Jeremy Clarkson, the controversial presenter of hit BBC programme “Top Gear”, joked about his suspension on Wednesday as an online petition for him to be reinstated gathered more than 380,000 signatures.
“I’m just off to the job centre,” he told reporters outside his home in London, a day after the BBC said it had suspended Clarkson and cancelled upcoming episodes of his show over a “fracas” with a producer.
The outspoken 54-year-old presenter has helped “Top Gear” become one of the BBC’s biggest shows, drawing 350 million viewers a week in 170 countries.
The Radio Times magazine said Clarkson, who was already on a final warning over his alleged use of racist language, was accused of aiming a punch at a male producer.
No sooner had the suspension been announced on Tuesday than fans set up a petition urging the BBC to reinstate Clarkson.
“We the undersigned petition the BBC to reinstate Jeremy Clarkson. Freedom to fracas,” said the online appeal at www.change.org, which had gained over 380,000 signatures by Wednesday.
“I’m signing because Clarkson is a superb presenter,” wrote one supporter named Peter Maxwell.
A petition for the BBC to sack him had just 2,000 supporters.
“Clarkson has got away with his bigoted rantings for far too long whilst others have been sacked for less. Why do the BBC let him get away with it?” said one signatory, Caryne Pearce.
– Dogged by scandals –
Clarkson in February indicated he might have been unhappy with the show by tweeting: “Wanted: new presenter for Top Gear. Applicant should be old, badly dressed and pedantic but capable of getting to work on time.”
The BBC cancelled the broadcast of three upcoming episodes — the end of the current series.
“Top Gear” is one of the BBC’s biggest brands and is a major earner for the broadcaster, though it has been dogged by a series of scandals.
The show’s executive producer Andy Wilman described 2014 as “an annus horribilis” after accusations of racism and an incident in which the show’s crew were driven out of Argentina.
Protests broke out there over the number plate of a Porsche, “H982 FKL”, which was interpreted by some as a reference to the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina in 1982.
Clarkson was among those forced to abandon their vehicles after an angry crowd pelted the crew with stones, but the BBC denied the registration plate was intended as a deliberate provocation.
Most damaging for Clarkson have been accusations of racism while reciting an old nursery rhyme in leaked footage, something the presenter denied.
Britain’s broadcasting watchdog also criticised the BBC in July after Clarkson used an “offensive racial term” in an episode on Myanmar.
“Top Gear” had previously got into hot water over its depictions of Albanians, Romanians and Germans, and the BBC apologised to Mexico after the show described Mexicans as “lazy” and “feckless”.