Jeremy Clarkson’s humour is often on the edge, but he’s not a racist

In the time I have spent with Clarkson, I have heard him espouse all manner of right-wing nonsense - but never anything even borderline racist
  • @Simon_Kelner

I am not terribly interested in motor cars, and to prove it I own the most unremarkable car in Britain, a second-hand Volkswagen Passat. I’ve never desired a sports car as a badge of my mid-life crisis, and Grand Prix racing bores me rigid. I even admit that I’m not a very good driver, of which more later. I am not, you’d be correct to assume, part of Top Gear’s natural constituency. I hardly ever watch the show, although when I do I find it diverting, and I can certainly understand why it’s one of the BBC’s major money-spinners at home and abroad.

As we all know, there’s one big reason for Top Gear’s success. Jeremy Clarkson is a phenomenon, a one-man, turbocharged iconoclast whose nerveless presentational style, wicked humour and outspoken views have turned him into one of Britain’s pre-eminent and controversial performers. Imagine Top Gear without Clarkson and you’ll see how much of a driving force (sorry) he is in a programme that gives pleasure to many millions.

But that is not the whole story. Rarely a day has passed recently without Clarkson’s mug dominating the pages of other (inferior) newspapers. He’s a racist! He’s an adulterer! He’s a disgrace! I know Clarkson, and see him from time to time in a social context. I’ve been to his house, and in fact once crashed into his prized Ford GT, which he had parked, rather irresponsibly I thought, in his own driveway.

In the time I have spent with Clarkson, I have heard him espouse all manner of right-wing nonsense. He and I don’t think the same on virtually any subject. But I’ve never heard him utter anything that was even borderline racist, nothing that gave me pause to think that he was other than a very amusing cove with a host of – to my mind – crackpot views.

But over recent days, he’s had to apologise for using the N-word, and is being investigated by Ofcom for use of the word “slope” to describe an Asian man. In between, he’s had his private life raked over in the public prints (he is estranged from his second wife, and his first wife helpfully gave her overview of his marital situation).

Obviously, the  N-word is as offensive as it gets. Was it wrong for Clarkson even to mumble that word? Yes. But does that constitute racist behaviour? Of course not.

The use of the word “slope” as a derogatory term was neither funny nor clever. It’s right that Top Gear’s producer should apologise. One of the things that makes Clarkson funny and clever is that he lives on the edge. Occasionally, he topples over. Does that make him a racist? Of course not.

In a culture where the bland leads the bland, Jeremy Clarkson is an awkward customer, a man who speaks with an authentic voice, who entertains, and who also says lots of things with which we might not agree. We should preserve him for the nation.