probably fatal damage to one of its most successful products by firing the star, but as an organisation, it didn’t initiate the events that led to it. Jeremy Clarkson did.
So what do you do? I think I’d be joined by 99 out of 100 Fortune 100 CEOs in saying that when it comes to a point of Values like this, you have no option but to fire the star. It’s not only okay; it’s necessary.
I’ll miss you Jeremy Clarkson. But I’ll never blame anyone for your demise, but you.