The BBC Trust has rejected complaints about Jeremy Clarkson using the word ‘pikey’ on Top Gear.
The presenter, whose future is in doubt following a “fracas” with a producer on the show, put up a placard with the words ‘Pikey’s Peak’ on the BBC2 series in February last year.
Viewers complained that the sign was “grossly offensive and racist” to the “gypsy Traveller community”, whose children are subjected to the word as a term of abuse in schools.
However, the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) concluded the word was used to mean “cheap”, rather than as a term of racist or ethnic abuse.
In the episode, which compared hatchback cars from the 1980s with their contemporary equivalent, Clarkson and James May joked about co-presenter Richard Hammond’s lack of style when he selected a Vauxhall Nova.
The stars then completed a circuit on a race course and Clarkson was seen putting up a handmade sign on a wooden hut, with the words ‘Pikey’s Peak’.
Programme makers said that the use of the sign was also a pun on the name of the US racecourse Pikes Peak.
The committee said the word “had evolved into common parlance among a number of people to mean ‘chavvy’ or ’cheap’ and, depending on the context, viewers would not necessarily associate it with the gypsy and Traveller communities”.
Complainants responded that it had been “disingenuous of the BBC to argue that there is no intended racist reference when using the word” because, in its previous uses of the term, Top Gear “had made clear that ‘pikey’ refers to gypsies and Travellers”.
did admit that the word “did have the potential to be deeply offensive to the gypsy and Traveller communities” and that it “can be used in an abusive context”.
A spokesman for the Traveller Movement condemned the decision.
“We are horrified by the BBC’s green-lighting of the use of the word ‘pikey’ by the Top Gear presenters,” he said. “The claim that it has evolved a new meaning and that most people do not realise it has any reference at all with gypsies and Travellers is absolute rubbish.”
Meanwhile, BBC bosses face the prospect of further embarrassment after it emerged that Clarkson is set to host its top-rating satire show Have I Got News For You.
Jimmy Mulville from production company Hat Trick, which makes the show, said he thought Clarkson was “a fantastic broadcaster”.
He said: “As far as I’m concerned he is hosting Have I Got News for You, the BBC has not told me what to do yet and it will be an interesting conversation.”
He joked: “Maybe we will get the producer on so he can hit Jeremy Clarkson live on television.”
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