Jeremy Clarkson, the controversial presenter of hit BBC programme “Top Gear”, joked about his suspension as an online petition for him to be reinstated gathered more than half a million signatures.
“I’m just off to the job centre,” he told reporters outside his home in London Wednesday, a day after the BBC said it had suspended Clarkson and cancelled upcoming episodes of his show over a “fracas” with a producer.
“It means I’m going to be able to go to the Chelsea match tonight,” he added, later making an animated appearance at the Champions League match against Paris Saint-Germain.
The outspoken 54-year-old presenter has helped “Top Gear” become one of the BBC’s biggest draws, with 350 million viewers a week in 170 countries.
The Radio Times magazine said Clarkson, already on a final warning over his alleged use of racist language, was accused of aiming a punch at a male producer.
British Prime Minister David Cameron commented on the affair on Wednesday, describing Clarkson as “a constituent of mine, he is a friend of mine, he is a huge talent” in an interview with the BBC.
“He does amuse and entertain so many people, including my children who’ll be heartbroken if Top Gear is taken off air, I hope this can be sorted out because it is a great programme and he is a great talent,” Cameron said.
No sooner had Clarkson’s suspension been announced on Tuesday than fans set up a petition urging the BBC to reinstate him.
“We the undersigned petition the BBC to reinstate Jeremy Clarkson. Freedom to fracas,” said the online appeal at www.change.org, which had gained more than 630,000 signatures by early Thursday.
“I’m signing because Clarkson is a superb presenter,” wrote a supporter named Peter Maxwell.
A rival petition for the BBC to sack him gathered 12,700 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” remains a major earner for the broadcaster though it has been dogged by 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 them with stones, but the BBC denied the registration plate was 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”.