Jeremy Clarkson: King of Controversy, review: even Meghan Markle won't kill this career
Jeremy Clarkson’s knack for saying controversial things is so dependable that Jeremy Clarkson: King of Controversy (Channel 5) was already in production last year, before his latest controversy. You know: the newspaper column in which he said he dreamed of the day when the Duchess of Sussex would “be made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant ‘Shame!’ and throw lumps of excrement at her”. They could actually have made this documentary at any point in the past 20 years and had enough material for a programme. No wonder it had a nearly two-hour running time.
It was that Channel 5 staple – archive clips and talking heads – and a run-through of Clarkson’s greatest hits: the Top Gear gag about lorry drivers murdering prostitutes, the declaration on The One Show that striking workers should be taken outside and shot, right back to one of his earliest car reviews in which he raved about “the first Ford I can remember that looks good enough to snap knicker elastic at 50 paces”.
These clips were linked by friends and former colleagues of Clarkson, who regarded him as a very naughty boy with whom it is impossible to stay cross for very long. Jonathan Ross diagnosed his pal thus: “My experience of men who went to public school [Clarkson went to Repton] is that they don’t grow up in a real world way. There are so many rules in place, and such a hierarchy, that many of them stay in a permanent state of adolescence. And that is the case with Jeremy.”
As contributors such as Jeremy Vine noted, Clarkson transformed Top Gear quite brilliantly from a worthy show about cars to an entertainment behemoth. He can be very funny, and smart – his One Show remarks were designed to show up the absurdity of BBC executives requiring guests to agree to providing “balanced” views on the political hot potato of the day.
But he can also be a boorish bully – punching a producer because they can’t get you a steak dinner is not the same as punching Piers Morgan because he has published unpleasant things about your family. Still, he survived that one. And I don’t believe that the Sussex kerfuffle will kill his career. Clarkson’s brand of controversy is beloved by millions.