John McCririck tells ageism tribunal he performed 'pantomime act'
John McCririck has told an employment tribunal that his image as a bigot and a sexist went "side-by-side" with his image as a serious journalist.
The 73-year-old claimed his appearances as a "pantomime villain" on reality TV shows did not reduce his "gravitas", and denied they damaged horse racing.
The racing pundit is alleging age discrimination against his former employers Channel 4 and IMG Media Ltd.
Channel 4 said it was "vigorously defending" the case.
McCririck was axed from Channel 4's coverage last year, as a new-look team led by Clare Balding took over.
'Taxi for hire'
He told the tribunal that he remained highly qualified to do the job, and that his appearance on reality TV shows, such as Celebrity Big Brother and Celebrity Wife Swap, had not detracted from another, serious image.
He said he had become a "taxi for hire" in 2010 after his days on Channel 4 were cut to 40 a year and he had been encouraged by the broadcaster to pursue appearances on reality TV.
But he said his persona as a bombastic and "domineering" individual was a pantomime character that he would have reined in if he had been asked.
"When I came out of Celebrity Big Brother in 2005 to all the howling and catcalling, Davina McCall said, 'don't worry John, it's all pantomime'. That's all it was, not serious," he said.
"This is a different persona, you are putting on a performance, you are doing a pantomime act."
McCririck said he had also appeared on serious programmes such as Question Time and Newsnight, and his "gravitas" as a serious journalist was not put at risk by his antics away from racing.
During his appearance at the hearing, sitting in central London, the long-time pundit was repeatedly urged to "control his aggression" and "refrain from grandstanding" and passing comment.
Asked by Thomas Linden QC, representing Channel 4, if his behaviour had damaged the sport of horse racing, he said: "I don't believe it did," adding that he would have changed his ways had he been asked.
"You listen to your bosses; everybody who works in any profession, in any job, they listen to the people in charge.
"No one ever came to me. Nobody has ever questioned my professionalism on Channel 4 racing, ever," he said.
McCririck said he was told of his "sacking" from Channel 4 in October 2012 by sports editor Jamie Aitchison while on holiday.
"No notice was given, no discussion, no face-to-face meeting, despite my work for Channel 4 over 29 years. I had been sacked by my employer," he said.
McCririck admitted there had been plenty of complaints to Channel 4 about his behaviour, and accepted descriptions of him as "nasty, revolting, rude", "boorish", and "obnoxious and sexist".
But he added: "I was fully aware that Channel 4 approved of it because they kept on having me on their programmes."
McCririck said the environment changed when Andrew Thompson became Channel 4's head of sport in 2007, followed by Aitchison, along with chief executive David Abraham and chief creative officer Jay Hunt, whom he claimed was a "serial age discrimination offender".
"The channel lost its unique ethical and moral high ground and quickly became just another money- and ratings-motivated broadcaster," he said.
Former Channel 4 racing presenter Lesley Graham supported McCririck's claims of ageism in her evidence to the hearing.
In a statement to the tribunal, Graham claimed she was told by Channel 4 in 2009 that her days were being cut from 40 to 15.
"I had no notice that this was going to happen and was extremely surprised and disappointed," she said.
"The only reason I could think that my annual days were being reduced was because of my age - I was due to turn 50 in 2010."
Graham added that she was "effectively replaced" by Emma Spencer and Alice Plunkett, who were aged 31 and 36 respectively at the time.
Graham became chief executive of the charity Racing Welfare after leaving Channel 4 last year.
When asked by Mr Linden about the nicknames used during racing coverage, such as "saucy minx" and "the pouty heiress" for presenters Spencer and Alice Fox-Pitt, McCririck said it was all for effect.
"I think it livens up the programme. We liked to think we were a family and people coming in were watching and the family were in the drawing room.
"We tried to entertain the public and give them information as well."
McCrirrick added that he "never called anybody a name they didn't approve of" but admitted the names were "childish and public school-ish".
Asked by Mr Linden if his co-presenter, the British champion jump jockey John Francome, took offence at being called "The Greatest Jockey", the pundit told the hearing it was a "juvenile joke" and he always called him that.
"He's so modest," McCririck said of Francome.
"I'm not like that. If you go to my house, it's like a shrine to me," he added.
Mr Linden put it to McCririck that Channel 4 Racing's new show had moved on from his old-fashioned style of tic-tac sign language and flamboyant clothing to a "more polished" programme, but the star insisted the old format was "trendy".
"I think it adds colour," he said, adding: "It brings the excitement of being at the racecourse."
The hearing continues.