Wotcha Top Gear: The BBC And Jeremy Clarkson Goad Argentines Into Violence
BBC Top Gear was filming in Argentina for one of its Funny Foreigners travelogues. Sidekicks James May and Richard Hammond were driving an old Lotus Esprit and a Mustang, but their leader, Jeremy Clarkson, the to-deadline controversy maker who likes shouting at people, was driving a Porsche 928, with a number plate referencing the Falkland Islands and 1982, the year of Britain’s war with Argentina (number plate H982 FKL).
For some mad reason people who had lost loved ones in that war thought it a tad boorish and taunting. They noticed the stunt. Top Gear mattered and was entertaining. Job done.
But some locals reacted with violence. And Clarkson was unnerved:
“I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan, but this was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever been involved in. There were hundreds of them. They were hurling rocks and bricks at our cars. This is not just some kind of jolly Top Gear jape – this was deadly serious.”
He’s been to Iraq and Afghanistan but not in any military capacity.
— The Media Blog (@TheMediaTweets) October 4, 2014
Anyhow. It’s a terrific holiday story, and one Clarkson is keen to share with readers of his Sunday Times column:
IT ALL started to go wrong while we were filming on a mountain in the world’s southernmost ski resort, just outside the city of Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. We knew Ushuaia was the port from which the General Belgrano had sailed on its doomed voyage at the start of the Falklands War and we knew that anti-British feelings still run hard and deep, here at the bottom of the world.
As a result we were on our best behaviour. We were posing for all photographs, and happily accepting requests for autographs. The sun was out. All was calm. We were even referring to the slopes as “gradients”. Certainly there was no suggestion that we had walked into the middle of a war we thought had ended 32 years ago.
One thing: the car’s number plate. The one referencing the Falkland Islands and 1982. The natives had seen it. They were restless. You were, after all, employed by the BBC, the British State’s media mouthpiece.
“This is a mafia state,” said one onlooker. “Best you do as you’re told.”…
So we did, but going to the hotel did not work. A gang of people were waiting there. They said they were war veterans, which seemed unlikely as most were in their twenties and thirties. Bonnets were banged. Abuse was hurled. The police arrived and immediately breathalysed Andy Wilman, our executive producer — we’re not sure why.
Maybe they hoped he was drunk and could pass off the BBC’s twattery on booze?
Back at home, newspapers were saying I had caused the problem by arriving in this political tinderbox in a Porsche bearing the numberplate H982FKL, which if you turned the H into a 1 and transposed the K and the L, could have been seen as a reference to the 1982 Falklands War.
It was. Come on. It was.
This, however, was untrue. The car had indeed arrived in Argentina with those plates, but two days into our journey, when we were in Chile, a Twitter user pointed out the problem so we removed them.
But you had arrived with them. Didn’t that set the mood?
The numberplate then wasn’t the issue…
It was the issue. Because people had seen picyures of it before it was removed. You;d been rumbled. Your joke at the locals’ expense had been spotted.
“Burn them. Burn their cars,” said another. Mob rule was in the driving seat.
Government officials then stepped in saying we were no longer welcome in the city, that our safety could not be guaranteed and that we needed to leave Argentina immediately. Plainly they had given us permission to visit simply so they could make political capital from ejecting us when we arrived.
Clarkson and his misions fled their five-star hotel to fly home. The BBC crew were left behind to dodge “thugs” and escape to Chile.
Tierra del Fuego is not listed as a problem for visitors by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office but there is no question in my mind that we walked into a trap…
“Look what we’ve done,” they will say at the next elections. “Sent the English packing.”
That is true. We got our arses kicked. But there is a glimmer of a silver lining in the whole sorry affair. The game of football would have been a good ending for our Christmas special. But we’ve been gifted something even better by the region’s politicians and their rent-a-mob cohorts.
I’d like to say “Gotcha” at this point. But I won’t.
That was the number plate that got away…