LONDON — British broadcaster the BBC has sacked Jeremy Clarkson, presenter of its hit auto-show “Top Gear.” The BBC is now looking to “renew” the program, which has an audience estimated at more than 350 million in 214 territories worldwide.
The move follows BBC exec Ken MacQuarrie’s investigation (see link here) into allegations that Clarkson hit the show’s producer Oisin Tymon while working on location on March 4.
In a statement, Tony Hall, the BBC director-general, said: “It is with great regret that I have told Jeremy Clarkson today that the BBC will not be renewing his contract. It is not a decision I have taken lightly. I have done so only after a very careful consideration of the facts and after personally meeting both Jeremy and Oisin Tymon.”
Hall said Tymon had to go to hospital following “a physical altercation accompanied by sustained and prolonged verbal abuse of an extreme nature.”
Hall added: “For me a line has been crossed. There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”
In a statement, Tymon’s lawyer, Paul Daniels, commented that the past month had been “a nightmare” for his client. “He now simply wishes to return to the job he loves at the BBC,” Daniels said.
Daniels added: “This is an important reminder that U.K. law protects all staff who face bullying, discrimination or violence at work, and all employers are required to protect their staff from such behavior.”
Hall said that the BBC was publishing MacQuarrie’s report into the incident (see link here) due to the “genuine” public interest in the issue. He added: “I take no pleasure in doing so. I am only making them public so people can better understand the background. I know how popular the program is and I also know that this decision will divide opinion. The main facts are not disputed by those involved.”
Hall said that he wanted to make three points: “First — the BBC is a broad church. Our strength in many ways lies in that diversity. 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. I cannot condone what has happened on this occasion. 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. There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”
“Second – This has obviously been difficult for everyone involved but in particular for Oisin. I want to make clear that no blame attaches to him for this incident. He has behaved with huge integrity throughout. As a senior producer at the BBC he will continue to have an important role within the organization in the future.”
“Third – Obviously none of us wanted to find ourselves in this position. This decision should in no way detract from the extraordinary contribution that Jeremy Clarkson has made to the BBC. I have always personally been a great fan of his work and ‘Top Gear.’ Jeremy is a huge talent. He may be leaving the BBC, but I am sure he will continue to entertain, challenge and amuse audiences for many years to come.”
Hall is now looking to the future of the show, without Clarkson, and possibly without co-presenters James May and Richard Hammond, whose contracts end this month. Hall has given the task of reinventing the show to Kim Shillinglaw, the chief of “Top Gear’s” U.K. channel, BBC2.
Hall said: “The BBC must now look to renew ‘Top Gear’ for 2016. This will be a big challenge, and there is no point in pretending otherwise. I have asked Kim Shillinglaw to look at how best we might take this forward over the coming months. I have also asked her to look at how we put out the last programs in the current (season).”
Speaking to reporters, May said that Clarkson’s departure was a “tragedy.” May suggested that he himself would not remain with “Top Gear” either, but would like to work with Clarkson again.
Asked whether he would stay on the show without Clarkson, May said: “The three of us as a package… It works for very complicated reasons that a lot of people don’t fully understand, so that will require a lot of careful thought.” Asked who he would like to work with, he said: “I quite like working with Jeremy.”
Judging from his latest tweet, it is far from certain that Hammond will follow the other two, referring to an “end of an era.” Hammond wrote: “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.”