With his history of offending the Welsh, gypsies, lorry drivers and Mexicans, inviting Jeremy Clarkson on to a live BBC One show, with a Christmas DVD to plug, was a high-speed pile-up waiting to happen.
But the Top Gear presenter, notorious for his provocative "humour", was forced to apologise after his call for striking public sector workers to be shot attracted condemnation from the Prime Minister down.
The BBC said it had received more than 5,000 complaints after Clarkson, discussing Wednesday's strikers, said on The One Show: "I'd have them all shot. I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families."
The BBC issued an apology over the comments which prompted a backlash on social network sites and beyond.
However a further, personal apology was required from Clarkson, if he was to withstand calls from Unison, which represents more than a million public sector workers, for the BBC to sack their star.
Clarkson, who earns an estimated £1m a year from the BBC and £850,000 from a deal with commercial wing BBC Worldwide, said: "I didn't for a moment intend these remarks to be taken seriously – as I believe is clear if they're seen in context. If the BBC and I have caused any offence, I'm quite happy to apologise for it alongside them."
The BBC, which faces sanction from watchdog Ofcom for failing to control Clarkson and allowing him to offend early-evening viewers, hopes the apology will prevent the affair spiralling into another "Sachsgate" – the almighty row which broke out in October 2008 when Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross left lewd messages on veteran actor Andrew Sachs' answering machine during a broadcast of Brand's Radio 2 show.
The One Show item "wasn't perfectly judged", the corporation admitted.
David Cameron, a friend of Clarkson's, dismissed the comments as "silly". Downing Street clarified that there were "no plans to make public executions government policy". Labour leader Ed Miliband said he had not heard the comments but added that they were "absolutely disgraceful and disgusting."
Piers Morgan attacked his fellow television personality, saying: "If any nurse or dinner lady tried to abuse Clarkson back, he'd take out a super-injunction to stop them."
But, even Clarkson-sceptics swung behind the presenter after the response from Unison which called for his dismissal and threatened to refer the matter to the police. It was the first occasion Unison had called for the sacking of a "public sector worker", it was noted.
It is not the first time Clarkson has created controversy with his opinions. Earlier this year the BBC apologised about an item on Top Gear which led to the Mexican ambassador complaining about the "outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults" made about Mexicans by Clarkson and co-hosts James May and Richard Hammond. The BBC's editorial complaints unit upheld criticisms of the show and ruled that it reinforced stereotypes.
Method in his madness: Clarkson's comments – and what he's selling
By Emily Friend
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