January 18 - 24 2012
T Need a set of wheels? Compare car hire prices in 175 countries with our online tool telegraph.co.uk/carhire
By Christopher Hope THE Top Gear India “special”, the BBC assured Indian officials, would highlight the country’s ‘‘beautiful scenery’’ and ‘‘local colour’’.
So when the programme was broadcast over the Christmas break, diplomats at the High Commission of India in London were surprised to see Jeremy Clarkson dressed in boxer shorts while operating a trouser press and speaking to local people, and in another scene, driving a Jaguar with a lavatory fitted on the boot.
Clarkson may have been described recently by the chairman of the BBC Trust as a “leading cultural export”, but his latest foray abroad risks causing a diplomatic incident.
In a letter sent to the programme’s producer, Indian diplomats condemned the programme as “tasteless”, and accused the BBC of breaching undertakings about the filming of the 90-minute show, which has caused outrage in the world’s secondmost-populous country. The High Commission has formally complained to the BBC, accusing its producers of deceiving them over the nature of the programme. The letter said the programme was “replete with cheap jibes, tasteless humour and lacked the cultural sensitivity that we expect from the BBC”.
During the show, banners were put on trains reading: “British IT is good for your company”. Another said:
“Eat English muffins”. The messages became obscene when the carriages parted, ripping the signs.
The BBC said it had received 23 complaints but diplomats at the High Commission told The Telegraph that its staff had received “hundreds” of letters and phone calls. One Indian diplomat said: “The BBC has to make amends, particularly to assuage the hurt sentiment of a very large number of people.”
The High Commission is furious that an outline of the programme, presented to officials last July, bore little relation to the end product.
It described the programme as a “light-hearted road trip”, which was focused on the “idiosyncrasies of the country”. Specifically, it said the programme’s “key ingredients” would look at the “beautiful scenery” and India’s “local colour”.
David Cameron was filmed at the beginning of the programme, waving to the Top Gear presenters in Downing Street. Last Wednesday, Keith Vaz MP, whose parents are from India, said: “It seems that the reasons given by the BBC in order to obtain their visas to go to India did not disclose the true nature of the content of this programme.”
Mr Vaz, the chairman of the home affairs select committee, warned that damage could be done to important trade relations with India and called for “a swift apology from the BBC and Mr Clarkson”.
Last week it emerged that Clarkson made £2.14 million from his involvement in Top Gear last year, due to a profitsharing deal he struck with the corporation. A BBC spokesman said: “We will respond directly to the Indian High Commission in due course.”
Last month, the BBC had to apologise after Clarkson told viewers on a live programme that striking workers should be shot in front of their families. MPs told Lord Patten, the chairman of the BBC Trust, that Mr Clarkson was a “luxury the BBC cannot afford” and should be sacked, but he described the presenter as a “leading cultural export”. ÞChina has accused Jeremy Clarkson of harbouring “colonial prejudices”. Reacting to remarks he made in his Sun newspaper column about Chinese synchronised swimmers and Morecambe Bay cockle-pickers, China’s state owned Global Times said: “Figures like Clarkson, who have been used to making insulting jests, obviously still cling to some obsolete values against developing countries.”
Clarkson joked that Olympic synchronised swimming amounted to “Chinese women in hats, upside down, in a bit of water”, adding: “You can see that sort of thing on Morecambe beach. For free.”
In 2004, 23 Chinese migrant workers drowned as they harvested cockles in Morecambe Bay.
Jeremy Clarkson with the Jaguar fitted with a lavatory on its boot, top; getting assistance from the locals, right; and with fellow ‘Top Gear’ presenters Richard Hammond and James May, left
HOW ‘TOP GEAR’ SOLD ITS PLAN
July 21 2011 Letter from Chris Hale, producer, ‘Top Gear’, to the High Commission of India, London Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May will travel across India in three cars filming a lighthearted road trip focusing on the journey and the inevitable idiosyncrasies of the cars they will drive, as well as the country and scenery we see along the way.
There will be spontaneous interaction between the presenters and their environment, and potentially people they meet along the way. This will be in an incidental manner, not interviews. Key ingredients will be beautiful scenery, busy city scenes, local charm and colour within these locations, areas to illustrate the local car culture that exists in India.
