Editor's Corner

‘Top Gear’ is another ‘Sachsgate’ waiting to happen

One of Britain's strongest TV exports is fast becoming one of Britain's biggest embarrassments.


In my four years at Yahoo! I've seen many instances of what I call 'outrage snowballs'. They can be born from the smallest comment or misplaced joke to the crudest TV show or newspaper article. These snowballs start off small but as the outrage picks up speed they become bigger and bigger, wrecking everything in their path with little regard for common sense. Before long you have an avalanche on your hands.

The first, and undoubtedly biggest, outrage snowball I encountered was 2008's 'Sachsgate' which saw Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand suspended by the BBC for crude phone calls to Andrew Sachs regarding his granddaughter Georgina Baillie. Directly after the incident two people complained, then the Daily Mail got the outrage rolling and 18,000 complaints later Ross had been benched and Brand had quit the BBC.

Skip forward two years and we've been outraged at Jan Moir, Frankie Boyle, various reality TV show judges and a woman who put a cat in a bin, to name but a few. One group of people who seem intent on being added to the list are 'Top Gear' presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. It seems the trio are in the news on a monthly basis with some ignorant remark or another.

Last week Tweedledee, Tweedledum and The Other One insulted people from Mexico and Albania - an impressive feat to rile people from two countries in one week even by their standards. Here's what they had to say about Mexican people:

Hammond: ...Cars reflect national characteristics, don't they, so German cars are very well built and ruthlessly efficient, Italian cars are a bit flamboyant and quick, a Mexican car's just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight... leaning against a fence asleep, looking at a cactus, with a blanket with a hole in the middle as a coat.
May: It is interesting, isn't it, because they can't do food, the Mexicans, can they? Because it's all like sick with cheese on it, I mean...
Hammond: Refried sick!
May: Yeah, refried sick.
Hammond: I'm sorry, but just imagine waking up and remembering you're Mexican: 'awww, no'.
Clarkson: No, it'd be brilliant... because you could just go straight back to sleep again.

Complaints from viewers were sent in when Clarkson added that the Mexican ambassador would be sleeping in front of the television so wouldn't be able to muster a protest. Unfortunately for Clarkson, and more specifically the BBC, Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza wasn't asleep and did indeed hear the comments. He demanded, and was granted, an apology from our nation's most prestigious TV channel (Living TV is a close second).

Since then a Mexican woman living in London has decided to bring a test case against 'Top Gear' under a new equality law and is demanding that the motoring show is taken off the air and that there is a formal investigation into the incident.

While the BBC issued a rather weak apology, and has pulled the offending segment from the US version of the show, Clarkson remains unapologetic. In his column for The Sun he wrote: "Mexico doesn't have an Olympic team... because anyone who can run, jump or swim is already across the border."

I'm rather liberal when it comes to comedy but I fail to see anything humorous about three middle aged, overpaid, pompous men poking fun at people from a country being ravaged by drug wars. It was obviously intended as a joke and that's how it should be taken, but when you offend people with your jokes you apologise.

By further stoking the fire Clarkson just comes across as a bigot and while 'Top Gear' is continuously being pumped abroad as part of the BBC World Service these three goons are increasingly becoming representatives of the UK. As Steve Coogan said in his piece on the same matter for The Guardian: "Big viewing figures don't give you impunity - they carry responsibility. Start showing some, tuck your shirts in, be a bit funnier and we'll pretend it all never happened."

Adding to the 'Top Gear' outrage snowball doesn't interest me in the slightest but the BBC need to keep Clarkson, Hammond and May on a tighter leash if they're going to continue to use them so prominently or the next 'Sachsgate' will be just around the corner. The Beeb doesn't need to lose more of its stars as a result of poor management.