Entertainment & Arts

Racing pundit McCririck loses age discrimination case

John McCririck and his wife Jenny McCririck
Image caption After the ruling, John McCririck thanked his wife, Jenny, for her support

Racing pundit John McCririck lost his job at Channel 4 because his "pantomime persona" was "unpalatable" to a wide audience, an employment tribunal ruled.

A panel unanimously ruled against the 73-year-old, who claimed he was dropped from his role on Channel 4 Racing after 29 years because of his age.

The panel accepted the broadcaster's argument that its aim was to bring horse racing to a wider audience.

Mr McCririck said it was a "historic setback" for all employees over 30.

He had taken the broadcaster and TV production company IMG Media Limited to the tribunal and was seeking £3m in damages. Both denied discrimination.

The Central London Employment Tribunal's decision was welcomed by both IMG and Channel 4.

'Pantomime persona'

As the face of Channel 4's racing coverage, Mr McCririck was known for his signature deer-stalker hats, gold jewellery and wild gesticulations.

Later in his career, he admitted playing the "pantomime villain" in appearances on reality TV programmes, Celebrity Big Brother and Celebrity Wife Swap.

Image caption McCririck had been a fixture on Channel 4's racing for almost 30 years

But in March 2012, Channel 4 secured the rights to broadcast all UK horse racing events for the following year and a new-look team, fronted by Clare Balding, took over.

In the 44-page tribunal report, the three-member panel said it was clear that having won the "crown jewels" including Royal Ascot and the Grand National, Channel 4 wanted to attract a "younger and broader audience while maintaining its existing horse-racing audience of down-market males over 55".

It went on: "From the evidence before us, it is clear that Mr McCririck's standing went down as his celebrity profile increased and further evidence of his personal behaviour and opinions became public knowledge."

It referred to him being asked to leave TV programmes, Alan Titchmarsh, Hell's Kitchen and Loose Women, after airing his views.

"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," it added.

'Cult of youth'

After the hearing, Mr McCririck said: "This is an historic setback for all employees in their 30s to their 70s.

"After such a landmark judicial verdict, my failed legal action ensures that anonymous suits and skirts, who control the media, numerous other businesses and the public sector, will now enjoy complete freedom to replace older employees whatever their unimpaired ability and merit.

"I have let them all down along with my wife, the Booby, my legal team, friends, colleagues and countless members of the public who supported me throughout. My grateful thanks and apologies to every one of them.

"Former Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett MP said in August: 'The way TV executives worship the cult of youth seems to be an unstoppable fetish.' It is now."

During the tribunal, Mr McCririck defended his "pantomime villain" act and "domineering" image on reality TV shows, saying: "This is a different persona. You are putting on a performance, you are doing a pantomime act."

But Jamie Aitchison, Channel 4's commissioning editor for sport, said Mr McCririck was axed because he was "unappealing and irritating to many current and potential viewers".

An IMG spokesman said: "IMG is pleased that the tribunal's unanimous decision has recognised that age discrimination played no part in the decision not to include John McCririck in the Channel 4 Racing team from 2013."

A Channel 4 spokesman echoed IMG's statement, adding: "We are grateful to John for his contribution towards Channel 4's racing coverage over many years but disappointed that he decided to bring this claim."

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