Exclusive: Jeremy Clarkson Attacks 'Disgusting' Government Plan to Reveal BBC Stars' Salaries

Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Clarkson tells Newsweek it's "disgusting" that BBC stars will have their salaries disclosed if they earn over £150,000. Amazon Prime Video

Jeremy Clarkson has branded the decision to reveal the salaries of BBC stars paid over £150,000 “disgusting.”

The former Top Gear presenter, who left the BBC under a cloud of controversy in 2015 after hitting a producer, tells Newsweek that the government change to be introduced in the next royal charter is “just not British.”

“You just do not do it. Nobody talks about their earnings,” Clarkson said while promoting his new Amazon car show, The Grand Tour. (Read our full interview here.)

Britain’s Culture Secretary Karen Bradley confirmed plans to name on-screen personalities earning £150,000 or above in September, saying “license fee payers have a right to know where their money goes. By making the BBC more transparent it will help deliver savings that can then be invested in even more great programs.”

The change is expected to come into effect by next summer once the new royal charter, the agreement between the BBC and the government dictating its responsibilities as a publicly funded broadcaster, is rolled out in early 2017.

The former culture secretary John Whittingdale had previously set the threshold at £450,000, as agreed with the BBC earlier in 2016, but Bradley opted to lower that figure when she was appointed by new Prime Minister Theresa May in the wake of the EU referendum.

The lower threshold is in line with the BBC’s policy of revealing the salaries of executives who earn more than £150,000.

The changes will affect some of the BBC’s most popular entertainers including Graham Norton, Gary Lineker and several members of the cast of the popular soap EastEnders.

“I don’t know why it’s so interesting what somebody earns. If you’re going to put someone in a management position running the BBC, Tony Hall,” Clarkson said, in reference to the BBC’s director general. “You would assume and hope he is capable of deciding who gets paid what and he doesn’t have to explain it to every Tom, Dick and Harry. Why do we need to know?”

Other changes to the way the BBC operates include dissolving the BBC Trust and appointing a new unitary board, as well as being regulated by media watchdog Ofcom. Critics say the increasing influence of the government on the BBC could be detrimental to its output.

In September, the corporation, which is trying to save £800 million a year by 2022, lost the rights to its hit program The Great British Bake Off after failing to match a competing offer from Channel 4.

Clarkson’s Grand Tour co-star James May told Newsweek there are “undoubted issues with the BBC’s remit and the way they are obliged to run themselves, and the way they choose to run themselves” but “as an institution, I’m still immensely fond of it.”

May, along with fellow former Top Gear star Richard Hammond, quit the show following Clarkson’s departure in 2015. In an interview with Newsweek, Clarkson criticized the BBC for being “rubbish at talent management.”

But May said, despite the issues they encountered during their time at the BBC, the broadcaster is essential to public life.

“When I was growing up the BBC was my third parent, so it’s very important to the way I turned out. I’ve still done a few small things for them, there’s no animosity there,” said May. “As a principle, I think the BBC is an excellent brand and people shouldn’t interfere with it.”

Hammond, meanwhile, cautioned that the BBC needs to be more invested in helping programming grow as part of its public service remit, rather than chasing ratings. The corporation has previously been criticized by MPs for trying to compete with commercial rivals by airing big budget programs like The Voice.

“I think anything that disadvantages the BBC is difficult,” said Hammond. “But, equally, the BBC, if it’s not careful, can put commercial operators at a disadvantage because it’s the only [broadcaster] that’s guaranteed funding. It should be prepared to get behind shows that don’t do well in the ratings and give them a push, because nobody else can. It’s the only place in the world that can say: ‘Let’s let something grow organically.’ [Top Gear] benefited from that.”

The Grand Tour launches on Amazon Prime Video on November 18. New episodes will stream every Friday.