BBC defends 'Top Gear' joke

Fri, Feb 4, 2011, 00:00

The BBC apologised to Mexico's London ambassador today after presenters on the popular motoring show Top Gear said he would be too sleepy to protest as they described Mexicans as lazy and feckless.

But it defended the original remarks, saying jokes centred on national stereotypes were part of the humour both of the show and of Britain in general.

The publicly funded broadcaster said the show's executive producer had written to ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora and apologised for the comments made about him.

The diplomat had said he was infuriated by "offensive and xenophobic" remarks made by hosts Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May during Sunday's edition of the cult show, which has been sold to television channels around the world.

The BBC said it was sorry if the presenters' comments had offended some people, but defended the comic use of a stereotype as a "robust part" of British humour.

It said its guidelines allowed comedy based on national stereotypes in shows like Top Gear where the audience would be expecting it.

"When we do it, we are being rude, yes, and mischievous, but there is no vindictiveness behind the comments," the BBC said in a statement.

"Whilst it may appear offensive to those who have not watched the programme or who are unfamiliar with its humour, the executive producer has made it clear to the ambassador that that was absolutely not the show's intention," it added.

Top Gear presenter Hammond had asked why anyone would buy a Mexican car during a discussion of a Mexican sports model, the Mastretta.

"Cars reflect national characteristics don't they?," he said. "Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat."

The trio then described Mexican food as "refried sick" before suggesting Mexicans spent all day asleep.

"That's why we won't get any complaints about this because at the Mexican embassy the ambassador's going to be sitting there with a remote control like this," said Clarkson, pretending to slump in a chair, snoring.

Top Gear is well-known for its edgy banter and its hosts are no strangers to controversy. Hundreds of viewers complained in 2008 about a joke made by Clarkson about murdering prostitutes.