It was 1997 when he was an unknown freelance writer and I was the new editor of Scotland on Sunday. He had a motoring column which very few people seemed to read —even the car manufacturers weren’t all that keen on him.
It was all about the money, you see, and how best to spend it on more important things like hiring reporters who could then find exclusive news stories which readers just might be interested in.
So I had a word with the executive in charge of the motoring pages and said: “This guy James May …he’s gotta go!”
I remember being told: “But he might be a star…he’s got an audition for that programme Top Gear…he could be the new Jeremy Clarkson!”
Alas, it was too late because his name had already been scrubbed off the freelance list of contributors and the saving was in the bag.
Nowadays, I like to think I did James a huge favour because…er…he suddenly had much more time on his hands to concentrate on other opportunities.
I’m absolutely positive that today he would thank me and want to shake my hand for helping him to go on to make a highly-lucrative career as a television personality.
But he never writes, he never calls; surely he should send a bottle of the best malt; it would be the very least he could do to show his appreciation.
In fact, because there are no hard feelings, we’d even be very happy if he wanted to recreate his old column every week on ScotBuzz.
So why is there such a fuss about getting rid of Clarkson?
Clarkson, allegedly, punched a defenceless producer after a hard day’s filming the world’s most watched television motoring show when, allegedly, there was no hot food waiting for him when he returned to an hotel somewhere in deepest Yorkshire.
We understand his mood was already rock bottom because someone staying in the place asked him to pose for a mobile phone selfie only to be brushed off with the reply: “Not after the day I’ve had”.
What happened next is the stuff of media madness because Clarkson has hardly been off the front pages — we just can’t get enough of him.
Even his near neighbour, The Prime Minister, felt compelled to step into the affair by generally supporting him although he probably realised there were votes in it.
Clarkson, of course, has more antecedents than Ronnie Biggs having built his career as a loud-mouthed controversialist who clearly enjoys upsetting folk by saying the wrong thing, or doing the wrong thing, at the wrong time.
He made a film driving through Argentina recently with the car number plate H982 FKL which the BBC said was a complete co-incidence and… ahem… nothing to do with the Falklands conflict of 1982.
Then he got caught out quoting a children’s rhyme, now regarded as racist, which led to him publicly begging forgiveness after the BBC threatened to sack him but instead issued a final warning.
He was only reprieved because the director-general himself stepped in just possibly because the Top Gear programme not only has the biggest BBC2 audience but makes a remarkable £200 million in TV sales worldwide.
But this time it’s really serious; Clarkson has been suspended.
Top Gear is off the air until further notice — although bizarrely they are still repeating old episodes on BBC3 —and an internal investigation to be chaired by the Gaelic-speaking BBC Scotland controller Ken MacQuarrie is apparently underway.
You can just imagine Clarkson’s reaction to that. Not only are the Scots probably going to decide who runs Britain in a couple of months, but a Scot — whose first language isn’t English —is going to decide the fate of one of our most loved television personalities.
The resentment is building up already. No wonder 900,000 petrol-headed Clarkson fans have signed an online petition demanding that their hero be re-instated immediately as if nothing had happened.
What does this affair tell us about the society we live in today?… now dominated by so-called personalities such as Clarkson, Simon Cowell and Ant and Dec whose every movement and utterances are lapped up by millions.
Their TV programmes —along with other mind-boggling rubbish like the One Show, Take Me Out, Celebrity Big Brother and countless other prime time shows —continually challenge the health and well-being of the nation.
Top Gear and Jeremy Clarkson are more entertaining than all of the above but three middle-aged blokes thrashing around in supercars which 99% of the audience can only dream about is not exactly a grown-up way of earning a living.
Sorry…but this time Clarkson has to go.
It’s not just that he’s become an unpredictable liability; the BBC can’t keep on giving him final warnings and expect to retain any credibility.
Clarkson would be best advised to jump before he gets pushed to avoid further shame and indignity.
Top Gear will successfully survive without him and in a few months he will be working for a rival channel which doesn’t care what he thinks, how he behaves or about upholding the standards expected of public service broadcasting.
Besides, after a period, the BBC can then re-hire him just like Russell Brand, who now appears on Question Time, and Jonathan Ross who was back on Radio 2 yesterday.
Weren’t they both sacked after that horrible Sachsgate business?
And on that bombshell….goodnight!
John McGurk was editor of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday and was managing editor of The Daily Telegraph.