The Pie’ing of Jeremy Clarkson


Words and Photographs: Adrian Arbib
Video and Sound: Claire Palmer


The TV crews gathered expectantly on the steps of Headington Hill Hall, a grand Italianate pile once occupied by Robert Maxwell, now leased to Brookes University and on this day the place where Jeremy Clarkson would soon arrive to be interviewed about the honorary degree he had just received.

There were lots of press there, including myself.

And there was also a particular buzz to the proceedings.

The reason being a strong rumour that Clarkson was going to be pied.

In mortar board and flowing robes he’d received his degree only an hour or so earlier; delivering a speech to the assembled company in the main University buildings.

It was getting to the end of the day.  Time was running out for any pie action.

Everyone knew it and the security was extra tight.  The other snappers (the Fleet Street massive) cast furtive glances and quizzed each other to see who might know where, when and how the pie would happen, if at all.

I had photographed a similar dessert  ‘fatwa’  before Sir Mark Moody Stewart, head of Shell Oil.


To get it right is nerve wrackingly hard; being in the right position is an absolute must. It is the art of capturing the decisive moment. 

And largely it’s about quick wits and good footwork.

One of the finest photographs of this genre was taken by Andrew Testa, a pie exploding into the face of Renato Ruggiero, director the World Trade Organisation.  Cartoon like the impact erupts from his face while he clasps a folder of papers; containing, one imagines, some tract about the privatisation of everything.  Close to perfection, it had all the ingredients.
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Of course every case is different and surprise is everything.  If you’re fortunate you get to work in tandem and seamlessly with the flan flinger, synchronised with the build up and the moment, as the creamy tart is planted on the target’s face.  

Clarkson would be particularly difficult because of the sheer number of people who wanted to get the photo and the heightened security.  

I knew it would be one of two people who were going to carry out the act but I had no idea which direction they would be coming from. And at this moment in time they weren’t anywhere to be seen. 

I wondered if they were having second thoughts.

Clarkson arrived.  I think we all half expected him to turn up in some roaring Maserati or massive Bentley, so great was his mythological petrol head status.   

Instead he stepped somewhat anxiously out of a Japanese 4×4, security guards hovered as he was led towards the awaiting cameras for the interviews.

Maybe he looked anxious because the word had got to him that he might be flanned and he was keeping his eye out for any  “entarteur “

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 There had been protests earlier in the day where people dressed in Clarkson wigs held a poster  “Rover RIP” referencing Clarkson’s insensitive and disparaging comments about Rover cars which had infuriated the Longbridge workers as they were losing their jobs.  Clarkson meanwhile was earning millions.

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Perhaps he thought that the tight security at the degree ceremony might have dealt with the pie threat. 

As he wandered towards the assembled press he seemed to relax in front of the TV cameras.   

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It was a peculiar feeling knowing that any minute now a pie could be landing full in his face.  

And what a target.  

At the risk of being head-ist, if such a term exists, Jeremy Clarkson does have a large head. It’s actually massive.     

I almost certainly wouldn’t say that about any one else even if they did have a particularly large head  (I mean what would be the point?) but after his remarks about Gordon Brown being  a one eyed Scottish idiot, encouraging 4WDs to destroy the Ridgeway, having strikers shot, the ’n’ word, ‘slope’ in Burma and the countless other bigoted comments that make up JC’s seemingly endless list it was somehow cathartic to consider the size of Jeremy Clarkson’s head and the pie that might soon be landing upon it.    

And then as if by magic hardened by many years of sliding, muddy, freezing rain, anti-road campaigning and fired up from banging her (normal sized) head against a corrupt legal system that squashes and criminalises any dissent that would wish to make this planet a better place Rebecca Lush appeared, left of stage, in twin set and pearls armed with a handbag and a newspaper under which was a pie.

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It all happened at incredible speed.
I just wish I’d been a bit more in tune with my camera.

(note to others: don’t use auto focus in similar situations) but as Rebecca flew past, the pie made contact. 

I was close, almost too close and i got pushed out of the way by security but the images testify to a direct hit.

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It must be humbling. One minute you’re all ego and puff then you’re, literally, eating humble pie.  You can go two ways at this point. Either very angry or you can just sit on it. And the latter is exactly what Clarkson did.  

But you could see he was rocked.   

As is always the case with celebrity it can leave you with a nasty taste. By the very act of getting “the photo” I was linked to Clarkson’s misfortune. It’s a strange feeling to think

“I’ve got this picture and it is going to be as big as Clarkson …because it is Clarkson. Consequently it’ll go everywhere and every time Clarkson does something stupid the pie image will be used.”    

But it didn’t.  
Just a few newspapers ran it. 

“How did you know when / that he was going to be pied? 

How come you were the only one to get it “

“Did you help set it up?”  

The questions underlined my fears that I was being seen as very much part of the protest.

I find it eternally strange that you can work for a giant PR company doing some, very well paid, complete and utter bullshit greenwash for the likes of Monsanto and feed it into the broadsheets as news which is then lapped up and recycled ad infinitum until a total lie becomes accepted truth and then by contrast take a photo of a media icon being pied and be accused of being ‘partial’.  

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It is the same feeble response that photographers get when they cover road protests, anti Nuclear, anti GM actions or any event that is vaguely anti – economic growth or challenges the status quo.  

Here was an establishment figure, Clarkson, being targeted by a road protester albeit dressed very nicely, but ‘she’ was a road protester none-the-less.


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I could hear the editors saying “It’s all very quaint but we can’t possibly be seen to be encouraging this kind of thing.  Clarkson doesn’t deserve this.  Really, this is a step too far etc etc.”

The fact that Clarkson has such establishment support and so large a following is as similarly depressing as the coverage and support that UKIP enjoys and I’m sure the two are linked. The Venn diagram of Clarkson fans and UKIP supporters probably slot quite neatly over each other.

After the 1,000,000 and rising signatures that now demand his reinstatement back into the BBC after punching  ‘an Irishman’ it is little surprise that the newspapers,  red tops and broadsheets alike are probably thinking which way must they go with the knife… and of course there’s the over £50 million a year revenue  that Top Gear earns the BBC to be thrown into the mix.

Despite the fact that he has been given the boot from the BBC,   money talks, and he’ll be eminently employable in another ego-fuelled, bully driven organisation.


Adrian Arbib is the author of the book Solsbury Hill : chronicle of a road protest


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