The BBC has two main sources of funding, a hypothecated tax called the license fee and the proceeds of commercial operations such as selling books and magazines, selling programmes overseas and advertising in their overseas broadcasts. The star of their commercial operation was Top Gear, the most highly watched factual TV programme in history, with 350 million viewers. One in 20 of the Earth’s entire population.
As a keen motoring enthusiast I remember Top Gear when it was presented by Angela Rippon and then Noel Edmonds. It was dire, with earnest features on using a child seat, MOT tests and fuel economy. The actual entertainment content was close to zero. Jeremy Clarkson arrived in late 1988 and the show was transformed, becoming a lot more fun and rapidly becoming BBC2s most watched programme. Then in 2001 Clarkson left and the show rapidly went downhill, losing about half its audience and so it was axed. Most of the original presenting and production team moved to independent television to make Fifth Gear.
Jeremy Clarkson and producer Andy Wilman successfully pitched a new format for Top Gear to the BBC. The new series was first broadcast in 2002. Richard Hammond joined the programme and, a year later, James May.
Top Gear is great entertainment. Superficially, to the viewer, it is three lads larking around in cars. But in reality it is incredibly professionally and skillfully crafted. It is the pinnacle of the programme makers’ art. As the viewing figures prove. And Clarkson has been at the heart of this, firstly as a top rate journalist and secondly as a natural entertainer. To the point that Top Gear is Jeremy Clarkson, and vice versa.
Jeremy Clarkson is now a world class entertainer, an A list celebrity. And part of his persona, part of the entertainment, is his hate of cultural Marxism and political correctness. He is spot on about this, we are not allowed to think or say what we want to any more, the thought police have taken over. In February 2009, for instance, he (accurately) described Gordon Brown as a “one-eyed Scottish idiot” during a press conference in Australia and was forced to apologise. Yet the BBC’s huge coterie of lefty “entertainers” can and do say far worse things about David Cameron, Margaret Thatcher, the Tories etc on a daily basis. Why don’t they have to apologise?
One enduring feature of Clarkson’s political correctness was that he was telling inconvenient truths. And the left hate the truths of their failings to be exposed. Which at the lefty BBC made him public enemy number one.
There can be no excuse for the latest fracas. Clarkson will be very ashamed of himself. As should the BBC in their phenomenal mishandling of the situation. In 2003 Alex Ferguson kicked a boot into the face of David Beckham, leaving a permanent scar. Manchester United didn’t then announce that they weren’t going to play any more matches that season. They didn’t sack Alex Ferguson. They kept their business running as a phenomenal success.
Which brings us to the two huge problems that the BBC has. Firstly they cannot replace Clarkson and the show will die unless it is completely reinvented. Any presenter taking on the Clarkson role will be committing career suicide. And a completely fresh show would be starting at zero. It takes something incredibly special to become the world’s most watched factual TV programme. Just look how awfully Fifth Gear has failed. So the BBC have lost a lot of viewers and a lot of money. Added to which is the pain of paying compensation around the world to many broadcasters for failing to complete the latest series.
The BBC’s second problem is the point in history we are at. The terrestrial broadcast and single annual tax payment are near their end game as a business and as a technology model. New upstarts from satellite, cable and the internet are taking over. They provide a far better product. Sky revolutionised the broadcasting of soccer games, Breaking Bad, Fargo, Community and their ilk are light years ahead of the BBC. And they are happy to pay. £10 million for each Premiership soccer game, for instance. And now it is probable that Clarkson will join them. They will pay him vastly more than the BBC did. Maybe 50 times more. And they will steal very many tens of millions of viewers away from terrestrial.
The current BBC charter runs until December 31 2016. The Clarkson events will now have an immense effect on the renewal outcome. And it won’t be good for the BBC. The BBC must be broken up and sold off.