Jeremy Clarkson's a smug, arrogant berk, but we need Top Gear star back on our TVs... now
Bring back Clarkson! Yes, he's a fool and an oaf and a boor, a massively over-grown schoolboy who can't keep his motor-mouth under control.
He's a trouble-maker, a wind-up merchant, unbelievably smug and arrogant. Cock of the walk, you might say. And he's way more pleased with himself than any fat 54-year-old man in a leather bomber jacket and a pair of high-waisted jeans deserves to be. But that's precisely why we enjoy him so much. He says and does all the things the rest of us aren't allowed to say and do, and gets paid gazillions for the pleasure.
Now Clarkson has been whisked off air, after allegations that he punched a producer in a row over catering, which the BBC has described as "a fracas". The remaining episodes of the current series of Top Gear have been withdrawn, while BBC chiefs ponder how they're going to deal with the latest drama created by their biggest-selling bad-boy. It's a real facer for them: Clarkson and Top Gear earn the BBC vast sums of money. Can they really afford to lose him?
Of course, the ageing tearaway was already on his last warning, after he appeared to use an offensive racial slur while reciting the nursery rhyme, Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe. And then there was another racist term, this time about an Asian man, while filming Top Gear in Burma. And before that, of course, there were all the numerous other instances of crass, dodgy or otherwise improper behaviour, which have built up, over the years, into a very thick folder entitled Clarkson's Crimes. Clarkson himself wrote in the Sun: "I've been told by the BBC that if I make one more offensive remark, anywhere, at any time, I will be sacked". I can't help feeling he's enjoying all this.
It remains to be seen whether allegedly thumping one of his minions is judged to be as sack-worthy as making a nasty remark, but Clarkson's fans are mobilising in support of the star. An online petition, which has already accumulated hundreds of thousands of signatures, demands his immediate return. They want him back, and so do I, galumphing great idiot that he is.
I like watching Clarkson because he is so defiantly politically incorrect. Alright, so the racist jibes are going too far, and they're dumb, not funny. But the truth is that in a world of highly controlled language and behaviour, where right-on people are continually itching to get offended, Top Gear now feels like an oasis of free-thinking. It's not really a place to find out about supercars, not for me anyway.
No, it's a place to let your hair down and kick back with some nonsensical stunts, plus lots of immature, inappropriate quips. Clarkson and his schoolboy sidekicks James May and Richard Hammond come off with all sorts of howlers that make you cringe with shame, but at the same time you can't help laughing - or at least I can't. I remember the time that they wrote 'Man Love Rules OK' in pink paint on the side of a pick-up truck and drove it through small-town Alabama. Classic. I've been accused of having a pretty puerile sense of humour myself, which is probably why I appreciate this sort of nonsense so much.
Plenty of women watch Top Gear, but it's fair to say that the show's main target audience is blokes. And it's them I feel sorry for here. I'm generalising, yes, but it seems to me that the good old male sense of humour - rude, loud, irreverent, mickey-taking of themselves and each other - is being policed to death by uptight prudes seeking to censor everyone who refuses to sign up to their neo-puritan agenda.
Removing Clarkson, possibly permanently, is a bad sign. The way things are going, men are going to have to start having password-protected meetings in secret locations, just so they can tell each other a couple of dodgy jokes.
With Top Gear erased from our screens, what might replace it? Zoe Williams, the Guardian's motoring correspondent, suggests an "eco-feminist" car show which highlights "anthropogenic climate change" and avoids "scientific illiteracy". Oh, and she doesn't want to see men doing stupid stunts, ploughing into ditches and laughing.
Well, you know what? I do. I'd choose the daft stunts every time, over this joyless, dead-eyed preachiness.
Come back soon, Jeremy. Please. You're a berk, but we need you more than you will ever know.