Jeremy Clarkson, The One Show and the most complained about BBC shows

How does the Top Gear star's latest gaffe compare to previous broadcasting controversies?

The BBC has now received more than 31,000 complaints regarding Jeremy Clarkson’s comments on The One Show last week.  


The Top Gear presenter has been criticised after making what were deemed by many to be inappropriate jokes about suicide and suggesting that public sector workers should be shot for striking. 

Of course, this isn’t the first time a BBC show (or even a programme featuring Clarkson) has received complaints. So we asked the corporation how this latest episode stacks up against other controversial incidents in its recent history.

Based on complaints made direct to the BBC (and not, for instance, via Ofcom), Clarkson’s gaffe has so far prompted almost ten times the 3,200 elicited by Top Gear’s jokes about Mexicans in January this year.

In comparison, the new broadcasting deal that sees Formula One coverage split between the BBC and Sky drew 6,000 complaints, while a BBC News interview with student protester Jody McIntyre in 2010 saw “nearly 7,000” people claim that journalist Ben Brown was too challenging.

As 2010 ended, two new year EastEnders episodes following Ronnie (Samantha Womack) as she swapped her dead baby for that of Kat Moon (Jessie Wallace) were intended to kick-start a long-running plot line. Instead they set off a public outcry, with the BBC cutting the story short after receiving over 13,000 complaints that it was too depressing and provided an unrealistic portrayal of parents who were the victims of cot death. 

After the EastEnders debacle, there’s a leap past Clarkson’s One Show complaints total to Sachsgate. Press coverage of Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross’s Radio 2 prank call prompted “just under 43,000 complaints in total” and led to changes in the corporation’s programme-making policies.

Slightly more people – 44,000 – objected to the BBC’s decision in January 2009 not to screen an appeal from the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) intended to aid relief efforts on the Gaza Strip.


But still the king of controversy is Jerry Springer: the Opera, which received 55,000 complaints when it was aired in 2005. Offended viewers insisted that it contained over 8,000 swearwords, which would have meant more than one per second of its running time. An impossible feat? Not if you’re a creative complainer and count every person in the show’s chorus singing the four-letter words at the same time…