Racing pundit John McCririck was dropped because he was 'unappealing and irritating', tribunal told

Senior executive says commentator's 'exaggerated tone' had become out of step with Channel 4's coverage

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The Independent Online

The controversial pundit John McCririck was dropped from Channel 4's horse racing programmes because he was "unappealing and irritating" to viewers, not because of his age, a senior executive at the broadcaster has claimed.

Jamie Aitchison, commissioning editor for sport, told a tribunal that the commentator's "exaggerated tone" had become "out of step" with the channel's coverage and his boorish manner offended members of the audience.

McCririck, 73, who launched a £3 million age discrimination claim against his former employers, argued that his image as a bigot and a sexist went "side-by-side" with his career as a serious journalist.

But Mr Aitchison told the tribunal that when the Channel 4 won the rights to "crown jewel" events including the Grand National and Royal Ascot in 2012, a change was required to the broadcaster's presentation which had become too "niche".

"Channel 4 set out to create a tone that was a little more serious, measured and inclusive," Mr Aitchison said. McCririck was "seen by many as a comic act rather than a serious horse racing journalist," he added.

The pundit's "exaggerated tone and style and propensity to offend was out of step with the vision for the programme, and also unappealing and irritating to many current and potential viewers."

He added that the decision to drop him from the line-up last year was taken for "legitimate and justified reasons."

Channel 4 set out to create a tone that was "a little more serious, measured and inclusive."

Citing press coverage, audience surveys and viewer complaints about McCririck, Mr Aitchison, who has worked previously as a producer on BBC and ITV sports shows, rejected the claim that he was sacked because of his age. The decision was taken on "merit" alone.

Mr Aitchison also said McCririck's idiosyncratic style and starring role on Celebrity Big Brother did not fit with the new format of the show.

In his witness statement he said: "His over-exaggerated gestures and facial expressions to camera alongside occasional extreme views on often controversial subject riled viewers and colleagues alike.

"John's nicknames for women contributed to a wider reputation he established for among sexist comments and other bizarre behaviour through his appearances on reality television programmes."

He said McCririck liked the limelight so much that he hogged the camera when he was on Channel 4 Racing, putting himself before his co-presenters. "He tried to maximise his time on screen and therefore limiting that of others, particularly Tanya Stevenson, the betting pundit he worked with," he said.

Ms Eady asked Mr Aitchison if he had ever told him to change his broadcasting style to fit in with Channel 4 Racing's vision, like waving around his arms less or dressing differently.

The executive replied that if McCririck had changed any of those famous characteristics, he would lose his identity. "If you chopped off John McCririck's arms to stop him doing tic-tac, he wouldn't be John McCririck," he said.

McCririck had told the hearing that his appearances as a "pantomime villain" on reality TV shows did not reduce his "gravitas" and denied that they damaged the image of horse racing.

The Conservative MP Philip Davies appeared as a character witness for McCririck. "I can't think of anybody who is more on top of his game, nor suitable for the role," the MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire told the tribunal.

Davies, who sits on the Culture Select Committee, acknowledged he had previously criticised Channel 4 for "being too politically correct".