Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson is to be sacked, bringing to an end a 27 year career with the BBC and an overhaul of the show. A BBC source told The Guardian – “There can’t be one rule for talent and one rule for ordinary human beings”.
In 1999 the director David O. Russell head butted George Clooney on the set of Three Kings.
Allegedly Clooney responded by choking Russell with his hands around his neck.
That didn’t seem to bother the Oscars, when Russell’s film Silver Linings Playbook was nominated for 8 in 2012.
In 2008 Christian Bale launched a disgraceful F-word laden 4 minute rant at Hollywood DP Shane Hurlbut on the set of Terminator Salvation after the DP had the tenacity to adjust a light and walk around in the background of the set. The actor had to be restrained by crew members.
Bale’s career of course progressed unhindered.
In a different tact but no less physically abusive, Stanley Kubrick on the set of The Shining drove actress Shelley Duval to the brink of a physical breakdown.
One of her scenes required swinging a baseball bat at Jack 127 times, with Kubrick presumably wanting to recreate a sense of realistic physical exhaustion in the swing. As a result of stress during the shoot her hair began to fall out.
It’s also suggested she suffered dehydration after days spent tearfully sobbing for so many re-takes. Allegedly Kubrick instructed his crew to show no sympathy.
Clearly filmmaking is not an office job where anyone is dispensable if they explode in a fit of anger.
Would the BBC had fired Christian Bale, George Clooney or David O. Russell?
Would it have been to the benefit of the organisation or an international audience of 350 million people?
But the alternative is so completely out of step with the democratic modern world and its hermetically sealed professional behaviour that I am afraid to even suggest it.
Let’s be clear about the ethics first. Clarkson is deep in the wrong; the BBC inquiry suggests the incident involved a 20 minute verbal tirade followed by a 30 second physical fracas. The BBC also have a wide range of less morally dubious talent into which to dip for a replacement and plenty of safer choices. Stephen Fry has been suggested.
The outcome of Clarkson’s sacking however is essentially cultural vandalism, a decision with far-reaching negative repercussions long into the future of the entire show and for the entire crew. BBC Top Gear is ruined. Executive Producer Andy Wilman who is responsible for the modern format and dreaming up most of the content, along with the other presenters James May and Richard Hammond are toast. They will likely leave with Clarkson and take the format to a different network.
So should in fact key talent at the very top be let off for abusive behaviour in the heat of a moment, as with Bale, as with O. Russell?
I believe the answer that’s in the best interest of the crew, the show, the broadcaster and the audience is “yes”, ethically difficult though that is.
But actually it should not have been allowed to get this far in the first place.
The BBC have failed to manage one of their most important talents.
If Clarkson had a problem with alcohol, the BBC should have done something about it.
If Clarkson had behavioural issues, something should have been done a long time ago about it.
And if Clarkson feels he can get away with hitting a producer, perhaps the fact his employees pandered to him like a rock god for a decade could have something to do with it.
In the event of an O’Russell explosion of a Clarkson fracas, I think significant slack should be cut to top talent under huge pressure on set, while battling personal issues off set.
The BBC are not acting in the best interests of their customers, and they’re running scared from controversy. Here’s the statement from Director General, Tony Hall –
“It is with great regret that I have told Jeremy Clarkson today that the BBC will not be renewing his contract. It is not a decision I have taken lightly. I have done so only after a very careful consideration of the facts and after personally meeting both Jeremy and Oisin Tymon. I am grateful to Ken MacQuarrie for the thorough way he has conducted an investigation of the incident on 4th March. Given the obvious and very genuine public interest in this I am publishing the findings of his report. I take no pleasure in doing so. I am only making them public so people can better understand the background. I know how popular the programme is and I also know that this decision will divide opinion. The main facts are not disputed by those involved.”