I have gravitas, insists McCririck
John McCririck's appearances as a "pantomime villain" in reality TV shows did nothing to reduce his "gravitas" as a serious racing pundit and journalist, he has told an employment tribunal.
McCririck, 73, said his image as a bigot and a sexist had gone "side-by-side" with his image as a highbrow journalist and denied it had ever damaged the sport of horse racing.
The star - known for his bling, sideburns and deerstalker - is taking former employer Channel 4 and TV production company IMG Media Limited to the tribunal, alleging his sacking last year was motivated by age discrimination.
McCririck today told the hearing that he remained highly qualified to do the job, and his appearance on reality television shows including Celebrity Big Brother, Celebrity Wife Swap and other spin-off shows had not detracted from another, serious, image.
Admitting he was a "taxi for hire" from 2010 after his days on Channel 4 were cut to just 40 a year, McCririck said he had pursued appearances on reality TV, encouraged by Channel 4.
But he said his persona as a "bombastic and domineering" individual was a pantomime character that he would have reined in if he had been asked.
"When I came out of Celebrity Big Brother in 2005 to all the howling and catcalling, Davina McCall said, 'don't worry John it's all pantomime'. That's all it was, not serious," he said.
"This is a different persona, you are putting on a performance, you are doing a pantomime act."
But McCririck, who was repeatedly urged to "control his aggression", "refrain from grandstanding" or passing comment during his appearance today, insisted he had also appeared on serious programmes such as Question Time and Newsnight, and his "gravitas" as a serious journalist was not at risk by his antics away from racing.
The tribunal was told of several occasions McCririck had acting in a way he accepted was seen as a sexist and a bigot, including incidents in the Big Brother house; one occasion when he was thrown off Alan Titchmarsh's ITV show for making rude comments to Ingrid Tarrant about her relationship with her then estranged husband Chris Tarrant; and his reference to wife Jenny - who was supporting him at the hearing - as "The Booby", because she was "not very bright, squawks a lot and was easy to catch".
He said: "I call myself a pub bore with a microphone", but added: "My gravitas has not been affected by doing the reality shows.
"You could say it attracted more people to racing, people knew me, watched what I was saying on and off racing.
"Channel 4 approved of all of this, they never once called me in, Channel 4 never demurred from what was going on, they approved it, they sanctioned it."
Asked by Thomas Linden QC, representing Channel 4, if his behaviour had damaged the sport of horse racing, he said: "I don't believe it did," and said it had never even occurred to him that it might.
But he said if he had been asked to change his ways, he would have: " You listen to your bosses, everybody who works in any profession, in any job, they listen to the people in charge.
"No one ever came to me. Nobody has ever questioned my professionalism on Channel 4 racing, ever."
In his statement to the tribunal, which is sitting in central London, he said: "Whatever people think of my public persona, I believe I remain respected within the horse racing industry and I understood that my appearances on other programmes were seen as positive in that they raised the profile of the sport."
He added: "My pantomime villain sexist image has been deliberately cultivated and played up.
"Because Captain Hook is horrid to children in Peter Pan it does not mean the actor playing him goes around abusing kids.
"Even calling my wife Booby is all part of a perhaps childish public school juvenile habit of labelling friends and workmates."
The tribunal heard that McCririck, who said his house is now "on the line" because of the legal action, worked for Channel 4 under the company Highflyer Productions Limited, and was paid £180,000 a year at the height of his career.
But when the racing contract was awarded to IMG Media Ltd in August 2012, he was axed from the new team, led by Clare Balding.
In his statement to the tribunal, he said: "I was most definitely known as the face of C4 Racing and was recognised as such.
"I became one of the most recognised faces of C4 Racing and was caricatured or impersonated on programmes like Spitting Image and Rory Bremner."
He said he had regularly campaigned for more women on the programme and could not recall any occasion when he was reprimanded over anything he said or did.
But he said things started to change when Andrew Thompson became C4's head of sport in 2007, followed by sports editor Jamie Aitchison, along with chief executive David Abraham and then chief creative officer Jay Hunt, whom he labelled a "serial age discrimination offender".
"The channel lost its unique ethical and moral high ground and quickly became just another money and ratings motivated broadcaster."
McCririck, who wore a tan suit and his trademark array of jewellery, described being "furious" when he was told by Mr Thompson in January 2008 that the number of days he would be working would be considerably reduced.
Despite being paid an ex-gratia payment of £20,000 he said the "humiliating" reduction in hours was the equivalent of being "on the subs' bench", and described how, in 2008, Balding tried to help him by acting as an intermediary in getting him to join her on BBC Racing.
Describing his "sacking", McCririck said he was told by phone by Mr Aitchison on October 26 2012, while on holiday, that his services would no longer be required.
"No notice was given, no discussion, no face-to-face meeting, despite my work for C4 over 29 years. I had been sacked by my employer."
McCririck admitted there had been plenty of complaints to Channel 4 about his behaviour, and accepted descriptions of him of "nasty, revolting, rude", "boorish", and "obnoxious and sexist".
But he told the tribunal: "I was fully aware that Channel 4 approved of it because they kept on having me on their programmes."
Mr Linden later challenged McCririck's claim that Jay Hunt was a "serial age discrimination offender".
The lawyer asked if the pundit had spoken directly to any of the people he claimed the Channel 4 executive had "sacked" - who included the newsreader Moira Stuart and Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips - but McCririck said he had not.
The star said he based his assessment on newspaper reports.
Asked by Mr Linden about the nicknames used on Channel 4 racing, such as "saucy minx" and "the pouty heiress" for presenters Alice Fox-Pitt and Emma Spencer, McCririck said it was all for effect.
"I think it livens up the programme. We liked to think we were a family and people coming in were watching and the family were in the drawing room.
"We tried to entertain the public and give them information as well."
He admitted there was some "rough and tumble" among the team, but said they worked well together.
McCririck defended the nicknames he called his colleagues, saying: "I've never called anybody a name they didn't approve of."
But he conceded they were "childish and public schoolish".
Asked by Mr Linden if co-presenter John Francome, the seven-time British champion jump jockey, took offence at being called "The Greatest Jockey", the pundit told the hearing it was a "juvenile joke" and he always called him that.
"He's so modest," McCririck said about Francome.
"I'm not like that. If you go to my house, it's like a shrine to me," he told the tribunal.
Mr Linden put it to McCririck that Channel 4 Racing's new show had moved on from his old-fashioned style of tic-tac sign language and flamboyant clothing to a "more polished" programme, but the star insisted the old format was "trendy".
Defending the tic-tac gesturing, he said: "I think it adds colour. It brings the excitement of being at the racecourse."
The hearing was adjourned to 10am tomorrow when Channel 4 sports editor Jamie Aitchison is expected to give evidence.