One of Britain’s biggest unions called on Thursday for the BBC to fire popular TV presenter Jeremy Clarkson after he said public sector workers on strike should be shot in front of their families.
The Unison trade union said it was taking legal advice after the presenter of the Top Gear motoring show — a worldwide hit — made the comments on a chat show after more than 1 million workers went on strike on Wednesday.
The BBC said it had received about 4,700 complaints about Clarkson’s comments on The One Show, despite the broadcaster issuing an on-air apology.
After the controversy spiraled throughout the day, Clarkson himself apologized, saying his comments were not intended to be taken seriously.
When asked on the show on Wednesday what he thought of the mass strike in protest at changes to public sector pensions, Clarkson said, to laughter from the studio audience: “I would have them all shot.”
The presenters grimaced as he went on: “I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. How dare they go on strike when they’ve got these gilt-edged pensions while the rest of us have to work for a living?”
Unison assistant general secretary Karen Jennings said Clarkson had spoken “almost like [late Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi would have spoken about demonstrators.”
“It’s an incitement to hatred and we are seeking legal advice,” she added.
In a statement late on Thursday, 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 offense, I’m quite happy to apologize for it alongside them.”
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis welcomed the apology, and encouraged Clarkson to spend a day with public sector workers in a hospital, “cleaning up sick, bathing patients and wiping bottoms.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, a personal friend of Clarkson, had earlier dismissed his comments as “silly.”
“It was obviously a silly thing to say and I am sure he didn’t mean that,” Cameron said.
Clarkson previously caused outrage when he described former British prime minister Gordon Brown, who lost his sight in one eye in an accident suffered while playing rugby as a teenager, as a “one-eyed Scottish idiot.”
In February, the BBC apologized to the Mexican ambassador to London after the Top Gear presenters described Mexicans as “lazy,” “feckless” and “flatulent.”
The BBC said Clarkson’s latest comments were a misguided attempt at humor.