The BBC was forced to apologize over the comments made on BBC Two’s factual motoring series Top Gear. The comments made by Jeremy Clarkson concerned an Asian man travelling across a bridge the Top Gear team made while in Burma. Clarkson used the word “slope”, a term considered to be derogatory to people of Asian heritage. The remark – ‘That is a proud moment – but there’s a slope on it’ – also referenced the bridge that the team had built in tribute to British war film The Bridge over the River Kwai, which in fairness was sloping. However the language used clearly made it sound like it was the person upon the bridge he was referencing.
Now, its possible that this is an unfortunate misunderstanding – as slope is not a term familiar to many people in Britain, it’s much more common around the Pacific – but given the well traveled nature of the production crew it seems likely that if any would have known about it, they would. And as this is a show notorious for deliberately antagonizing anyone who they see as seeking to censor their product, it isn’t hard to imagine that this is another attempt at rattling the cages of those who believe the program should show more sensitivity.
What’s more surprising though is that the BBC chose to air it. Often described as a “lefty loony” organisation by tabloids who don’t share its more socialist philosophies, the BBC has most certainly earned its reputation for combating a lack of diversity in British television. However its previous loyalty to old guard members like Jim Davidson – who have been consistent ratings grabbers among older age groups – shows there is still a facet of the Beeb that is firmly focused on getting the biggest viewership possible, poltical correctness be damed. This is probably why Top Gear has survived past incidents where other programs would have been shelved. On this occasion however the Corporation is pleading ignorance. Executive Producer for the show, Andy Wilman, had this to say.
“When we used the word ‘slope’ in the recent Top Gear Burma Special it was a light-hearted word play joke referencing both the build quality of the bridge and the local Asian man who was crossing it. We were not aware at the time, and it has subsequently been brought to our attention, that the word ‘slope’ is considered by some to be offensive and although it might not be widely recognised in the UK, we appreciate that it can be considered offensive to some here and overseas, for example in Australia and the USA. If we had known that at the time we would not have broadcast the word in this context and regret any offence caused.”