Comedian Steve Coogan laid into Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May today, saying the trio were guilty of “casual racism” and describing them as “three rich, middle-aged men laughing at poor Mexicans”.
The Mexican ambassador complained to the BBC about the “outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults” made on the show after Hammond joked that Mexican cars reflected national characteristics, saying they were “just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent”.
But Coogan said the adjectives better described Hammond’s comic approach.
And he also criticised the BBC for, saying its “initial mealy-mouthed apology was pitiful” and it defence of the presenters amounted to “tolerance of casual racism”.
The corporation wrote to His Excellency Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza to say it was sorry if the programme, broadcast on January 30, caused offence.
But it claimed that national stereotyping was part of British humour and the remarks were akin to labelling Italians as disorganised and over dramatic, the French as arrogant and the Germans as over-organised.
Writing in the Observer, Coogan said: “All the examples it uses to legitimise this hateful rubbish are relatively prosperous countries full of white people. How about if the Lads had described Africans as lazy, feckless etc? Or Pakistanis?
“The Beeb’s hand-wringing suggested tolerance of casual racism, arguably the most sinister kind.”
Coogan said he was a “huge fan” of Top Gear and normally regarded the presenters’ irreverence as part of the “rough and tumble” that goes with having a sense of humour.
But he said there was a “strong ethical dimension” to the best comedy which actively challenges prejudices rather than reinforcing them, laughing at hypocrisy and narrow mindedness.
Whereas with his character Alan Partridge, the joke was obvious, he said: “With Top Gear it is three rich, middle-aged men laughing at poor Mexicans. Brave, groundbreaking stuff, eh?”
He continued: “(Hammond) reminds you of the squirt at school as he hangs round Clarkson the bully, as if to say, ‘I’m with him’. Meanwhile, James May stands at the back holding their coats as they beat up the boy with the stutter.”
He said the presenters wore their offensiveness like a “badge of pride” and mistakenly believed it gave them an “anti-establishment aura of coolness” when in fact it was “uber-conservative”.
Coogan, who admitted he was now unlikely to be invited back on the show, said the comments were all the worse because with its high viewing figures Top Gear was often the “public face of the BBC”.
In the episode Hammond joked that Mexican cars reflected national characteristics, saying they were “just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent oaf with a moustache, leaning against a fence asleep, looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat”.
But Clarkson could not have been more wrong, according to the Independent on Sunday, which said the ambassador was in fact a “one-man crime-fighting machine”, a nationally respected figure who headed Mexico’s secret service before taking on his country’s notorious drug barons.