Putting aside whether or not you like Jeremy Clarkson or Top Gear, you can’t deny that over 400,000 signatories to a petition to reinstate him after he had a bust up with a producer is a strong show of public support. As far as I know, there is no petition to sack him and scrap Top Gear.
So what is the BBC to do? On the one hand, Top Gear is its best export and the controversy runs in tandem with its popularity. On the other hand, can it continue to forgive Clarkson in the face of a mounting tide of outrage flowing from a vocal minority cast in the image of Mary Whitehouse?
To quote a 14th Century poet and Monk: “You can’t please all of the people all of the time”. But currently that is exactly what the BBC is trying to do. Not only is this an unenviable task, but it’s impossible and is why it finds itself in a reputational no man’s land. It means it can’t really afford to have any Clarksons at the BBC which means it will eventually end up just being really ‘nice’ - like the state propaganda channel of a dictatorship run by Richard Curtis.
That is not how it will gain a reputation as the most creative organisation in the world – which is its stated vision. That will be won by making sure every decision it makes is in the pursuit of creativity. Top Gear has turned a show about cars into an entertainment show attracting 350 million viewers worldwide by being incredibly creative. Establishing a reputation for creativity means keeping Clarkson’s Top Gear going.
The BBC knows what it has in Clarkson. He’s always been crass, opinionated and non-PC and correspondingly he has a reputation for that and at least 400,000 people love him for it. He is a clear example of why having a good reputation doesn’t mean having a reputation for being good.
No organisation can be all things to all men, but it has to be something to someone. You only need to look at Uber, Brewdog, Vice or Channel 4 so see how organisations with clear beliefs have strong reputations with the people who matter to them. If the BBC wants to be the peak of creativity then it needs to have conviction in its decisions. Some people will always disagree with those decisions, but most people will respect the conviction. A good reputation isn’t about pleasing everyone, it’s about showing everyone you stand for something.