Opinion

Why the BBC had no choice but to fire the now former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson

5 min read

25 March 2015

Jeremy Clarkson described his week as a “turbulent” affair, while he awaited the BBC's decision regarding whether the broadcaster would be renewing his contract. After days of hearing nothing, “not a sausage”, the company officially let him go.

On Thursday Clarkson told the audience of a charity event that “the BBC have f***ed themselves. It was a great show and they f***ed it up”.

This statement has been felt by many as they swamped Twitter and created a petition in order to reinstate him. But Ken MacQuarrie’s investigation of the incident on 4 March found that Clarkson did physically attack senior producer Oisin Tymon. 

The BBC will not be, as the trending hashtag pleaded, bringing Clarkson back. This was a decision director-general Tony Hall claims “not to have taken lightly”. 

Read more about Jeremy Clarkson’s recent predicament:

“The BBC is a broad church,” Hall said. “Our strength in many ways lies in that diversity. We need distinctive and different voices but they cannot come at any price. Common to all at the BBC have to be standards of decency and respect. I cannot condone what has happened on this occasion. 

“A member of staff – who is a completely innocent party – took himself to accident and emergency after a physical altercation accompanied by sustained and prolonged verbal abuse of an extreme nature. For me a line has been crossed. There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”

Glenn Hayes, an employment partner at Irwin Mitchell, explained that the BBC did not really have a choice.

“The suggestion that Clarkson looked to punch one of his producers was very serious and in the workplace would usually be deemed gross misconduct and following a fair disciplinary hearing, would usually result in immediate dismissal without notice.

“Although the BBC had a petition with hundreds of thousands of signatures on it to have him reinstated prior to his contract not being renewed, the corporation could have made a ‘rod for its back’ if they put their demands first. This would mean that it could have left itself open to unfair dismissal claims from other staff in the future if they were dismissed in similar circumstances, or for other perceived gross misconduct offences, and Clarkson was not.”

Read more about Top Gear:

There is huge power in standing by your values in the face of a tough situation, but it is often not easy. By making a morally correct decision, perhaps needing to let your “star” go, may mean you risk losing revenue.

Being one of BBC2’s most popular shows, garnering five million viewers a week and generating £50m a year, one has to wonder what the repercussions will be.

The BBC now finds itself in a tricky situation.

“[We] must look to renew Top Gear for 2016,” Hall explained. “This will be a big challenge and there is no point in pretending otherwise. I have asked Kim Shillinglaw to look at how best we might take this forward over the coming months. I have also asked her to look at how we put out the last programmes in the current series.”

In the process of looking for a replacement for Clarkson, it remains to be seen whether James May and Richard Hammond, whose contracts were to be renewed at the end of the month, will continue filming.

In fact, it was reported that they refused to film the last three episodes without Clarkson, forcing the BBC to close the season earlier than expected.

A source said: “They didn’t want to do it without Clarkson so the talks didn’t get off the ground. There is a feeling that it is all of them or none of them.”

“Obviously none of us wanted to find ourselves in this position,” Hall said. “This decision should in no way detract from the extraordinary contribution that Jeremy Clarkson has made to the BBC. I have always personally been a great fan of his work and Top Gear. Jeremy is a huge talent. He may be leaving the BBC but I am sure he will continue to entertain, challenge and amuse audiences for many years to come.”

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