Colonel La Roque and the Croix de Feu: French Fascism’s Jeremy Clarkson?

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson: Right-wing loudmouth presenter of Top Gear

Colonel La Roque

Colonel de la Roque: French Fascist Leader, who held Paramilitary Car Rallies. The Petrolhead’s Generalissimo.

Jeremy Clarkson is in the news again this morning for once again making or rather, appearing to make a racist comment. It’s from an out-take of Top Gear in which he seems to be using a derogatory expression for Blacks while quoting a nursery rhyme. He has denied he used the term, and states it is word he despises. I dare say he’s right. Unfortunately, he has form for racist comments. Only a year or so ago, he, the Hamster and James May were in trouble for making racist comments on Top Gear about Mexicans, including describing Mexican food as ‘tasting of sick’. Some of Clarkson’s stunts on Top Gear, apart from the comments for which he has been officially criticised and chastened, also to my mind smack of racism and a need to sneer at despised or low status ethnic groups. For example, on one edition of Top Gear, where the boys went round Romania, Clarkson thought it was amusing to spoof the local’s style of dress. Or rather, he decided to spoof the local Roma people’s dress sense. Noting that the men tended to all wear a particular style of hat, he decided to drive through a Roman village wearing one, while saying something suitably sarcastic about it to camera. Clarkson has little patience with the Left. He describes Guardian readers and people with similar Right-on political views as ‘yoghurt-knitters’. My guess is that he and the producers probably regarded this stunt as an amusingly cheeky bit of ‘political incorrectness’. Offensive, but not actually racist.

The problem with that attitude is that the Roma are a severely persecuted people in many parts of eastern Europe. The Nazis were determined to exterminate them, along with Jews and Slavs. There was a scandal a few years ago in the Czech Republic when an ostensibly democratic Czech MP declared that Gypsies would go either to Canada or to the Death Camps. It was also revealed that the Czech medical service had a deliberate policy of sterilising Roma women to make sure they did not outbreed ethnic Czechs. The Australian journalist, Vitaly Vitaliev, who was born in Russia, describes the extreme poverty and utter destitution of many Gypsy communities in Romania in his travel book on eastern Europe, Borders Up. And you can find the same descriptions of utter poverty and despair in plenty of other travel books about Romania. Faced with the reality of severe state persecution and genocidal hatred against the Roma by the host populations, Clarkson’s drive through a Roman village sneering at their fashion sense seems less like a piece of cheeky fun, and something far darker and sinister. It could reasonably be compared to sneering at the fashion sense of the South African Black poor during Apartheid, or Jews during the pogroms. Unlike Blacks and Jews, the persecution of the Roma isn’t quite as notorious, and so Clarkson and his producers could get away with their tasteless stunt.

One of the French Fascist groups in the 1930s also shared Clarkson and co.’s love of cars. This was the Croix de Feu under Colonel Francois La Roque. the Croix de Feu was originally a veterans’ association for soldiers, who had won the Croix de Guerre for their bravery in combat. It was taken over by La Roque, and turned into a political organisation that denounced parliamentary weakness and corruption, the Communist threat and the need for an authoritarian social order. He also demanded the establishment of a corporative state into which the workers would be incorporated on the model of Fascist Italy. Like the Nazis with the SA and SS, and Mussolini with the Blackshirts and Squadristi, the Croix also had a paramilitary wing. These were the dispos, from the French word for ‘ready’, disponible. These used to go off to remote destinations, following secret order to train in readiness for ‘le jour j’ (‘D Day’), and l’heure H’ (‘H Hour’), when they would begin physically fighting a Communist uprising. With a number of other extreme Right-wing groups, they launched a march on the French Chamber of Deputies on February 6, 1934, in emulation of Mussolini’s ‘March on Rome’. In 1933 and 1934 they set up a series of militaristic car rallies. Which makes them all sound rather like a Fascist candidate for coverage by Top Gear, rather like Clarkson in jackboots with a stormtrooper’s helmet.

Clarkson would not, however, have got on quite so well in Musso’s Italy. The Duce deliberately did not try to launch an affordable family car, like the Nazis planned to do in Germany with Volkswagen. He thought the comfort of motoring would make Italians soft, and so stop them from achieving their imperial destiny as a feared military power. He also declared that he wasn’t going to improve peasant housing for much the same reason, and that he would have liked to have planted more woodland to make the Italian climate colder and harsher, again to toughen Italians up so they could conquer the world. Or at least, the Balkans and North Africa. Whatever else Musso was, he definitely wasn’t a ‘yoghurt knitter’.

