Has Jeremy Clarkson finally crossed the line?
The 54-year-old auto journalist and presenter of the hit show Top Gear has been suspended by the BBC after he allegedly tried to punch a producer. The broadcaster announced Clarkson’s suspension in a statement released on Tuesday, which read: “Following a fracas with a BBC producer, Jeremy Clarkson has been suspended pending an investigation. No one else has been suspended. Top Gear will not be broadcast this Sunday. The BBC will be making no further comment at this time.”
A pro-Clarkson protest has already broken out, with an online petition demanding that the presenter be reinstated racking up more than 380,000 signatures. That support can likely be chalked up to the Top Gear brand’s massive popularity — with 350 million viewers a week worldwide, the Emmy Award–winning show is one of the most popular television franchises on the planet. The show is known and loved by many for its brand of offensive humor and disregard for political correctness.
Yet this is hardly the first time that Clarkson has caused trouble for the BBC. The often rude and imprudent host has been at the center of many controversies throughout his time at Top Gear, which he first began hosting in 1988. Particularly since the midaughts, Clarkson has been criticized for intolerance, mocking other cultures and outright racism. The BBC has often had to deal with the fallout of Clarkson’s controversies, typically issuing defenses of or apologies for his behavior.
This latest incident marks the first time the BBC has suspended Clarkson, though there have been a number of past occasions where the broadcaster would have been justified in either temporarily or permanently cutting ties with the presenter.
1. Using the N Word
Years ago, Top Gear filmed the presenter choosing between two cars, where Clarkson used the nursery rhyme “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe” to make the decision. In the footage, not used on the show but discovered and reported by the tabloid the Daily Mirror in 2014, Clarkson mumbles the N word while reciting the rhyme.
After first issuing a strong denial, Clarkson released an apology video online. He explained that while filming he had, “mumbled where the offensive word would normally occur.” But after rewatching the footage, he realized, “It did appear that I had actually used the word I was trying to obscure.”
He then added, “Please be assured, I did everything in my power to not use that word.”
2. Nazi Jokes
In a 2005 episode, the Top Gear team discussed a German-built BMW Mini and Clarkson made a series of Nazi references. After raising his arm in a Hitler-style salute, Clarkson mocked the 1939 invasion that triggered the World War II, saying that a quintessentially German car would have a GPS “that only goes to Poland.”
There were numerous complaints, however the BBC Governors’ Programme Complaints Committee responded that while they “agreed that comments about the Nazis and the Second World War could certainly cause more concern than many other subjects,” they “did not believe that, when looking at the audience as a whole, they would have felt that the comments were anything more than Jeremy Clarkson using outrageous behaviour to amuse his audience, and that the remarks would not have led to anyone entertaining new or different feelings or concerns about Germans or Germany.”
3. Using a Slur Against Asians While Filming in Thailand
During a Top Gear special in Burma, which aired in March 2014, Clarkson and crew built a bamboo bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand. Once the bridge was completed, Clarkson said of the bridge, as the camera showed an Asian man walking across it, “That is a proud moment — but there’s a slope on it.” There was a swift backlash, with many calling out Clarkson for racism.
The BBC issued an apology in response to the controversy, stating: “When we used the word ‘slope’ in the recent Top Gear Burma Special it was a light-hearted word play joke referencing both the build quality of the bridge and the local Asian man who was crossing it. We were not aware at the time, and it has subsequently been brought to our attention, that the word ‘slope’ is considered by some to be offensive and although it might not be widely recognised in the UK, we appreciate that it can be considered offensive to some here and overseas, for example in Australia and the USA. If we had known that at the time we would not have broadcast the word in this context and regret any offence caused.”
4. Punching Piers Morgan
In 2004, Clarkson punched Piers Morgan — then the editor of the British tabloid the Daily Mirror — while the two were attending the British Press Awards. Though Clarkson later said he was “ashamed of it,” he didn’t shy away from boasting about the dustup on national television.
5. Insulting Then Prime Minister Gordon Brown
During the fallout of the global financial crisis in 2008, Clarkson called then Prime Minister Gordon Brown a “one-eyed Scottish idiot.” (Brown lost his sight in one eye after an accident playing rugby as a teen.) The insult prompted immediate backlash from Scottish politicians and disability groups. Clarkson issued an apology, stating, “In the heat of the moment I made a remark about the prime minister’s personal appearance for which, upon reflection, I apologise.”
Clarkson has become known for his hostility toward the U.S. There have been many times — on Top Gear, in interviews and in his writing for the British newspaper the Sun — that he’s denounced American culture and people. But he perhaps took it a bit too far in 2005, where he wrote in a Sun article criticizing the rescue efforts for victims of Hurricane Katrina: “Most Americans barely have the brains to walk on their back legs.”