January 6 2012 From the High Commission of India to the BBC The programme was replete with cheap jibes, tasteless humour and lacked the cultural sensitivity that we expect from the BBC.
I write this to convey our deep disappointment over the documentary for its content and the tone of the presentation.
You are clearly in breach of the agreement that you had entered into, completely negating our constructive and proactive facilitation.
We strongly protest and expect the BBC to make amends, especially to assuage the hurt sentiments of a large number of people.
By James Kirkup THE eurozone crisis entered a dangerous new phase last Friday night as France and eight other countries had their credit ratings downgraded.
Stock markets and the single currency fell sharply as Standard and Poor’s cut France’s AAA rating.
Italy saw its long-term rating drop two levels, along with Spain, Portugal and Cyprus. Austria, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia had theirs lowered by one.
The move represents a further loss of confidence in the single currency and the European Union’s ability to rescue indebted eurozone members.
The Treasury believes that any collapse of the euro could seriously damage the British economy and banking system, pushing the UK back into a deep recession.
The decision triggered a backlash from European politicians and led to calls for Britain to be downgraded, too.
It also threatens to torpedo the main European bail-out fund set up to support struggling countries such as Greece and Portugal.
Standard and Poor’s said in a statement: “Today’s rating actions are primarily driven by our assessment that the policy initiatives that have been taken by European policymakers in recent weeks may be insufficient to fully address ongoing systemic stresses in the eurozone.”
Those “stresses” included weakening economic growth prospects and disagreement over how to deal with the problems. There are growing fears that Greece, which was not reassessed, is edging closer to defaulting on its debts and being forced out of the single currency. Talks between the country and its creditors were put on hold last Friday.
There was no rating change for Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium, Estonia, Finland or Luxembourg.
The blow to France is the most significant. It has held an AAA rating since 1975. As well as hurting national pride, the lower rating will mean the country faces higher borrowing costs. It will affect the eurozone bail-out fund as France is partly responsible for underwriting it. The downgrade is a heavy blow to Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, who faces a general election in May.
Worries about the eurozone pushed the single currency to its lowest value against the US dollar since mid-2010. The euro also fell against the pound to 82.9 pence. European stock markets closed before the downgrades were confirmed, but rumours saw shares fall across the continent. The FTSE-100 index also fell on concerns about the impact on Britain, closing down 0.5 per cent.
By Robert Winnett PROPOSALS to scrap child benefit for higher earners will be revised to protect families with stay-at-home mothers, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has signalled. Mr Cameron admitted that the current proposal had been criticised for its “unfairness”. There was a “cliff-edge issue” that meant some families would be stripped of benefits.
He insisted the Government was prepared to “look at the way” child benefit was due to be cut and suggested a new system might be proposed in Chancellor George Osborne’s March Budget.
For the Prime Minister to acknowledge the proposal is being reconsidered because it is seen as unfair will be considered significant two months before publication of Mr Osborne’s plans.
From next year, child benefit is to be removed from any household that has someone earning above the higher-rate tax threshold of £42,745. The move will strip child benefit from about 1.2 million families and save the Exchequer about £1billion a year. It will cost a family with three children about £2,500 a year.
Critics say the scheme is unfair. A family with two people earning £40,000 – a total of £80,000 – will keep the state handout while poorer families, where the mother is caring for the children and the father earns more than £44,000, will lose out. In an interview with House, the MPs’ in-house magazine, the Prime Minister was asked about the unfairness of the scheme on single-earner households.
“Some people say that’s the unfairness of it, that you lose the child benefit if you have a higher-rate taxpayer in the family,” he said.
“Two people below the level keep the benefit. So there’s a threshold, a cliffedge issue. We always said we would look at the way it’s implemented and that remains the case, but I don’t want to impinge on the Chancellor’s Budget.” Mr Cameron’s comments indicate that the Government may be considering ways to help single-earner families with salaries just over the threshold. However, such a system would be complicated because it would require widespread means-testing.
In the interview, it seems the proposal to cut child benefit is now only something the Government is “looking at”, rather than a set policy, as had been thought. Mr Cameron said: “We want to make sure everyone makes a contribution to dealing with the deficit, that’s why we had to look at measures like taking child benefit away from higher-rate taxpayers.”