LONDON (AP) — The BBC decided Wednesday not to renew the contract of "Top Gear" host Jeremy Clarkson after a fracas with his producer, ending his connection to the immensely popular program built around macho banter, off-color jokes and cars.
BBC Director-General Tony Hall concluded that Clarkson struck and launched a 30-minute verbal attack on a producer, Oisin Tymon, while they were filming on location, leaving him with a swelling and bloody lip. The producer went to a hospital for treatment.
Hall acknowledged that lifting the presenter of the program "will divide opinion." But he said a line had been crossed in Clarkson's often controversial behavior — even if he is a big star.
"There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations," Hall said.
Fans have clamored for Clarkson's return, signing a petition which was delivered to the BBC in a tank. Prime Minister David Cameron called Clarkson a friend and a "huge talent." Will Wyatt, a former director of BBC television, said "Top Gear" without Clarkson would be "a bit like the Musketeers without D'Artagnan."
Clarkson has often found himself in trouble for remarks lacking in political correctness and behavior deemed offensive. Argentina's ambassador demanded an apology from the BBC after the "Top Gear" crew allegedly referenced the country's 1982 war with Britain over the Falkland Islands. He's also had to apologize to Mexico for characterizing Mexicans as lazy and oafish.
He was given a "final warning" last year following a racism row. At the time, Clarkson said he avoided using a racist word while reciting a well-known nursery rhyme while filming the car show, but begged forgiveness from audiences after admitting that "it sounds like I did."
He has been repeatedly saved by the program's huge popularity, a valuable wholly-owned property of the BBC. The current series was launched simultaneously in more than 50 countries and created versions in the United States, China, Australia, Russia and South Korea.
The show will go on — the BBC said it would renew "Top Gear" for 2016. But it did not say whether co-hosts James May and Richard Hammond would be asked to return.
The Guinness Book of World Records has described "Top Gear" as the world's most widely watched factual program. It broadcasts to 214 territories worldwide and has an estimated global audience of 350 million.
Hall wished Clarkson well as he showed him the door.
"I have always personally been a great fan of his work and 'Top Gear.' Jeremy is a huge talent," he said. "He may be leaving the BBC but I am sure he will continue to entertain, challenge and amuse audiences for many years to come."