Briony Baldwin: Why we can’t stop talking about Clarkson

CLARKSON: Much to do about nothing or a sacking matter?
CLARKSON: Much to do about nothing or a sacking matter?
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There was only one issue in the Baldwin household this week.

Should Jeremy Clarkson be reinstated – or should somebody punch his lights out?

Since the Top Gear terror’s suspension for allegedly punching his producer following a ‘ hot food fracas’, I confess I have become addicted to the online petition calling for his reinstatement

The petition, became the fastest growing campaign in the site’s history, with more than 900,000 signatures – and counting. It is updated minute by minute with supporters’ comments from around the world.

I let my seven-year-old son, a fanatical Top Gear fan, post his own comment before school. (“I love Jeremy Clarkson. He is funny.”) By the time he got back, Vincent Collin, of France, had ‘liked’ him. He was thrilled.

Of course, this is all a ridiculous “dust up over dinner” (to quote Top Gear co-host James May), and the fate of one loud-mouthed petrol head doesn’t really amount to a hill of beans.

But the huge, worldwide reaction suggests that BBC bosses are threatening more than Jeremy in cancelling Top Gear.

The Prime Minister took time out from electioneering to lament that his children would be “heartbroken” and said he hoped the BBC could “sort it out”.

And well he might. Consider this editorial from Wednesday’s Washington Post: “Britain is no longer the superpower it once was, and the days of the British empire are long gone.

“In the 21st century, the country can no longer use military might or economic success to get its way.

“Instead, it has to cultivate a softer form of power, using its institutions... to sow good will and influence other countries”.

It concludes: “The soft power wielded by ‘Top Gear’ is immense,” quoting the example of the show’s huge popularity in Iran, where the decision to replace an episode with an interview with Hillary Clinton sparked a bitter backlash in 2012.

Darius Bazargan, of BBC Persian TV, says it’s Clarkson’s irreverent language that appeals.

“He once described a gear shift as being ‘as smooth as licking honey from a woman’s naked body’, and the producers take a lot of effort to get the translation right… you would never hear a phrase like that on Iranian state television.”

Actually, what he said was: “Driving [this supercar] is like smearing honey on to Keira Knightley”; the translation offers a fascinating insight into popular attitudes in repressed Iran.

In fact, like him or not, Jeremy Clarkson is one of Britain’s most influential ambassadors.

Top Gear is the most widely watched factual TV programme in the world, according to Guinness World Records, with a worldwide audience of 350 million in 214 countries.