Francis Taylor Building barrister hits back at Jeremy Clarkson after TV star told him to ‘learn to spell’ during tense council meeting
Planning specialist Charles Streeten reveals dyslexia battle in open letter to presenter
A junior barrister has hit back at Jeremy Clarkson after the presenter criticised his spelling during a recent episode of his TV show Clarkson’s Farm.
Francis Taylor Buildings tenant Charles Streeten makes a brief appearance in season two of the Amazon Prime reality show which documents life on the former Top Gear star’s Cotswolds-based farm, Diddly Squat.
In one recently-aired episode, planning specialist Streeten can be heard explaining on behalf of his client, a local authority, why the council should reject Clarkson’s plans to convert a lambing shed into a restaurant.
At one point during the tense meeting, Clarkson appears to take a swipe at Streeten’s written opinion, telling the barrister to “learn to spell”. The eventual ruling went against Clarkson.
Streeten has now hit-back at the outspoken presenter, revealing in an open letter his struggles with dyslexia and how this hasn’t prevented him carving out a successful career as a barrister.
“When you muttered those words to me you couldn’t have known how many times I’ve heard them,” writes Streeten who was called to the bar in 2013. “But to a dyslexic, it’s a familiar phrase.”
In the letter, addressed to Clarkson and seen by Legal Cheek, the barrister explains how he always failed spelling tests at school and that his “ears would burn” knowing that he’d failed again. “As the rest my class graduated to Beryl roller-balls and fountain pens,” Streeten recalls, “I was limited to the indignity of a pencil; one with a rubber grip, to force me to hold it properly”.
The letter continues:
“It was at that school, as it happens the very same school to which you sent your daughter, that they told me a career at the bar wasn’t for me. Even at an institution that offers its pupils every imaginable advantage, becoming a barrister wasn’t realistic if you couldn’t pass a spelling test.”
Oxford-educated Streeten goes on to reveal how he had drawn inspiration from one of Clarkson’s friends, the journalist and restaurant reviewer AA Gill.
“When schools release exam results each year, you show solidarity with those who might otherwise surrender to helpless resignation,” the barrister continues, in reference to Clarkson’s popular tweets about his poor A-Level results. It’s not about the cars, boats, or villas; its about enfranchising those ill-served by formal education.”
In a statement shared with the Times, Clarkson said: “It’s great that Mr Streeten has overcome his dyslexia to such an extent that he’s able to send such a well-spelt letter from Jamaica.”
“It’s just a shame he chose not to mention his learning difficulty when we met at the planning meeting more than a year ago. Because if he had, the exchange would not have been televised.”
Read Streeten’s letter in full below:
Dear Mr Clarkson,
“Learn to spell.” Well, I’ve certainly tried.
When you muttered those words to me you couldn’t have known how many times I’ve heard them. But to a dyslexic, it’s a familiar phrase.
At school, I always failed spelling tests. No matter how hard I worked, or how often I stowed the list of words beneath my pillow, when the time came to be tested, I simply could not put the letters in order with certainty. My ears would burn and I would know I’d failed again. As the rest my class graduated to Beryl roller-balls and fountain pens, I was limited to the indignity of a pencil; one with a rubber grip, to force me to hold it properly.
It was at that school, as it happens the very same school to which you sent your daughter, that they told me a career at the bar wasn’t for me. Even at an institution that offers its pupils every imaginable advantage, becoming a barrister wasn’t realistic if you couldn’t pass a spelling test. The inability to arrange letters according to historical convention is, to this day, seen as the calling card of indolence or imbecility.
Usually both. The mandatory ration of extra time doled out indiscriminately to dyslexics, dyspraxics, and those with ADHD certainty didn’t help me. Forced reluctantly to accept it by my undergraduate tutor, I memorably put the time to good use by making a last minute substitution, diligently scrubbing out the correct spelling.
No one has ever better expressed the simmering frustration of a dyslexic education than your friend, AA Gill. An eternity of prodding from the “nice plump woman” from ‘learning support’ yields an inedible compote of detached indifference. Erudite, eloquent, hilarious and humane (your words not mine), Gill’s dyslexia begat his urbanity. You don’t have to be able to spell Wolseley to enjoy breakfast there.
I know you understand this. When schools release exam results each year, you show solidarity with those who might otherwise surrender to helpless resignation. It’s not about the cars, boats, or villas; its about enfranchising those ill-served by formal education. Nowhere is this message more important than in rural communities. I may be a London barrister, but I am not a Londoner. My home is in Shropshire. My friends are farmers: dairy, beef, arable. There is an honestly to the countryside beyond urban comprehension. People care what you have to say, not how you say it. Just ask Kaeleb. Or Gerald.
Your pean to Gill contains first class advice. It avoids the modern lexicon of neurodiversity. “Make it someone else’s problem”. I try to follow that maxim. Dyslexia didn’t forestall my career at the bar. So far as I am aware, and despite the concern expressed by at least one member of my Chambers during pupillage, not one judge, juror, or West Oxfordshire planning committee member has ever failed to understand me because I cannot spell.
Whether a writer, a barrister, or a farmer, good spelling, it seems, is not essential.
To pretend that dyslexia is the reason for spelling errors in written submissions would be wrong.
Dyslexia may mean it takes Streeten longer than it otherwise would be to proofread his own work, but as this letter (and the lack of errors therein) shows, it is far from an insurmountable obstacle and one I would expect a barrister to be prepared to take the time to overcome when making written submissions.
Errors in an email etc. are fine, but I would not tolerate a junior barrister making written submissions in formal proceedings that are strewn with spelling errors.