McCririck axed as pundit ‘for alienating audiences’

Flamboyant racing pundit John McCririck was dumped from a high-profile role on Channel 4 because he was “alienating” and “very offensive”, an employment tribunal has been told.

Jay Hunt, Channel 4’s chief creative officer, said a talent tracker study on how he went down with audiences was “one of the worst pieces of research I have ever seen regarding a presenter”.

McCririck, 73, who was dropped from Channel 4’s revamped on-screen line-up, is accusing his former employers of age discrimination.

Channel 4 and production company IMG Media deny the claims.

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Ms Hunt told McCririck’s central London employment tribunal the audience research on him was “one of the most dispiriting” documents she had seen, particularly as the broadcaster wanted to freshen up its racing coverage and appeal to a wider audience.

The figures showed that 58 per cent of the general public “regarded Mr McCririck as Channel 4”, the tribunal heard.

Ms Hunt went on: “When you consider the views he had been shouting from the rooftops on everything from women to low-level misogyny – I found it slightly depressing.”

She said she was “gobsmacked” to hear that McCririck insisted on calling a colleague “the female” and that his headline-grabbing appearances on reality TV shows such as Big Brother and Celebrity Wife Swap were potentially damaging to his image as a sports presenter.

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The outspoken and controversial McCririck – known for his eye-catching clothes, tic-tac gesturing and gold jewellery – believes he was “sacked by anonymous suits and skirts” because of his age.

Ms Hunt denied that age had anything to do with his departure, saying that younger audiences liked his outrageousness.

She noted: “Larger-than-life characters do cut through better to 16 to 34 [year-olds].”

Ms Hunt worked for the BBC when presenter Miriam O’Reilly, who was in her 50s, was dropped from the Countryfile programme.

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Ms O’Reilly went on to win an age discrimination case against the corporation. Ms Hunt said: “I am absolutely clear that age absolutely was not part of Mr McCririck’s future involvement in the programming.

“This was a merit-based set of decisions and it was Mr McCririck’s alienation and, on occasion, slightly obnoxious presenting style which were part of this decision.”

Jennifer Eady QC, for McCririck, suggested that, in light of the O’Reilly case, Ms Hunt was showing “breathtaking arrogance” in not keeping her notes linked to the decision which brought a halt to McCririck’s career at Channel 4.

Ms Hunt said this was “categorically untrue”.

McCririck spoke to fellow racing presenter Clare Balding after he discovered he no longer had a job at Channel 4.

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Balding, now part of the broadcaster’s racing team, contacted Ms Hunt and said she had “some sympathy” with McCririck.

The tribunal also heard from IMG’s executive producer of Channel 4 Racing, Carl Hicks, who was involved in trying to create an on-screen dream team of presenters for the programme.

He said: “I’m very sympathetic to [McCririck’s] position but never felt he would be part of the newly-enhanced production team from 2013.”

Mr Hicks went on: “John was an eccentric and seen at worst as a loud-mouthed and chauvinistic extraordinaire which was not what I wanted to be part of the team to broaden racing.”

The hearing was adjourned until Monday.