Jeremy Clarkson, one of the hosts of the BBC’s massively popular car series Top Gear, was fired today for assaulting a producer on his own show, over a catering snafu. Now the show’s two other hosts, James May and Richard Hammond, could leave as well, throwing into disarray a series that has a global audience of roughly 350 million people and is worth an estimated £50 million ($74 million) per year to BBC Worldwide.
According to the findings (pdf) of an investigation by the BBC, Clarkson allegedly launched an unprovoked attack—both physical and verbal—on producer Oisin Tymon, giving him a swollen, bloody lip. According to BBC News, the altercation arose because Clarkson wasn’t given hot food after filming. The Independent says he was served a cold meat platter instead of a steak.
“For me a line has been crossed,” BBC head Tony Hall said in a statement. “There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”
Top Gear, launched in 2002, has inspired American, Russian, Australian, and Korean versions of the car show, and is among the most widely syndicated programs in the world.
“This decision should in no way detract from the extraordinary contribution that Jeremy Clarkson has made to the BBC,” Hall said. “I have always personally been a great fan of his work and Top Gear.”
That contribution is no longer enough, however, for the BBC to continue Clarkson’s employment.
It should be noted that the BBC is a public service broadcaster funded by TV-owning British residents, who pay a compulsory annual fee. A privately owned network might not have been as willing to take a moral stand with millions of dollars (although there is a precedent for it).
Clarkson was suspended on March 10, six days after the alleged attack. Fans quickly began petitioning for his reinstatement, some going to extreme lengths to get their message across to the British public service broadcaster. But the “Beeb,” firm in its principles, did not budge, risking its relationship with millions of Top Gear fans around the world. Clarkson, now a free agent, could potentially link up with one of the BBC’s rivals, like Sky.
Clarkson has a history of misbehaving—for instance, using racial slurs, mocking other cultures, fighting Piers Morgan, and just generally being an ass. But it was his alleged assault on a producer that led to the decision the BBC announced today to not renew his contract.