John McCririck has lost his employment tribunal case. Yesterday Judge Alison Lewzey delivered the findings of the panel, saying that his television persona was “unpalatable to a potential wider audience” that Channel 4 and IMG Media were seeking to attract to racing. There was no age discrimination in their decision to sack the flamboyant pundit.
Ever since he announced that he intended to seek a review of the decision by the production company not to offer him a new contract I have struggled to see the 73 year old toff as a champion of the rights of older people to continue working for as long as they want to.
The tribunal took place in a building called Victory House, which, of course had to be appropriate for one side or the other. In the end it wasn’t McCririck.
We haven’t followed the hearing on a day-by-day basis; tribunals can be extremely slow and tiresome. This one has had more than its fair share of longeurs, but some shafts of light did manage to pierce the usually impenetrable layers of employment law. So here’s a summary of the highlights day by day.
Monday 30 September
The hearing begins at 1015 and adjourns 20 minutes later to allow Judge Lewzey and her two lay members to read up on witness statements and to watch some DVDs of McCririck in action, both on the racecourse and in his “show business” career. I reckon they scrutinised his appearances on Big Brother, in the Celebrity Jungle and Wife Swap programmes more closely than anyone who watched them at the time.
What were they looking for? Was it to see if McCririck always behaved in the same way? 9/4, top of the head….go and fetch my deerstalker! The man himself claimed that his television persona was a pantomime, encouraged by his bosses on Channel 4. He said, “Just because Captain Hook is horrible to Peter Pan, it doesn’t mean the actor playing him goes around abusing kids in the street.”
The former presenter was clearly determined to make his views known. As well as that colourful quote, he was taking little notice of his solicitor, Stephen Beverley. Beverley’s advice was to keep quiet and say nothing until he was called in to the hearing, but Big Mac was having none of that. He may have remained silent, but was quick to hand out his witness statement to journalists.
We could be in for a lively few days ahead.
Tuesday 1 October
The stakes are high as McCririck gives his evidence. He says as much himself as he gives a clear steer to the tribunal chair, Alison Lewzey, to the outcome the hearing should reach. McCririck said, “My home is now on the line. If this case isn’t won, with all the evidence on my side, then the Age Equality Act 2010 is ruined.” This draws a rebuke from Lewzey, who reminds Mac that he is a witness, and she is there to reach a judgement, not him.
She’s far more tolerant of him than Judge John Deed would have been. No scriptwriter would have come up with the performance McCririck puts on. At one put he seems to forget that he worked for Channel 4 Racing, saying, “We liked to think we were a family. We tried to entertain the public and inform the public.” I thought that was the BBC’s Charter.
Judge Lewzey offers McCririck the chance of a break, but he’s into his stride and nothing is going to knock him off it. In his sights is Jay Hunt, whom he described as a “serial age discrimination offender.” Later in the day she rebutted that claim strongly, saying, “I have been responsible for a channel or part of a channel for the past eight years. In that time, hundreds of on-screen talent decisions have been run past me by those making them. Only one of those decisions has ever led to a claim of age discrimination and, contrary to what John McCririck says, I have learnt from that case. I had no reason to believe that anyone in the team which worked up the new programme had acted on the grounds of John McCririck's age, and that remains the position.”
McCririck told the panel Alastair Down, Derek Thompson and Mike Cattermole, other members of the old Channel 4 Racing team had not been retained because they were all over the age of 50. They were left to ponder that overnight.
Wednesday 2 October
McCririck is due to be silent today, but his trademark deerstalker and salmon pink suit ensure that he will be seen even if he is not heard. It’s the turn of the defence to speak, and you can’t help but think that Big Mac won’t have enjoyed what Jamie Aitchison had to relate.
He talked about the contracting period that led up to IMG taking over production of racing coverage. He explained that Channel 4 was in discussion with seven different companies, of which five bid to run the programmes. All commented specifically that they saw at best a reduced role for the McCririck. Aitchison put it like this, “As a broadcaster he had a resounding no from the entire industry. If you go to all the production companies and they come back with a consensus on an individual it would be totally remiss not to take that on board.”
You wouldn’t think immediately of Lesley Graham, now chief executive of Racing Welfare, as an obvious ally of McCririck. She was a senior presenter on Channel 4 Racing for many years, until she was told in 2009 that her contract would be reduced from 40 days to 15 each year. She thought at the time that this was because of her age, but did not act against her employer because she needed work to provide for her family. She told the tribunal that perception was strengthened in 2011 when her boss Andrew Thompson proudly announced that the average age of the presenters was significantly down; something he believed was helping attract new generations to the audience.
Graham said, “I felt my initial interpretation that my days were reduced because of my age was correct. As the only female presenter to be displaced was myself and I was the only female presenter over 40, the format changers for female presenters appeared to have been driven by ageism.”
However influential Thompson was in changing her contract, he had nothing to do with the decision not to offer work to McCririck, as by last year he was no longer working for Channel 4.
A brief appearance earlier in the day by Philip Davies, an MP and apparent acolyte of McCririck shed little light on anything, and the mistress of ceremonies quickly sent him on his way to a more supportive audience down the road in Westminster.
