Entertainment & Arts

Top Gear investigated by Ofcom over Pike's Peak pun

Top Gear
Image caption Hammond, Clarkson and May (l to r) were seen racing hatchbacks in the 2014 edition

BBC Two's Top Gear is being investigated by watchdog Ofcom over the use of the word "pikey" in an episode broadcast in February last year.

The BBC Trust rejected the Traveller Movement's original complaint in March, but the group have brought it to Ofcom.

It was sparked by a placard featuring the words "Pikey's Peak" which host Jeremy Clarkson put up after a race between 1980s hatchbacks.

Clarkson has since been axed from the show, after a "fracas" with a producer.

During the episode, broadcast on 2 February 2014, Clarkson had been ridiculing co-presenter Richard Hammond's choice of a Vauxhall Nova when the term was used.

"Ofcom is investigating a complaint from the Travellers' Movement that it was offensive to include a placard with Pikey's Peak written on it in this BBC show," said a spokesperson from the broadcasting regulator.

'Common parlance'

Top Gear was cleared by the Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trust over the comment earlier this year.

It acknowledged the word "pikey" derived from the word "turnpike" and was therefore related to travellers, but said there was no "intended racist reference".

The committee said the word had "evolved into common parlance among a number of people to mean 'chavvy' or 'cheap'".

This, it said, meant many Top Gear viewers "would not necessarily associate it with the Gypsy and Traveller communities".

It also noted that the placard was a deliberate pun on the US race course Pike's Peak, which had been referenced earlier in the show's script.

Ofcom said its investigation, launched on 22 April, was looking into whether the potential for offence caused by the use of the word "pikey" was justified by the context.

'Racist abuse'

A statement from the Traveller Movement welcomed the decision and said it hoped Ofcom's investigation was "thorough".

"When the BBC Trust ruled that the Top Gear use of the word 'pikey' had nothing to do with gypsies and travellers and meant cheap and dodgy instead, it was clearly the trust that was being a bit cheap and dodgy," it said.

"We believe in freedom of speech, but with that freedom there must be responsibility.

"The BBC Trust abdicated that responsibility when they legitimised the use of a racist word on one of their most popular and money-spinning programmes."

It said the topic was one that needed attention, adding: "We can bang on about semantics and meanings, but at the end of the day too many gypsies and travellers hear that word in the form of racist abuse.

"How can you work for understanding and integration when racist abuse is seen as funny by a national public broadcaster paid for by the public?"

Top Gear producers are currently looking for a new look presenting team for the show.

Last month Clarkson's co-presenters James May and Hammond ruled themselves out of returning for the next series without him.

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