What’s the difference between Jeremy Paxman and Jeremy Clarkson?

February 13, 2009
Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Paxman

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson

Simon Mayo had mistakenly introduced his BBC radio guest as Jeremy Clarkson. To me, Jeremy Paxman sounded remarkably like Jeremy Clarkson. Which suggests that the two celebrities may have something more in common than a name …

Driving home this afternoon [Feb 12th 2009], I heard the familiar urbane tones of Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 5 live. He was introducing his guest, Jeremy someone. He then apologised for confusing Jeremy Clarkson and Jeremy Paxman. The guest accepted Mayo’s apology not totally happy with the start to the interview. It amused me to suspect that one of England’s celebrity broadcasters had been peeved at being introduced as the other, even through a slip of the tongue. A bit thin-skinned, which ever one of them was there.

Then something curious happened. I listened more carefully to find out which Jeremy was in the studio. My point of reference was an interview on the same show, also conducted by Simon Mayo a few months ago, with Jeremy Clarkson the self-confessed petrol head. I could not decide whether this was another Clarkson interview, or one with the Paxman the political journalist.

It was curious, because I (like many others living here in England) have to exercise the off-switch to avoid hearing one or other Jeremy on a near daily basis. But I had never remarked on any similarity in their speech patterns before. Now for quite a few minutes, as far as I could detect, the voice might have been that Petrol Head or Political Journalist. What’s going on? Did they really have such similar delivery styles? If so, why had I never noticed it before? And why should anyone care anyway?

Why might it matter at all?

It might matter if you are a friend of both Jeremy C and of Jeremy P and you get a phone call from someone announcing “Jeremy here, I want you to appear on my programme next week”. It would make a difference if you then agreed and found yourself on the wrong sort of programme.

For those us not in that hypothetical position, why might it matter at all?
Probably not a lot, but the unexpectedness of that interview today set me thinking about sense-making, and role-playing. I’m intrigued enough to invite subscribers to share their views.

Mandrill management

I have an interest in evolutionary models of human behaviour, as they throw light on leadership patterns. In this respect, Jeremy P has long struck me as a fine example of what I have called Mandrill management. The metaphor implies a highly developed power drive which ultimately takes its toll on the alpha male and those further down the order in the social group. If I had thought about it, I would have noted Jeremy C as having similar characteristics. Clarkson’s recent public outburst against Prime Minister Gordon Brown (“that one-eye Scottish idiot”) seems illustrative of the almost uncontrollable and habitual actions of the Mandrill manager in action. These are gifted but rather fearsome creatures who may be conditioned to act out their need to be alpha males in their public interactions. Under stress, the Mandrill comes to the party.

It turned out that it was Jeremy Paxman being interviewed. The following interpretation of the interview is even more speculative than my usual efforts. But [At first Mr Paxman] seemed to have a restricted range of delivery, but even a more exaggerated way of emphasis (compensation?). Later in the interview, the familiar wide range of tones re-emerged. The staginess at the start reminded be of an actor with a rather over-ripe style which was then replaced by the staginess of a consummate professional interrogator and public speaker.

Clarkson’s normal delivery is closer to someone acting out the on-stage heavy from a crime drama. Paxman’s voice at the start of the interview was closer to Clarkson’s explosive attacks on the English language. Perhaps the ‘threat’ of not being properly recognised triggers a surge of adrenaline in a Mandrill manager’s blood.

Maybe there are a few ideas about leadership behaviour to be gained from an episode in which one gifted radio performer made a little gaff, and another reacted in a surprising fashion.


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