The BBC announced Wednesday that it was dropping one of its most popular presenters, Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson, for physically attacking a producer.
“It is with great regret that I have told Jeremy Clarkson today that the BBC will not be renewing his contract,” BBC Director-General Tony Hall said in a statement.
Clarkson’s contract with Top Gear, a motoring show that draws more than 350 million viewers around the world, is thought to expire at the end of this month. His departure will have financial implications for the British broadcaster, as its commercial arm BBC Worldwide earns around £50 million a year from the show.
But Hall said: “There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”
The BBC said it would now “look to renew Top Gear for 2016” and put out the final episodes in the current series of the program, which had been postponed.
A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, a friend of Clarkson’s who initially backed him, said that “aggressive and abusive behavior is not acceptable in the workplace.”
“If you do something wrong at work there can be consequences,” the spokesman added.
More than a million people had signed an online petition for the BBC to reinstate Clarkson. Clarkson, who has been forced to apologize in the past for using apparently racist language, was suspended on March 10 over what the BBC said at the time was a “fracas.”
An internal investigation revealed that he launched an “unprovoked physical and verbal attack” on Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon after filming on March 4. The physical attack lasted around 30 seconds and saw Clarkson strike the producer, giving him a swelling, bleeding lip for which Tymon sought help at a hospital.
Clarkson subsequently made a number of attempts to apologize to Tymon after the incident in a hotel where the team was staying in Yorkshire in northern England, and then reported himself to BBC management.
In a statement, Tymon said the incident was “very regrettable” and said the presenter was a “unique talent.”
“I am well aware that many will be sorry his involvement in the show should end in this way,” the producer said.
Hall also said he was a fan of Clarkson, praising his “extraordinary contribution” to the BBC. “Obviously none of us wanted to find ourselves in this position,” the BBC chief said.
Shortly after the announcement, Yorkshire police said they had asked for a copy of the investigation report, and that “action will be taken… where necessary.”
The suspension of Clarkson, viewed by fans as a straight-talking man-of-the-people and by detractors as a boorish bigot, sparked nationwide debate. Clarkson’s co-hosts Richard Hammond and James May, with whom he took part in madcap driving adventures for the show, expressed their dismay at his departure.
“Gutted at such a sad end to an era,” Hammond said on Twitter. “We’re all three of us idiots in our different ways but it’s been an incredible ride together.”
May told Sky News television: “It’s a tragedy, I’m sorry that what ought to have been a small incident sorted out easily turned into something big.” Asked if he and Hammond would continue without Clarkson, he said: “We’re very much the three of us a package… that will require a lot of careful thought. I’m sure Top Gear will continue in some way—it existed before us, it’s been reformatted.”
Clarkson was already on his last warning from the BBC, for whom he has worked since 1988, after drawing fire over a string of inflammatory remarks. He was accused of using the N-word while reciting an old nursery rhyme in leaked footage, something he denied, and of making a racially offensive comment about an Asian man.
Top Gear has also been criticized over jokes at the expense of Albanians, Romanians, Germans and Mexicans. Last year, the team fled Argentina after residents hurled stones at a Porsche Clarkson was driving whose license plates appeared to make reference to the Falklands War.