Could Top Gear’s antics trigger the demise of the British pub?

If you think women don’t tell sexist jokes about men, you’ve never sat in a pub and listened, but I see a future where we might not be allowed to sell beer to people who poke fun at others…

You might have noticed a story last week, tucked away in the bylines of a couple of small newspapers, in which Mexico appears to have declared war on the BBC.

This is because Messrs Clarkson, Hammond and May poked a bit of fun at the people of Mexico  in their usual blunt-yet-highly-amusing style.  Given that the programme is watched and revered internationally and known for its urine-extracting antics, the reaction has been nothing short of surreal.  I can only assume that the Mexican Ambassador will shortly be appearing as the Star in a Reasonably Price Car as a way of apology.

The furore comes only minutes after the dust has begun to settle over the whole Sky Sports sacking Andy Gray and Richard Keys for making slightly sexist remarks about a female football person debacle.  When they were off air.

The thing is, though, that in that episode of Top Gear the presenters also poked fun at the Australians and the Germans (“How does it feel being the most popular German in Britain?” Clarkson asked Boris Becker. “Yes, there can’t be many, can there?” came the reply) and at people inflicted with a serious case of gingerness.  And Clarkson even poked fun at the size of his own Gentleman’s Bratwurst.

How we all laughed.

Yet now the three of them, like Gray and Keys, face being hauled over the coals and having to make humble apologies in order to keep their jobs because our over-politically-correct nation is terrified of offending anybody who isn’t English.

This bothers me.  Each night, in pubs up and down this great land, you will find people from all walks of life poking jibes at each other in a good-natured manner.  They’ll tell Englishmen, Irishmen and Scotsmen jokes, they’ll tell you the one about the blonde who got stopped for speeding, they’ll shout angry remarks at their favourite foreign footballers on the television and they’ll tease their mates mercilessly when they decline another pint because they’ve got to get home to the missus for dinner.

One of my barmaids is blonde and on one occasion she had to change the gin on an optic above the till, a process she had completed successfully a thousand times before.  This time, however, she held the bottle rather than the optic itself as she made the replacement and gravity took over.  The result was a sticky mess of Gordon’s laying waste to my till.

She took the ribbing for it extremely well, each joke punctuated with the noun “blonde.”

And one of my favourite stories of all my time in the pub involved sending an Irishman home.  He’d had his fill and I guided him to the door, happily telling him I’d see him again the next day.  A few moments later, he was back.  Once again, I guided him out and this process repeated itself several times until I got a bit cross.  “Mick,” I said, “will you go home now!”

“Are ye barring me, Mark,” came his reply (you’ll have to imagine the accent, I’m not very good at doing them).

“No, Mick,” I said.  “I’m not barring you, I just think you’ve had enough and you should go home.”

Again, this exchange repeated itself until he decided to end it by retorting: “Because I’m telling ye, Mark, if you bar me I’ll never step foot inside this pub again!”

The irony of his words was lost on him, but he took the ribbing that followed for many weeks after well.  And it’s still one of my favourite stories to tell to this day.

And just this weekend the amount of good-natured abuse I had to take when one of my bitter pumps broke in the middle of a busy Sunday lunch serve would have left a nervous BBC lawyer twitching.

The point is, we make fun of people on a daily basis, whatever walk of life we may enjoy.  And we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that all these other nations we’re worried about offending didn’t poke fun at us.  The Ozzies do it, as do the French who think we can’t cook.  And the Americans like to think that we’re a small and cosy bowler-hat-wearing nation and that we each know everybody who lives here.

Once, on a trip to Atlanta, a waitress in a Wendy’s guffawed as she said: “my granny lives in England. Granny Smith, do you know her?”  I can only assume she was poking fun at me, because nobody’s that stupid, right…?

But here’s something about we British: we’re awesome at having the mickey taken out of us.  We absolutely love it, and one of our greatest qualities is being able to laugh at ourselves, as well as others.

We need to remember this, and we need to stop being so sensitive about what others might think, because here’s what happens: we’ll apologise, then we’ll invent another law to prevent us from doing or saying something, and then we’ll weaken just that little bit further.  After that, programmes like Top Gear will be gone forever.

It’s frightening to think that eventually, as well as ostracising smokers, keeping our eyes out for Government-employed actors pretending to be drunk and checking the ID of everybody who appears to be under the age of retirement, next we’ll be prevented from selling a pint to a chap who wants to poke a friendly bit of fun at the guy next to him for the shirt he’s wearing.

Perhaps it’s time for a bit of common sense to be brought in to play, before we all lose our individual and national identity. Because, if you don’t think women make sexist comments about men, you’ve never sat in a pub and listened…

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