The controversial BBC presenter’s downfall says more about Brits’ penchant for violence than it does about the false assumption that he is a victim of the politically correct brigade.
Jeremy Clarkson’s a funny man, no question. Few presenters are as gifted with a quick turn of phrase or a devastatingly hilarious put down as the man from Chipping Norton.
True, like many of his detractors, I wince at his most questionable remarks, and I hardly ever agree with him whenever he believes he has something profound to say, but I’ve concluded that if you’re seeking deep and insightful debate you’re better off reading Voltaire and Orwell.
Of course there’s his loyal army of fans; those who like to think he’s the last bastion of common sense in a PC-mad world.
Clarkson effectively became the voice of the forgotten white, middle class Brit; a bloke who is fearful of change and feels largely unrepresented in today’s society. It’s not surprising then that the only solace blokes like Clarkson find is in rambling endlessly on about inlet manifolds, negative camber and going out on the lash.
But like a garrulous boozer at the pub, whose repartee is only entertaining until the sixth pint, at which point it becomes a public nuisance, it was only a matter of time before Clarkson’s acerbic wit gave way to something far more disturbing.
His assault on a BBC producer because he couldn’t get his own way showed that for all his quick wit and ability to entertain an audience, he can still behave like a mindless moron when faced with an awkward situation.
Despite (or maybe because of) this, his fans have remained supportive. It’s as though there’s an unwritten law that says ‘this is what we Brits do when we lose our rag’. We shouldn’t forget that Clarkson has a bit of a track record when it comes to viewing violence as an effective method of problem solving – he biffed the irritating Piers Morgan in the face some years ago simply because he didn’t like what had been written about him in The Daily Mirror.
The assault allegedly occurred after he’d had a drop or two to drink, so no prizes for guessing there’s a causal link between booze and violence. But is there more to this? Could it be that the British obsession with keeping a ‘stiff upper lip’ makes Brits more susceptible to violence, and that turning to drink is simply a symptom of the problem of repressing emotions?
Many years ago I was given a unique insight into rugby culture. A friend explained that nothing made the after-match booze up more enjoyable than shaking hands after a good old punch up on the field. He viewed it as a sort of rite of passage, but to me it appeared more like bonding for the emotionally constipated.
There are many British literal references that illustrate the link between alcohol, violence and repressive behaviour. Check Dickens and Robert Louis Stephenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The latter is a fascinating study on hypocritical Victorian values: the outwardly respectable and erudite figure who transforms into a violent monster after downing a secret potion; a not-too-subtle metaphor for alcoholism and sexual repression – two of the Victorians’ greatest obsessions.
A criminologist I spoke to in Mojacar recently told me about his experiences with boozy Brits. A victim of the recession like so many well qualified Spaniards, he ended up working in a hotel by the coast, but at least it gave him a few useful insights into criminal behaviour. He was at pains to point out that Brits had always been polite to him and that, after having lived in the UK for some time, he had struck many close friendships with the English. That said, he admitted that the few times there had been trouble at the hotel – most notably when it was closing time at the bar – it was the Brits who ended up in a fracas. Although rare, he noted that in these instances the presence of police and ambulances had been required – and that a few bones had been broken in the process. By contrast, whenever Germans, Swedes or Norwegians had had a few too many they simply called it a night and went to bed.
A close friend who worked at the BBC for many years as a TV news presenter has so many revealing behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the dubious behaviour of reporters I had always placed on a pedestal that I can only conclude that brawling transcends class boundaries in Britain.
He gleefully retold the story of the punishment meted out to a fresh-faced reporter who had just started working at the Beeb. A long serving and highly respected hack – a well known presenter too, as it happens – punctiliously informed him that, as a newcomer, he would have to wait his turn to get his own desk. When he found out later in the day that the young chap and not him had been given a new copy of the ‘A-Z’ he went ape-shit, grabbing him by the throat and lifting him above the ground to the point that he almost fainted.
Clarkson is just following a long British tradition, a pattern of behaviour that is tolerated and sneakily admired. But behind the quips which elicit admiring pats on the back there’s a darker story, often linked to insecurity and destructive rage. Let’s see it simply for what it is – abuse.