London, Jan 18: The producers of the controversial Top Gear BBC programme have defended itself against a complaint from India that its December episode focussed on it was “offensive” saying the show portrayed the country's charm, beauty, wealth and its idiosyncrasies.
The programme, broadcast on December 28, raised hackles among many viewers who complained that the episode ridiculed India and its culture and people.
The episode was presented by controversial Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. The BBC received several complaints, while some people of Indian origin felt too much had been made out of the irreverent programme.
In a letter to the programme's producer, Chris Hale, and copied to Mark Thompson, director-general of BBC, the Indian High Commission had stated on January 6 that the BBC was “clearly in breach of the agreement that you had entered into, completely negating our constructive and proactive facilitation”.
The Indian High Commission's letter, to which BBC has separately responded, said: “The programme was replete with cheap jibes, tasteless humour and lacked cultural sensitivity. This is not clearly what we expect of the BBC. I write this to convey our deep disappointment over the documentary for its content and the tone of the presentation”.
However, Top Gear said in a statement: “The Top Gear road trip across India was filled with incidents but none of them were an insult to the Indian people or the culture of the country.
“Our film showed the charm, the beauty, the wealth, the poverty and the idiosyncrasies of India but there's a vast difference between showing a country, warts and all, and insulting it”.
It added: “It's simply not the case that we displayed a hostile or superior attitude to our hosts and that's very clear from the way the presenters can be seen to interact with them along the way.
“We genuinely loved our time in India and if there were any jokes to be had they were, as ever, reflected back on the presenters rather than the Indian people”.
Before leaving for India, Hale had informed the High Commission in a letter dated July 21 that the trip was intended to be “light hearted... focusing on the journey and the inevitable idiosyncracies of the cars they will drive, as well as the country and the scenery we see along the way”.
Hale's letter added: “There will be spontaneous interaction between the presenters and their environment, and potentially people they meet along the way. “This will be in an incidental manner, not interviews. Key ingredients of what we film will be beautiful scenery, busy city scenes, local charm and colour within these locations, areas to illustrate the local car culture that exists in India.”
Senior Labour leader Keith Vaz was among the people who demanded an apology from the BBC for the way in which India was allegedly ridiculed in the programme.
He said last week: “It seems that the reasons given by the BBC in order to obtain their visas to go to India did not disclose the true nature of the content of this programme.”
He added, “One ridiculous programme has done a lot of damage to this good relationship. A swift apology from the BBC and Mr Clarkson may go some way towards restoring our good relations and the reputation of the BBC in India.”