BBC director-general Tony Hall has said that the Corporation took Jeremy Clarkson’s mumbling of the N-word “very seriously”.
Lord Hall added that the production team were left in no doubt about the gravity of the incident when the presenter appeared to mutter the word while reciting the children’s nursery rhyme “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” during a recording of BBC2’s Top Gear.
The footage was never broadcast but emerged last May and is understood to have been taken from a recording made two years previously.
“We had long discussions about that,” Lord Hall told The Times. “We took it very seriously and we wanted to make sure the team knew what we thought about it.”
However the BBC’s editor-in-chief added a hint of mitigation for the incident, citing the apologies given at the time and the fact that the footage was never broadcast.
“You’ve got to have the right boundaries. But nothing was broadcast, they were absolutely remorseful about any hint that they were saying or doing anything that was racist … There are millions of people who feel that Top Gear … reflects them and their interests and we’ve got to respect that.”
Clarkson later claimed that he was given to understand that he would be sacked if he made another offensive remark.
He also posted a video online in which he said he was “begging for forgiveness”.
The presenter said he “mumbled where the offensive word would normally occur” in two takes, and used the word “teacher” in its place in a third.
Clarkson said he was now “begging your forgiveness for the fact that obviously my efforts weren’t quite good enough….I was mortified by this, horrified. It is a word I loathe.”
Since then, the Top Gear production team were forced to flee a region of Argentina after protests about their use of a car with the number plate “H982 FKL” which appeared to reference the Falklands war. This is something the BBC has since denied, insisting it was an unfortunate coincidence.
Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hammond plus members of the BBC show’s crew were stoned as their vehicles at a petrol station as they crossed the town of Tolhuin on their way to the Chilean city of Punta Arenas early last month.
In July, Clarkson was also found to have breached Ofcom rules by using the racially-offensive word “slope” in a Burma special edition of the show broadcast on BBC2 in March.
The following month, BBC director of television Danny Cohen revealed that he told Clarkson that he was unhappy with the incidents and warned the presenter that he was not untouchable.
“It’s like football clubs – no-one’s bigger than the club and that’s why I was so clear in public and private that I was unhappy with it and wouldn’t accept it,” Cohen said at the Edinburgh Television Festival. “No one show or person is bigger than the BBC and that’s they way I see it.”