Jeremy Clarkson was born in Doncaster to Shirley Gabrielle Clarkson, a teacher, and Edward Grenville Clarkson, a travelling salesman. While his parents were in the business of selling Paddington Bear toys, Jeremy soon went into journalism before becoming one of the most well-known motoring journalists and TV personalities of this generation.
But how did Jeremy actually become a journalist in the first place, and how did he find himself in front of the camera?
This is how Jeremy Clarkson began his career in journalism.
Clarkson was enrolled in Repton School, a well respected private school that educated talented – and wealthy – individuals. Here, he met Adrian Newey, a successful Formula 1 car designer, and Andy Wilman, who is now the executive producer of The Grand Tour and previously Top Gear.
He become good friends with Andy Wilman who together, named new students ‘Stigs’. This later became the name of the racing suit-clad faceless racing driver from Top Gear.
Clarkson was expelled from Repton School after “drinking, smoking and generally making a nuisance of himself.” At a young age, however, he was making money by voicing Atkinson, a public schoolboy from the Children’s Hour serial adaptation of Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings novels for the BBC. This ended once his voice broke.
Returning home to his parents after leaving the school after expulsion, his parents were incredibly angry. He said: “They were so cross with me, but I knew something would come along. Something always comes along. It does in my life, anyway.”
First Writing Job
With no school and no job, Jeremy helped his parents stuff bears. But on walking down the street one day, an old family friend approached him. It turns out he was the general manager of the local paper, the Rotherham Advertiser. While the ex-Top Gear presenter’s experience didn’t quite match what they wanted, old family connections helped him gain the job.
It turned out that Jeremy’s grandfather, a GP, had run through an air raid to deliver the editor’s first child. Still being grateful to Clarkson’s family, he accepted Jeremy into the paper as a writer.
Jeremy described himself as “properly rubbish” at local reporting, and often got into trouble. He once forgot the reason behind a call to a bereaved woman and was forced to leave an inquest for giggling and messing around with another colleague.
“He was very much the same as he is now,” sports reporter Les Payne, who shared a desk with Clarkson at the Advertiser, said.
“He was a younger version of the current Jeremy Clarkson you see on TV. He mucked in with the rest of the office but he was very much a man who expressed his own opinions.”
Les Payne remembers working with Clarkson on an agricultural show. “He was taking the mickey,” he says. “He didn’t like having to write down which was the biggest marrow. The parish pump stuff clearly didn’t appeal to him.”
Jeremy Clarkson Starts His First Business
Clarkson wrote for several outlets such as the Rochdale Observer, Wolverhampton Express and Star. But on one evening, he came home to his girlfriend at the time and told her about the new office furniture.
“I knew at that moment that I had to leave,” he told Desert Island Discs, “because when new office furniture becomes so important that you even mention it, pack your bags, get out, move 200 miles away.”
“I couldn’t really work this notion of working for someone else. I was living in Fulham in south-west London, a real Thatcher heartland, and everybody had their own little business doing up houses, a million different things, print shops and so forth. And I thought I’ve got to have one of these little businesses. So I forced myself to have an idea a day.”
He started a company called Motoring Press Agency, which wrote car news and reviews to be syndicated to the regional press. It was at this point where he started contributing to Performance Car Magazine as well.
How He Found Top Gear
Top Gear was a very different beast before its reboot in 2002. It was purely motoring journalism and was a bit boring, to say the least, compared to its newer versions. But Jeremy got in early, learning the ropes of how to talk in front of a camera.
At a Citroen press day, he met Top Gear researcher Jon Bentley:
“He was just what I was looking for – an enthusiastic motoring writer who could make cars on telly fun,” Bentley said. “He was opinionated and irreverent, rather than respectfully po-faced. The fact that he looked and sounded exactly like a twenty-something ex-public schoolboy didn’t matter. Nor did the impression there was a hint of school bully about him. I knew he was the man for the job.”
Jon was soon promoted to the producer of Top Gear, and quickly offered Jeremy a screen test alongside a Range Rover.
“Clarkson stood out because he was funny. Even my bosses allowed themselves the odd titter.”
Jeremy’s career in Top Gear began in 1988, and while Top Gear wasn’t what we know now, it was still innovative for its time. In 2002, it was rebooted, and quickly became one of the most popular TV shows available.