Wanted: A larger-than-life motoring obsessive with a keen appreciation of foreign cultures and a strong duty of care towards colleagues.
The BBC has begun the search for a Top Gear presenter to replace Jeremy Clarkson after Tony Hall, the Director General, reluctantly parted company with a star presenter whose violent behaviour “crossed the line”.
Mr Hall confirmed that Clarkson’s contract would not be renewed after an internal investigation concluded that the controversial presenter launched a sustained “unprovoked physical and verbal attack” on producer, Oisin Tymon, when he was informed that there was no hot food available at a Yorkshire hotel after a long day’s filming.
Mr Hall praised Clarkson’s “extraordinary contribution” to Top Gear. “Voices like his have an important place on the BBC but not at any price,” the BBC boss said. “Violence accompanied by prolonged verbal abuse crosses a line.”
However Top Gear, which is viewed in 170 territories and generates an estimated £50 million a year for the BBC, will continue. Footage featuring Clarkson had already been shot for the last three programmes in the current series, which were postponed following the incident and the BBC now plans to find a way to air them.
The BBC must now find a new presenter to keep the show on the road and keep on board co-presenters Richard Hammond and James May, whose contracts run down next week. May said: “Can Top Gear continue? The three of us work as a package. The future will require thought.”
Mr Hall said: “The BBC must now look to renew Top Gear for 2016. This will be a big challenge and there is no point in pretending otherwise.”
The BBC is seeking a new host who can maintain Top Gear’s irreverence without indulging in the racial slurs and offensive behaviour which had already resulted in Clarkson, 54, receiving a “final warning” before the Tymon assault.
Chris Evans, a favoured candidate within the BBC, appeared to rule himself out. Speaking on his Radio 2 Breakfast Show on Wednesday, Evans said: “Regardless of whether it would be a hit, I’m voting a no for myself on that show, so that's never going to happen.”
Other names in the frame include Stephen Fry, Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge, motoring enthusiast Jodie Kidd, who presented a Channel 5 car show, Suzi Perry, the BBC’s MotoGP presenter, Piers Morgan and Dermot O’Leary.
An outside bet, possibly Clarkson’s worst nightmare, is Sabine Schultz, a German motor racing driver and television personality who has beaten the ousted presenter’s lap-time on Top Gear.
Clarkson’s future may lie in the US – there were rumours that the online subscription platform Netflix could build a show around him. ITV is a possible destination if he remains in Britain.
Rupert Murdoch tweeted: “How stupid can BBC be in firing Jeremy Clarkson? Funny man with great expertise and huge following” – heightening speculation that Sky could make an approach. Some within Sky are sceptical that Clarkson could be a good fit for the network however.
His fate was sealed after an internal inquiry conducted by BBC Scotland boss Ken MacQuarrie found that the victim of his 30-second physical assault, halted by the intervention of a witness, was required to visit Accident & Emergency.
It found: “During the physical attack Oisin Tymon was struck, resulting in swelling and bleeding to his lip. The verbal abuse was sustained over a longer period, both at the time of the physical attack and subsequently.”
Tony Hall said: “There cannot be one rule for one and one rule for another dictated by either rank, or public relations and commercial considerations.”
He added: “Obviously none of us wanted to find ourselves in this position. This decision should in no way detract from the extraordinary contribution that Jeremy Clarkson has made to the BBC.
“I have always personally been a great fan of his work and Top Gear. Jeremy is a huge talent. He may be leaving the BBC but I am sure he will continue to entertain, challenge and amuse audiences for many years to come.”