It was a day for the suits, and McCririck’s was the loudest of them, even as he failed to utter a single word.
Thursday 3 October
I’m beginning to wonder if John McCririck really is hard up. He’s wearing his salmon pink suit for the fourth day in succession. I suppose it’s just possible that he has a wardrobe full of them, but is that likely?
This morning, the tribunal hears from Graham Fry, a senior director at IMG, the company that now produces racing coverage on Channel 4. He’s grey of suit and almost white of hair, but perhaps that’s because he’s aged so much during the week.
Fry’s task was to confirm whether McCririck projected a “young, glamorous and sexy look.” It didn’t take him long to answer, but his negative reply was qualified when he said that IMG were most concerned to find the best presenters for the programme. Until a week before the contract was awarded, it seemed McCririck might be one of those. Certainly his name figured prominently in discussions, and was only discarded when IMG got down to serious business with Channel 4.
An indication of the person fitting that young, glamorous and sexy description came in the form of Francesca Cumani, daughter of Newmarket trainer Luca Cumani. She was under consideration as a presenter, and would have become another Australian based female to try her luck in England, as she was working for Channel 7 across there. By the way, is there a Channel 5 or Channel 6 anywhere?
Fry had seen some photos of her, and had then written to a colleague asking for a sexier photo. Was this, one wonders, to put alongside the mug shots of Big Mac to help him make up his mind? No, said Fry, “It was a flippant comment to a colleague. I was looking for a better picture.” Well, that explains that then.
There’s no evidence that Fry had studied any pictures of JM. He had, though, watched him on those celebrity reality programmes, and found his behaviour disgusting. “I was really, really repulsed by what I saw – he had a major tantrum on Big Brother about not being allowed his Diet Coke.” I’ll never believe those claims about diet drinks again.
That makes it a bit easier to understand the reduced role for the presenter that was under consideration. He’s a celebrity; so let him interview other celebrities. Like for like, so to speak.
The crux of his discharge though, was that in IMG’s view, those appearances meant he could no longer be taken seriously as a presenter. He had lost credibility, even though there was no dispute about his knowledge of betting. Perhaps he would have been OK if he’d gone on Strictly Come Dancing.
Monday 7 October
The final day of the hearing, though there’s no indication of how long Judge Lewzey and her colleagues will spend deliberating on their verdict. The big news is that John McCririck has a different outfit for the day. He’s consigned salmon pink back to the wardrobe, or perhaps to the dry cleaners. Anyhow, today he appears to be trying to emulate a guardsman, wearing a bright red jacket with brown collar and epaulettes.
It’s left to the two respective sets of lawyers to give their wrap up speeches, or as they like to think of it, closing submissions. They don’t tell us anything new, but McCririck is ready to deliver his verdict the moment proceedings draw to a close and everybody leaves Victory House, where the tribunal has taken place.
He’s adamant that he’s won his case. He described the tribunal as “horrendous, a daunting ordeal”, perhaps because he had to sit, watch and listen for so much of the time. But he was confident that there was overwhelming evidence to support his claim that he lost his job because of his age.
His summing up gave McCririck the chance to let rip with some of the things he would have liked to say inside. He said, “We were confident when we started bringing this in, back in January; I always said then there will never be evidence of age discrimination given in writing but I think the evidence has been overwhelming that that is just what they did. Channel 4 were employing me all the time, to wave my arms around, shout and scream, go on Big Brother, Little Brother. I was even on Celebrity Million Pound Drop last year. They were still bringing me in to their top rated shows (Celebrity Million Pound Drop????), so how can they turn round now and say, ‘It’s appalling what you’re doing?’”
Somehow I don’t think it will change anyone’s mind.
Wednesday 13 November
It’s taken more than a month of deliberation for the three people on the panel to finalise their decision on John McCririck’s £3m age discrimination case. I reckon it wasn’t that difficult for them; what has taken the time is agreeing precisely the words to use in setting out their verdict.
The critical passage set out in their judgement on the justice.gov.uk website reads, “All the evidence is that Mr McCririck’s pantomime persona, as demonstrated on the celebrity television appearances, and his persona when appearing on Channel 4 Racing, together with his self described bigoted and male chauvinist views, were clearly unpalatable to a wider audience. The tribunal is satisfied that the respondent (Channel 4) had the legitimate aim of attracting a wider audience to horseracing.”
No matter that so far they have failed in that. No matter that they may well have encouraged McCririck to appear on those television shows, which only work with outrageously flamboyant participants. If they had been full of what he described yesterday as “the anonymous suits and skirts” there would hardly have been a programme. No matter that several other older presenters also lost their jobs. In the end, it was McCririck’s personality and out of date views that cost him his job.
Now he says he is “unemployable and inconsolable.” Yet even as he said that, he was consoling himself, as he said he could not have lived with himself if he had not brought the case. He’s clearly convinced that the wrong judgement has been reached, yet sounded as though he had accepted the outcome, and would be unlikely to appeal.
There may be financial considerations in that. Although he hasn’t lost his house, he said this morning that he might well have to remortgage it to pay the six figure legal bill. In case he does appeal, anyone got a spare room?