The BBC parted ways with Clarkson in 2015, announcing that the former Top Gear presenter was responsible for an “unprovoked physical and verbal attack” that left a colleague bleeding and seeking hospital treatment. The broadcaster’s then director general, Lord Tony Hall, expressed “great regret” at having to let Clarkson go. And legendary natural historian Sir David Attenborough agrees.
Writing in her memoir, Airhead, BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis recalled a conversation with the 94-year-old.
She asked: “Was the BBC wrong to sack Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson?”
To which, he replied: “Well, yes.
“I regret letting Clarkson go because it’s very good to have a voice that’s anti-establishment.”
Justifying Clarkson’s dismissal, Lord Hall said the BBC was a “broad church” that required “distinctive and different voices but they cannot come at any price”.
Since leaving the BBC six years ago, Clarkson has gone on to reinvent himself as the host of Amazon Prime’s The Grand Tour.
His Top Gear colleagues, Richard Hammond and James May, followed him out in a move May said was an easy decision to make.
The BBC show they left, meanwhile, is almost unrecognisable.
The Newsnight firebrand writes: “He insists for a programme maker, it was the most fantastic job you can imagine.
“He said: ‘When I joined there was this absurd mystique that somehow there’s magic about making programmes and only the BBC knew how, as if we gave it to the nation.’
“He laughs at the pomposity.
“Well, I say back, perhaps that isn’t completely over. Look at Bake Off, that was gifted to the nation.
“Was the BBC right not to renew their deal?
“‘Oh! Absolutely right.
“’Say if you want another million go ahead, we’ve got plenty more ideas where that came from.’”
The Great British Bake Off moved to Channel 4 from the BBC in 2016.
It was considered controversial at the time and was agreed for a deal reportedly worth £75million over three years.
Paul Hollywood was the only member of Bake Off’s original line-up to move to Channel 4 and was allegedly paid £1.2million for the three-year deal.
He was joined by Prue Leith, a British-South African restaurateur, chef and food critic.
Emily Maitlis’ ‘Airhead: The Imperfect Art of Making News’ was published by Penguin in 2019. It is available here.