The BBC has issued a somewhat confusing apology over the use of a racially offensive term broadcast in the final episode of the last series of Top Gear.
The Burma Special, broadcast in March, saw the presenters building a makeshift bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand.
With the task completed Clarkson remarked: “That is a proud moment – but there’s a slope on it.” Hammond replies: “You’re right, it’s definitely higher on that side.”
At the very moment Clarkson makes his comment an Asian man can be seen walking towards him on the bridge.
A statement issued tonight in the name of executive producer Andy Wilman says the description “slope” was used as a “light-hearted word play joke” yet goes on to say that his team were unaware that it was offensive to Asian people.
The full statement reads: “When we used the word ‘slope’ in the recent Top Gear Burma Special it was a light-hearted word play joke referencing both the build quality of the bridge and the local Asian man who was crossing it.
“We were not aware at the time, and it has subsequently been brought to our attention, that the word ‘slope’ is considered by some to be offensive and although it might not be widely recognised in the UK, we appreciate that it can be considered offensive to some here and overseas, for example in Australia and the USA.
“If we had known that at the time we would not have broadcast the word in this context and regret any offence caused.”
The statement follows a formal complaint made by the law firm Equal Justice calling for action to be taken. The letter, sent on behalf of complainant and actor Somi Guha, said that the show “must be censured to ensure that another race or nation is not targeted”, and that the BBC should give “due consideration to not re-commissioning Top Gear until these matters are addressed”.
Lawrence Davies, a lawyer for the firm, said: “We are looking for Mr Clarkson and those responsible to be disciplined proportionately. Clarkson is one of their biggest stars and the question is where does the BBC draw the line on making money and how it goes about it.”
And therein lies the problem for the BBC. Not only is Top Gear a huge Sunday night ratings winner, but it’s a massive moneymaking enterprise pulling in millions of pounds a year through overseas programme sales and spin-off commercial activities such as live tours and DVD sales.
The BBC, through its commercial arm BBC Worldwide, took full control of the company running the Top Gear franchise in 2012.
Up until then 50 per cent of that company, Bedder 6, was owned by Clarkson and his schoolboy pal Wilman, with Worldwide owning the other half. It is reported that the pair were jointly paid £14.4 million to surrender their stake in the company.
But tonight’s apology will undoubtedly lead to more calls for the programme, with its history of causing offence and controversy, to be consigned to the scrapheap.