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McCririck 'panto style' criticised
A senior television producer suggested John McCririck should be dropped from the revamped Channel 4 racing line-up, claiming that his "pantomime" presenting was a distraction, an employment tribunal has heard.
Carl Hicks, the IMG production company's executive producer of Channel 4 Racing, said he never felt that Mr McCririck would be the betting reporter. He rated Mr McCririck as being in the "Premier League" of racing presenters and as the pioneer racing expert to broadcast from the betting ring, but said there was no room for him in the new line-up.
Mr Hicks, who was involved in trying to create an on-screen dream team of presenters, told the central London hearing: "He was not appropriate and there was not an appropriate role for him."
Mr McCririck's image was potentially damaged by his high-profile appearances in reality shows and his brash manner, according to Mr Hicks.
He said: "I'm very sympathetic to his position but never felt he would be part of the newly enhanced production team from 2013. It is not him waving his arms around for tic-tac - that was a distraction. 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."
Mr McCririck is accusing his former employers of age discrimination. Channel 4 and IMG Media deny the claims. 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. As IMG was looking at potential on-screen talent, Mr Hicks joked that they were on the verge of "putting forward the poshest team in racing".
Channel 4 Racing's presenting duo includes Clare Balding, who had childhood links to the Queen, and Nick Luck who went to Harrow, he told the tribunal. Francesca Cumani, daughter of Newmarket trainer Luca, was also mentioned and she was "quite upmarket and could also be seen as quite posh", according to Mr Hicks.
He also told the hearing that McCririck had a habit of calling Mr Luck "which was not complimentary" and referring to colleague Tanya Stephenson as "the female, which was disparaging to her".
In his tribunal witness statement, he said: "My view remained that John McCririck was not right for the programme and I thought he should not be included in any capacity. I was fully aware that John was one of the most recognisable faces in horse racing. However, I did not think his exaggerated presentation style was consistent with a more serious programme and was aware that he had a potential to offend and alienate viewers and potential viewers.
"My perception from watching John McCririck on television in the past was that he came across as being aggressive, sexist and non-inclusive, all of which would not help Channel 4 extend the number of viewers and achieve the change in tone sought."
The tender document raised "concern" that Mr McCririck had "a tendency to misname jockeys and horses," Mr Hicks noted.
His witness statement added: "Whilst that would be a problem, it was not something I had picked up on in watching him and was never a factor in my ultimate recommendation that John McCririck not be included on Channel 4 Racing at all from 2013. Instead, my impression was that his exaggerated, pantomime style (including his tic-tac gestures), rather than factual inaccuracies, was distracting to viewers and made it difficult to pick up the message he was trying to convey."