LONDON: The BBC said it has suspended Jeremy Clarkson, the controversial host of popular motoring programme “Top Gear”, after he was involved in a “fracas” with a producer.
The outspoken 54-year-old presenter helped the show become the world’s most popular factual television programme, with 350 million viewers a week in 170 countries.
But he was on his final warning after a string of controversies including accusations he used racist language.
“Following a fracas with a BBC producer, Jeremy Clarkson has been suspended pending an investigation,” the BBC said in a statement. “No one else has been suspended.”
Magazine Radio Times said Clarkson was being accused of aiming a punch at a male producer in an incident that occurred last week but was reported to the BBC on Monday.
The broadcaster had earlier said “the BBC will be making no further comment at this time.”
No sooner had the suspension been announced than fans of Clarkson set up a petition to the BBC to re-instate him.
The online appeal, reading “We the undersigned petition the BBC to reinstate Jeremy Clarkson. Freedom to fracas”, quickly gained 30,000 signatures.
Clarkson has yet to comment on the incident, but in February he 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 the latest episode scheduled for Sunday, in which Clarkson and co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May were to showcase classic cars.
Former England footballer Gary Lineker, who was due to appear as a “star in a reasonably priced car” in the episode, tweeted “I don’t think I’m ever meant to appear on Top Gear!”
“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.
The show was censored by British broadcasting watchdog after a Clarkson comment as an Asian man crossed a bridge that was deemed racially offensive language by Ofcom.
“Top Gear” 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”.