MAVERICK racing pundit John McCririck has insisted he was encouraged to play the public persona of “pantomime villain” and had never been ordered to tone down his on-screen style.
Speaking on the first day of his employment tribunal against Channel 4, the 73-year-old said he had lost his job purely on the basis of his age, claiming: “There’s nobody better around.”
McCririck took former employer Channel 4 and TV production company IMG Media Limited to the tribunal, alleging his sacking last year was motivated by age discrimination.
The case, in central London, started yesterday but was adjourned until this morning while its panel of judges reads witness statements and watches clips of McCririck’s appearances on television. These include racing coverage, as well as reality TV shows such as Celebrity Big Brother and Celebrity Wife Swap.
McCririck – known for his bling jewellery, sideburns and deerstalker hat – was dropped when Channel 4 unveiled a new presenting team headed by Clare Balding.
He later announced his plans to sue the station for £3 million, claiming the broadcaster had axed him because he was too old.
Speaking after yesterday’s brief hearing, McCririck, who was accompanied by his wife, Jenny, insisted his apparent sexism was part of a pantomime role he claimed he had been encouraged to continue, especially on reality TV shows.
“All the Big Brothers, etc, it’s a pantomime,” he said.
“Because Captain Hook is horrible to Peter Pan and kids in Peter Pan, it doesn’t mean the actor playing him goes around abusing kids in the street.
“All this is a pantomime villain thing that Channel 4
McCririck denied he was “anti-women”, and said that if anyone to whom he had given a nickname during his time on air had asked him not to, he would have stopped.
“It’s a very public school thing. It’s a bit immature, but it lightens up the programme,” he said.
“Channel 4 never, ever said ‘Look, we don’t like this sexist thing, we don’t like it when you call your names, don’t wave your arms around’.
“If the producer had said ‘Don’t wave your arms around’, fine, I would not have. They never, ever spoke to me once.”
He insisted he was still the best person for the job, adding: “There’s nobody better around. I have been sacked purely because of my age.”
McCririck claimed the decision to axe him had been made by “youth-obsessed bosses” at Channel 4.
“We are dealing with ruthless, tough people,” he said. “We have got anonymous suits and skirts who come into any company, they make their decisions, unattributable, unchallenged – they decide the future of people and no-one can answer against them.
“It is a culture in this country of new people coming into jobs. They have got to change; they can’t go in and keep the same people or people say, ‘What are you doing?’
“It’s an age thing. They use the word ‘freshen up’. Freshen up is a euphemism for kicking out older people. People in their 30s onwards live in fear in this country that the new suits and skirts will come in and just go for new and trendy. It’s totally wrong.”
McCririck went on: “Former home secretary David Blunkett said, ‘The way TV executives worship the cult of youth seems to be an unstoppable fetish’.
“I am saying it’s not an unstoppable fetish. If this tribunal gives punitive, exemplary damages, then no employer would ever dare sack somebody because of their age.
“This tribunal, if they act decisively, could end age discrimination.”
McCririck said the loss of his Channel 4 job had left him depressed and reduced to watching daytime TV.
He said: “I have worked all my life, I have never missed a day’s work, I have never been late. I live to work.
“I want to work, I am capable of working and I have been denied work illegally. To wake up in the morning and not have a job to go to is awful.”
A Channel 4 spokesman said: “We are grateful to John McCririck for his contribution towards Channel 4 Racing over many years.
“However, we reject the suggestion that discrimination on the basis of age played any part in the decision not to include John in the Channel 4 racing team from 2013, and we are vigorously defending this claim.”