Actually, I really don’t think Clarkson is a racist, although he has made it very clear that he wishes to stop immigration. When he actually stops making tasteless comments about foreigners, he can actually be very, very good. A few years ago, he presented a series in which he went round various European countries, Jeremy Clarkson Meets the Neighbours. This was actually far from the car-crash exhibit of rampant chauvinism and xenophobia you might expect. He actually likes France, despite his various comments about the French. In his last programme he went round Italy, where he made admiring comments about Italian style and cars. He was also impressed by Italian sobriety. After going out with the Italian navy in their patrols looking for illegal immigrants, he remarked on the way that Italian matelots drank coffee along with the rest of the population, rather than getting drunk on booze. An Italian authority he interviewed about this told him that it was part of the Italian desire to make a ‘bella figura’ – a good figure. You don’t cut a suitable dash by getting drunk, and so Italians simply don’t drink as much alcohol as Brits, or don’t do it to get drunk. He concluded the programme by saying that Europe wasn’t like America, and shouldn’t try to be. It was better.

So, he isn’t quite the racist loudmouth he appears to be, though he is indeed a Right-wing loudmouth. He just makes racist comments as a crude form of schoolboy humour to wind people up. It’s all part of his image as the motoring world’s answer to Bernard Manning. Only sometimes it goes much too far, and strays into the genuinely racist. He’s been making offensively Right-wing comments for nearly three decades now. He was taken off Top Gear in the 1990s after making sexist comments about a particular brand of car snapping knicker elastic. His popularity and the allure of the Clarkson persona was too great, however, and he came back. When he wants to be, he can be a good presenter. It’s just that it’s about time he knew and kept to the limits of what is acceptable.

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5 Responses to “Colonel La Roque and the Croix de Feu: French Fascism’s Jeremy Clarkson?”

  1. sdbast Says:

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  2. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

  3. ukdirector (@ukdirector) Says:

    Sorry, but this article is nothing more than a caricature assassination and persecution of Jeremy Clarkson, for what! no good reason that’s for sure, other than it is a popular sport nowadays to pick on celebrities and call them out as racist…!

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks for your comment, UKdirector. But if you read the article, I state that I actually don’t think Clarkson is racist and cite his show ‘Jeremy Clarkson Meets the Neighbours’ as an example of this. As I said, in this programme he actually liked France and was highly appreciative of Italy and especially the way Italians don’t get drunk, because of the poor way it looks. I liked the way he concluded that show by saying that Europe wasn’t like America, but was better.

      However, there is a problem in Top Gear with the facile racist or nationalist sneering of the three presenters, not just Clarkson. It has caused offence, and Clarkson and the other did apologise to the Mexican ambassador for the comments they made about his country after a complaint was made by a Mexican student. Clarkson, I think, deliberately sets out to shock and offend with a Right-wing persona. I’d say he was probably the closest thing this country has to an American-style shock jock. The problem with that, is that it can easily stray over into something genuinely offensive, rather than merely ‘politically incorrect’. I mention the incident in Top Gear of Clarkson adopting the Roma’s hats as an example of this. Please note: I am not accusing Clarkson of encouraging or even approving of the persecution of the Gypsies I mentioned. But given the degree of persecution and genocidal, violent hostility they have endured, Clarkson’s stunt is extremely tasteless.

      As for the allegation that I am somehow persecuting him, Clarkson is an extremely wealthy man, who has made millions out of Top Gear. And I don’t begrudge him his success with it either. I have absolutely no power or any kind of official influence, and so I don’t think I can be accused of persecuting him. Clarkson said long ago on the radio after a previous scandal caused by his comments that his style of reporting was intended to boost ratings. ‘Well, I could talk about the road-holding and so on, but this would have people turning off in their millions. So I talk about how such-and-such a car snaps knicker elastic at 100 paces’, he said. The negative side of this is that it does carry a responsibility not to do or so anything that it is genuinely racially offensive or sexist. I state in the article that Clarkson merely needs to know and keep to the limits.

  4. Guy Ropes Says:

    Interesting. What are the limits and who sets them? When was the word (sorry, abbreviation) ‘paki’ declared to be racist and where was the announcement made? Please attend an Omid Djalili performance and discuss the merits or otherwise of some of his material. If Clarkson performed this stuff, particularly the item where the audience are persuaded to grunt like the very severely disabled people we are encouraged to laugh at, he would, of course have his BBC contract immediately ripped up. Indeed, where and what are the limits? – they seem to be different for everyone. Or are we only concerned about racist and sexist comments? My partner of 18 years has a brother who is stricken in much the same way as those that Djalili pokes fun at. I find his patter particularly distasteful – or should I lighten up?

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