LONDON – Jeremy Clarkson won’t have his contract renewed as host of “Top Gear” after he apparently busted his producer’s lip and verbally abused him, the BBC announced Wednesday.
Clarkson, who hosted one of the most-watched television shows in the world, was suspended on March 10 after what the British broadcaster previously described as a “fracas” with producer Oisin Tymon on March 4.
Wednesday, the BBC released the findings of an internal investigation into the incident.
Ken MacQuarrie, who conducted the investigation, said Tymon had been “subject to an unprovoked physical and verbal attack by Jeremy Clarkson” at a hotel in North Yorkshire after a day of filming. “During the physical attack Oisin Tymon was struck, resulting in swelling and bleeding to his lip,” he said.
The physical attack was halted after about 30 seconds by the intervention of a witness, MacQuarrie said, but Clarkson continued to use “derogatory and abusive language” for a sustained period of time. MacQuarrie said Clarkson made a number of attempts to apologize over subsequent days and had reported the incident to BBC management.
BBC Director General Tony Hall issued a statement announcing Clarkson was being dropped.
“A member of staff — who is a completely innocent party — took himself to Accident and Emergency after a physical altercation accompanied by sustained and prolonged verbal abuse of an extreme nature. For me a line has been crossed,” he said. “I know how popular the program is and I also know that this decision will divide opinion.”
“Top Gear,” fronted by Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond, has made a name for itself globally with risky stunts and a brand of blokish humor that often toes the line and regularly steps over it.
Clarkson is determinedly anti-politically correct on the topics he rails about, both on the show and in his newspaper and magazine columns.
In his statement, Hall referenced the BBC’s diversity, saying it was “a broad church.”
“We need distinctive and different voices but they cannot come at any price. Common to all at the BBC have to be standards of decency and respect,” he said.
North Yorkshire police issued a statement Wednesday saying they had asked for the BBC’s report on the incident. “The information will be assessed appropriately and action will be taken by North Yorkshire Police where necessary,” they said.
On March 10, the BBC announced that “Top Gear’s” March 15 episode had been pulled and this week it canceled four live “Top Gear” shows scheduled for next week in Stavanger, Norway. However, it said the programs would be rescheduled and that all other live dates would “run as scheduled.”
Hall said the BBC would “look to renew ‘Top Gear’ for 2016” and that he had asked BBC controller Kim Shillinglaw to “look at how we put out the last programs in the current series.”
Calls to ‘Save Clarkson’
After his suspension by the BBC, Clarkson changed his Twitter profile to “I am probably a presenter on the BBC2 motoring show,Top Gear.” On Wednesday, the wording became past tense: “I used to be a presenter on the BBC2 motoring show,Top Gear.”
Co-host Richard Hammond tweeted: “Gutted at such a sad end to an era. We’re all three of us idiots in our different ways but it’s been an incredible ride together.”
Fans had earlier expressed outrage at the BBC decision to suspend Clarkson.
Even media baron Rupert Murdoch commented on speculation that Clarkson would be sacked, posting a tweet Tuesday night in which he described the presenter as a “funny man with great expertise.”
An online petition to have Clarkson reinstated has been signed by more than a million people. Fewer than 10,000 people signed a counterpetition calling for him to be fired.
Last week, a fan dressed as the “Stig” — the anonymous racing car test-driver who was once a regular feature of the show — drove to the BBC’s London headquarters in an armored tank to present the “Bring Back Clarkson” petition.
Clarkson later thanked his supporters in a tweet shared more than 22,000 times.
According to the BBC website, Clarkson is credited with changing the face of modern motoring journalism. It also adds: “Terrifyingly, he might just be the most influential man in motoring.”
Clarkson has been at the helm of the program since 1998, and for more than a decade has fronted the relaunched version with Hammond and May. The trio’s long-distance challenges in a mix of elite and sometimes barely roadworthy vehicles has earned the program cult status.
In 2013, Guinness World Records named “Top Gear” the world’s most widely watched factual program, with an estimated 350 million global viewers. The show is sold to 214 territories worldwide. Local versions have been made in the United States, China, Russia, Australia and South Korea.
While Clarkson’s abrasive style has proven popular with viewers, his on- and off-air comments have earned him a reputation as a politically incorrect maverick who often walks a fine line between humor and offense.
Last year, he apologized profusely after being accused of mumbling the n-word in a clip that wasn’t aired.
“I’d actually used the word I was trying to obscure. I was mortified by this, horrified. It is a word I loathe,” Clarkson said in video statement posted online.
He’s been accused on other occasions of racism, including characterizing Mexicans as “lazy and feckless” and using the word “slope” over footage of an Asian man crossing a bridge during a “Top Gear” special in Myanmar. Producer Andy Wilman later apologized, calling it a “light-hearted word play joke,” and saying that the team was not aware that it was offensive to Asians.
Last week, Clarkson launched into an expletive-filled rant at a charity auction in north London, verbally attacking his BBC bosses. A CNN reporter who was at the event said Clarkson swore often as he talked about his suspension from the show, saying the BBC had “f**ked themselves” and had ruined a great show.
Clarkson later brushed off the incident, saying the rant was meant “in jest” and was designed to increase bids for the prize being auctioned — one last lap of the “Top Gear” race track. – CNN