McCririck style ‘liable to offend’
Thursday 3rd October 2013, 4:01PM BST.
A television production company boss did not want to include John McCririck in a revamped Channel 4 Racing programme as he was “disgusting” and demanded “sexier” pictures of another potential presenter, a tribunal has heard.
The 73-year-old pundit – known for his flamboyant clothes, tic-tac gesturing and gold jewellery – believes he was “sacked by anonymous suits and skirts” because of his age.
In March 2012 Channel 4 secured the rights to broadcast all UK horse racing events for the following year, including “crown jewel” events such as Royal Ascot and the Grand National, and the broadcaster saw it as an opportunity to freshen up its racing coverage and appeal to a wider audience.
Graham Fry, managing director of Sports Production Worldwide at IMG Sports Media Limited, prepared the company’s bid to produce the programme.
Mr Fry said in his witness statement to the Central London Employment Tribunal: “We were concerned that John McCririck’s presenting style was over-dramatic, liable to offend and would not have mainstream appeal.
“I was also concerned about John McCririck’s credibility as a betting presenter in the context of a more serious, journalistic style of Channel 4 Racing, given the public persona he had created through appearances on other television programmes.”
Giving evidence to the tribunal, Mr Fry said he found McCririck’s stints on reality shows “pretty disgusting and shocking, but as a broadcaster he had lost a lot of credibility”.
McCririck, who alleges age discrimination, is taking Channel 4 and IMG to the tribunal.
Jennifer Eady QC, representing McCririck, asked Mr Fry why he wrote a message during the preparation of IMG’s bid which asked: “Is there a sexier picture of Francesca Cumani we can put in?”
Mr Fry told the tribunal that it was a “flippant comment to a colleague” as he believed the presenter looked “quite severe” in their initial picture.
Cumani was suggested as a potential reporter for Channel 4 Racing but was never used.
Ms Eady said: “That email reveals what your thinking was actually about, by young, more glamorous, sexier presenters to appeal to the young audience.”
Mr Fry replied: “No, we were looking at new talent.”
It also emerged that IMG considered using supermodel Erin O’Connor for a fashion segment on the show.
Mr Fry went on: “We were looking for a look that appealed to a younger and broader audience, but we were always of the view that the most important thing was to get the best people and the best presenters as they would be the ones who could educate this younger and broader audience.”
In his witness statement, Mr Fry claimed he found McCririck’s presenting style to be “over the top” on Channel 4′s The Morning Line preview show, and shared his view with Charles Balchin, head of general programmes at IMG.
Mr Fry said: “I found his coverage of betting in particular to be difficult to follow, since it was very technical and was delivered in a loud, brash, aggressive and long-winded style which I considered to be over the top and distracting.
“I therefore told Charles that I ‘had no real idea what McCririck was talking about’ and said ‘I would bomb McCririck now except for cameos at the Grand National and the Derby’.
“I though that we ought to significantly reduce John McCririck’s involvement in Channel 4 Racing – from around 40 days per year to perhaps just a handful.”
Ms Eady asked him: “You had a concern about the existing Channel 4 team, that some of them were set in their way?”
Mr Fry replied: “It had the feel of a country club environment that some people couldn’t join, so it’s inaccessible to some people.
“We wanted to open it up to a broader audience.”