Sunday, 16 August 2015

CLARKSON Gwen Russell

CLARKSON: The Gloves Are Off
John Blake Books, 2015, 285 pages

Review by Phil Shannon 

There are many more lowlights to the career of the car-obsessed television personality, Jeremy Clarkson, than his assault in March this year on the producer of his motoring show, Top Gear, in a row over the lack of a hot meal after a day’s filming, which put the BBC employee in hospital with a split lip.

Gwen Russell’s homage to Clarkson, although trying to show him as a “cultured and thoughtful” Renaissance Man, does concede that Clarkson, his brain stuck in reptilian gear, has offended women (with cheap sexual metaphors when describing cars), gays (homosexuality is ‘repulsive’, ‘grotesque’), a wide array of foreigners (Germans, for example, whom he is still fighting the last war against), environmentalists (he would only use an environmentally-friendly car ‘as an outside toilet’), New Zealand Maoris (threatening to drive over a sacred beach) and striking public sector workers (who should be executed in front of their families).

Clarkson hates speed limits, speed cameras, drink-driving laws, bus-lanes, cyclists, the science of global warming.  He likes smoking, hunting, the hairy-chested novels of Tom Clancy, and, above all, powerful and noisy engines.  He has a fully-fledged fighter jet as a garden ornament.

Lacking erudition (he is no Stephen Fry), Clarkson is a middling standard entertainer reliant on crude national stereotypes, ethnic prejudices and sexual innuendo, whose appeal is primarily to a narrow stratum of men - motoring enthusiasts, unreformed sexists, opponents of ‘political correctness’, conservative wailers against the ‘nanny state’ (he regards occupational health and safety regulations as ‘the cancer of a civilised society’). 

His banner-waving for this constituency moaning over their diminishing advantages has, however, made Clarkson wealthy.  He was pulling in £3 million a year from the BBC, ran a large fleet of expensive cars, and owned a six-acre estate in the country, a swish apartment in London and a £1.25 million holiday home in the tax-friendly, no-speed-limit Isle of Man.

Clarkson has returned the economic favours to his employer many times over, bringing in £50 million annually to the BBC’s commercial arm.  Right up until Clarkson’s violence against one of their employees, the BBC defended their money-dynamo.  Clarkson was just a jester, they said.  Those offended by Clarkson’s bigoted, racist, sexist and homophobic slurs that passed for wit simply couldn’t take a joke.  His critics are just po-faced purists getting the wrong angle on a ‘professional controversialist’ who doesn’t mean what he says.  Despite Russell joining this exculpatory chorus, her book-length fan letter, if handled with protective gloves, does enough to show, however, that the television clown’s utterances betray the values of the man.

The model for Clarkson’s animus towards the state and what he sees as its throttling of individual freedom and stifling of the entrepreneur was his self-employed family’s highly successful Paddington Bear toy business.  This upbringing predisposed Clarkson to worship Margaret Thatcher and her decade of economic opportunity, unfettered by state or unions, for the financial go-getter.  He is the full Tory ideological package.

Like the young, truculent schoolboy he was, the now tattered, middle-aged Clarkson is still taunting authority, says Russell, trying to portray him as a subversive wit.  Not all authority is jeered at, however.  Immune from Clarkson’s derision are the monarchy, the military, corporate titans and Empire (or what’s left of it - the Falklands).  He is utterly unthreatening to the powerful that matter under capitalism.  Clarkson has never really grown up – he still plays with (Big Boys’) Toys and he bullies, with verbal and physical abuse, the powerless and those he sees as inferiors.

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