Belfast Telegraph

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, 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 acted 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."

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.

Describing his "sacking", McCririck said he was told by phone 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."

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."

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