Peter Rhodes on a writer, a duchess and a question of freedom of speech

Hands up. Who among you seriously believes Jeremy Clarkson was inciting violence against the Duchess of Sussex when he wrote his infamous column for the Sun?

Jeremy Clarkson - inciting violence?
Jeremy Clarkson - inciting violence?

As I thought. A quick head-count reveals nobody. Apart from that ginger bloke at the back, the one with the beard and the frostbitten bits.

The rest of us understand that Clarkson is a hyperbolist, a writer who uses exaggerated and extreme images to make his point. Even in his apology for his column, revealed this week, he cannot resist madly over-egging the cake, declaring he is sorry “all the way from the balls of my feet to the follicles on my head.”

When Clarkson wrote that he welcomed the prospect of Meghan being paraded naked through the streets and pelted with dung, he was referencing a scene from the fantasy drama Game of Thrones. If you're daft enough to believe he was serious, then you presumably also believe that Jo Brand was speaking literally when she famously declared: “The way to a man’s heart is through his hanky pocket with a breadknife.” Or that Les Dawson was telling a true story when he claimed that, when his mother-in-law visited, all the mice threw themselves on mouse traps.

The Clarkson affair, when he pushed the bounds of good taste, reminded me of the free speech furore when people declared their support for the French satirical magazine whose staff were slaughtered by terrorists. I wonder how many of those woke folk who took up the slogan “Je Suis Charlie” to defend Charlie Hebdo's right to offend millions of Muslims believe Clarkson should be punished for offending one duchess.

Curiously, Clarkson's right to diss Meghan is more powerfully defended in the United States than it is here, thanks to their hallowed First Amendment of the US Constitution. Just to complicate things, some months ago Prince Harry denounced the First Amendment as “bonkers” for which he was roundly ridiculed and condemned in the States.

You may punch the air with joy at the prospect of Jeremy Clarkson being sacked by Amazon for writing an admittedly tasteless column. But since when were free-born Brits only allowed to express tasteful opinions? And when did disliking a duchess become a sacking offence?

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