Oct 2 2013
John McCririck was not included in a revamped Channel 4 Racing programme because he was seen as an irritating "comic act" who brought a "farcical tone" to shows, a tribunal has heard.
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.
But Jamie Aitchison, the commissioning editor for sport, at Channel 4, said the decision to axe McCririck was taken because his "pantomime style" did not fit with a vision for a more serious and inclusive show, and had nothing to do with his age.
In March 2012 the broadcaster landed the rights to air all UK horseracing events for the following year, including "Crown Jewel" events like Royal Ascot and the Grand National, and Channel 4 saw it as an opportunity to freshen up its racing coverage and appeal to a wider audience.
McCririck - who is taking the channel and TV production company IMG Media Limited to the tribunal - was seen as "unappealing and irritating to many current and potential viewers", according to Mr Aitchison, so was cut from the new line-up led by Clare Balding.
Mr Aitchison, who has worked previously as a producer on BBC and ITV sports shows, said in his witness statement of the former show: "I and others at Channel 4 felt that, although its coverage catered well for a contingent of dedicated horseracing fans, it was niche and non-inclusive at times.
"Channel 4 set out to create a tone that was a little more serious, measured and inclusive.
"None of the decisions taken in respect of who to invite and who not to invite to be in the on-screen team for Channel 4 Racing from 2013 were taken on the grounds of their age, or indeed for any reason other than merit, including the decision not to invite John McCririck to be part of the team."
Mr Aitchison, who gave evidence to the tribunal today, said in his witness statement that concerns over McCririck's style were supported by audience surveys, press coverage and viewer complaints.
"John McCririck was considered to have a 'pantomine style' of exaggerated delivery, which was incongruous with the more serious, measured and journalistic style proposed for the programme from 2013," he said.
The Channel 4 executive said the pundit's "exaggerated tone and style, and propensity to offend was out of step with the vision for the programme, and also unappealing and irritating to many current and potential viewers".