Top Gear controversy escalates as ‘deeply inoffensive’ off-air comments revealed

new Stig actually from just outside Acapulco

Top Gear have apologised in a written statement signed by all three presenters and producers after supposedly ‘off air’ comments made during the segue from studio broadcasting to feature were transmitted live.

The impromptu remarks by the programme hosts, expressing disquiet at unhelpful and outdated national stereotyping as a weak substitute for ‘telling it like it is’, prompted record number of complaints from the show’s millions of viewers.

After another lighthearted racist tirade against Latin America generally, and the region’s drivers specifically, the studio sound technicians had failed to switch off the live microphone feed and the offending comments were audible over the introduction to an irreverent look at flame-throwering gypsy camps. Viewers could clearly hear the presenters talking to each other with James May murmuring ‘we’ve gone too far on that last piece, I was uncomfortable belittling a people with rich history and traditions who I respect as fellow human beings’.

Richard Hammond can be heard agreeing with the sentiments and adding that he wished they could ‘value other cultures and imbue that spirit within the programme’. Most damning of all, though, were references made by Jeremy Clarkson to ‘a really thought-provoking piece on cultural diversity by Johann Hari in The Independent’, which leading commentator and automotive-enthusiast Germaine Greer slammed as ‘having no place in modern entertainment-led motoring journalism’.

Although the presenters initially attempted to insist that their remarks were taken out of the context of a private chat between colleagues, and had actually been said in an enormously sarcastic tone of voice, BBC bosses demanded a written apology when further footage emerged. In scenes recorded last November, Clarkson is clearly seen listening respectfully to a female assistant producer’s explanation for why she’d bought a hybrid vehicle, and celebrating the news of the pregnancy that means she’ll be on maternity leave just six months into taking on her job.

The written apology expresses contrition for any blatantly mature opinions and language that were never meant to have been broadcast, declares the deep regret of the hosts for any possible offence missed, and promises that all relevant BBC training courses will be rigorously mocked. The apology is to be broadcast before the next Top Gear to be shown on BBC2 this Sunday, repeated weekdays on Dave, and Dave Ja Vu, and then on BBC World television in hotels around the world, every two hours for the next ten years.

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Posted: Feb 2nd, 2011 by

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