More than 21,000 viewers have now complained to the BBC about Jeremy Clarkson’s comments on The One Show on Wednesday evening, the BBC has confirmed. As of 9:30am today, the total was at 21,335.
Clarkson last night apologised for his remarks, in which he jokingly said of striking public sector workers: “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've got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?”
On Thursday, Labour leader Ed Miliband called the comments "absolutely disgraceful and disgusting”, adding: “He obviously does not understand the lives of the people who were going out on strike yesterday.” The trade union Unison initially threatened to take legal action against Clarkson and the BBC – although it now says it has accepted Clarkson’s apology.
Last night 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."
Clarkson also, however, claimed that he had discussed the details of the remarks with One Show producers before the programme went ahead. In response, a BBC spokesperson last night said: “Jeremy had a meeting with a One Show producer before appearing, as is standard for all guests. The meeting is to cover the topics that will be discussed and the expectations the show has around issues such as tone and balance, and it was made clear where those boundaries lay."
On Thursday David Cameron, a friend of Clarkson, made light of the controversy, telling ITV1’s This Morning: “That's obviously a silly thing to say and I'm sure he didn't mean that. I didn't see the remark but I'm sure it's a silly thing to say."
Last night Downing Street also issued the following light-hearted statement: “Execution is not government policy and we have no plans to make it government policy.”
When the row first broke out, the BBC said: "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."
Yesterday, perhaps in response to clips of the show circulating on the internet that showed only the controversial remarks themselves and not the context in which they were made, the BBC also issued a transcript of the relevant section of Wednesday’s One Show:
Matt Baker: Now, at the end of a day where Britain has seen some of its biggest strikes, what we need is someone calm and level-headed.
Alex Jones: Yep, a guest with balanced, uncontroversial opinions, who makes great effort not to offend.
Baker: And we've got Jeremy Clarkson!
Clarkson: Thank you very much.
Baker: So Jeremy, schools, hospitals, airports, even driving tests have been affected. Do you think the strikes have been a good idea?
Clarkson: It's been fantastic. Seriously, never had … London today has just been empty. Everybody stayed at home, you could whizz about, your restaurants were empty.
Jones: The traffic actually has been very good today.
Clarkson: Very light. Now airports, you know, people streaming through with no problems at all and it's also like being back in the 70s, it makes me feel at home somehow.
Jones: Do you know anybody who …
Baker: [interrupts – inaudible] – being on strike today?
Clarkson: What, in public service? Of course I don't. No, absolutely. We have to balance it though, don't we because this is the BBC.
Jones and Baker: Exactly.
Clarkson: Frankly, I'd have them all shot!
Clarkson: I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean how dare they go on strike when they've got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?
Matt Baker: Well, on that note of balancing an opinion of course those are Jeremy's views.
Clarkson: I just … ! I was just giving two views for you!
So is this the end of the matter? Many of the 21,000 complaints will have flooded in during the day yesterday, before Clarkson made his apology. Will they stop now, and should they? What do you think?