Jeremy Clarkson apologises over strike comments

Jeremy Clarkson made his remarks on the BBC's The One Show

Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has apologised for saying striking public sector workers should be shot, after his remarks were widely condemned.

Mr Clarkson said he had not intended for the comments on The One Show to be taken seriously and was "happy to apologise" if offence had been caused.

Trade union Unison had called for the Top Gear presenter to be sacked by the BBC over his "appalling" comments.

The BBC received about 5,000 complaints and has also apologised.

The corporation said in a statement: "The One Show is a live topical programme which often reflects the day's talking points. Usually we get it right, but on this occasion we feel the item wasn't perfectly judged. The BBC and Jeremy would like to apologise for any offence caused".

It comes after an exchange, on Wednesday, in which Mr Clarkson presented two views when asked about that day's strike over pensions by public sector workers:

  • "I think they have been fantastic. Absolutely. London today has just been empty. Everybody stayed at home, you can whizz about, restaurants are empty," he said
  • "It's also like being back in the 70s. It makes me feel at home somehow," said the Top Gear presenter, before adding: "But we have to balance this though, because this is the BBC."
  • Mr Clarkson went on: "Frankly, I'd have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean, how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?"
  • When the presenters pointed out that these were Mr Clarkson's personal views, he said: "They're not. I've just given two views for you."

In his apology, Mr Clarkson said: "I didn't for a moment intend these remarks to be taken seriously - as I believe is clear if they're seen in context.

"If the BBC and I have caused any offence, I'm quite happy to apologise for it alongside them."

Analysis

During The One Show, Jeremy Clarkson actually said two things which provoked complaints to the BBC.

The other was a joke about people who commit suicide by throwing themselves under trains. The One Show team thought that was so offensive they apologised at the end of the programme, but they didn't apologise for the remarks about strikers, presumably because they thought they fell on the right side of the line between gratuitously offensive and robustly satirical.

But humour is a matter of taste, and that line shifts with the circumstances.

Many, including supporters of Wednesday's strikes, saw a combination of bad taste and a politically motivated attack by a personal friend of the prime minister. Jeremy Clarkson's penchant for outrageous remarks has provoked complaints before - he called Gordon Brown a "one-eyed idiot" and suggested truckers murdered prostitutes and, then too, he had to apologise.

The BBC will be hoping this row, unlike that involving Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross, blows over. The BBC thinks many of the complaints have come as part of an organised campaign.

Unison, the UK's largest union, welcomed Mr Clarkson's apology and invited him to join a healthcare assistant to experience the reality of daily life on a hospital ward.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, said: "We are pleased Jeremy Clarkson has seen the error of his ways. It is only right he apologises for the huge offence he caused to public sector workers and their families."

Earlier, the union had said it was seeking legal advice about whether Mr Clarkson could be referred to the police for his remarks.

But media lawyer Mark Stephens said Unison had no chance of succeeding in a prosecution against Mr Clarkson.

He told the BBC: "He has a right to his freedom of expression and that is protected in just the same way as people yesterday were exercising their rights, perfectly legitimately, to free expression, both by the words that they uttered on strike and also by their actions in refraining from labour."

The GMB union said the apology was not enough and revealed that it planned to organise a picket against Mr Clarkson.

Both Labour leader Ed Miliband and Pensions Minister Steve Webb had earlier called for Mr Clarkson to apologise.

And Prime Minister David Cameron, asked about Mr Clarkson's comments during an appearance on ITV's This Morning, said it was "a silly thing to say... I'm sure he didn't mean it".

Tens of thousands of people joined rallies around the UK on Wednesday as a public sector strike over pensions disrupted schools, hospitals and other services.

About two-thirds of state schools shut, and thousands of hospital operations were postponed, as unions estimated up to two million people went on strike. The government disputes this figure.

Unions oppose plans to make members pay more and work longer to earn what they say will be smaller pensions.

During The One Show, Mr Clarkson also made a remark about people who threw themselves in front of trains.

Later, One Show presenter Matt Baker made an apology during the show about those comments.

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