In the week since Jeremy Clarkson was (rightly) dropped as Top Gear host there’s been a steady wall of insistence from his detractors that he’ll be easily replaced.
Announcing the decision not to renew Clarkson’s contract, BBC boss Lord Tony Hall was very clear that continuing the show without its leading man would be “a big challenge” and that “there is no point in pretending otherwise”
And yet in newspapers, on social media and on various forums, those who’ve never found his routine funny have taken a different view, insisting anyone could do the job without denting the show’s appeal.
Today the BBC blew a huge hole in that reality-denying delusion by announcing that he’ll be returning to front the remaining dates in the Top Gear Live Tour.
Instead of carrying on the tour with just Hammond and May, the BBC has decided to remove all of its branding and associated elements and let Clarkson once again take centre stage and top billing.
It’s hard to convey the enormity of that decision – a week after labelling Clarkson as someone outside of the BBC’s “standards of decency and respect,” the broadcaster has gifted him a high-profile platform from which to launch the next stage of his career.
They must know that in a few weeks time newspapers and rival broadcasters (some of whom may yet employ him) will be carrying YouTube footage of him entering the Odyssey arena in Belfast to the rapturous cheers and applause of a delighted crowd.
Just as with the decision to axe him, it’s not clear BBC bosses had any other choice but to let him host the live shows – the values of “decency and respect” which made his departure inevitable also block the BBC from becoming one of those ‘bait and switch’ merchants who sell one thing and then deliver something notably less desirable.
But they’ve given credence – perhaps unwittingly, or simply lacking any alternative – to those who believe that he is indeed bigger than the show.
And by replacing their brand with Clarkson, Hammond and May Live they run the risk of establishing a rival to any future official tours – their partners at Brand Events could ultimately decide that they no longer want to license the Top Gear name when they can still have the shows under a cheaper but just as successful moniker.
Today the future of Top Gear as an international brand looks even less certain than it did a week ago, while Clarkson looks set to enjoy a rehabilitation so speedy it must defy even his own best hopes.