Clarkson insults Brown's intelligence

He has jokingly referred tolorry drivers as men who "murder prostitutes", blamed this week's snow on "too many green people in the world not buying enough Range Rovers", and over the years has generally acted as a global ambassador for the politically incorrect.

But yesterday, even Jeremy Clarkson, the BBC's Top Gear presenter was forced to acknowledge that he had gone too far, and apologised for calling Gordon Brown a "one-eyed Scottish idiot".

The apology ended a torrid week for the corporation in which it has been lambasted for dropping Carol Thatcher for using the word "golliwog", broadcast a version of Christian Bale's expletive-laden rant on breakfast television, and faced the wrath of MPs for the amount it spends on celebrity presenters.

Clarkson was at a press conference in Australia two days ago when he made the comment about Mr Brown's blindness in one eye. He was conducting a tour for BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the corporation.

Speaking in Sydney, Clarkson compared Mr Brown to the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, after Mr Rudd had just addressed the country on the global financial crisis.

He said: "It's the first time I've ever seen a world leader admit we really are in deep shit. He genuinely looked terrified. The poor man, he's actually seen the books. [In the UK] we've got this one-eyed Scottish idiot, he keeps telling us everything's fine and he's saved the world, and we know he's lying, but he's smooth at telling us."

Mr Brown lost his sight in one eye when he was accidentally kicked in the face while playing rugby as a 16-year-old; he was playing for his school team against a side of former pupils. He suffered a detached retina in one eye and spent the next five years under-going treatment to save the other eye.

When Clarkson's comments were reported in Britain they drew a furious response from politicians and disabled charities.

Lord Foulkes, a former Labour Scottish minister, said he was "outraged" at Clarkson's comments. Angus Robertson, the SNP's leader at Westminster, said the comments were "totally inappropriate" while the Liberal Democrats' work and pensions spokesman, Danny Alexander, said Clarkson's remarks were "hugely offensive on so many levels".

Iain Gray, the Labour leader in the Scottish parliament, said: "Such a comment is really a reflection on Jeremy Clarkson and speaks for itself.

Condemnation also came from the charity sector. The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said: "Any suggestion that equates disability with incompetence is totally unacceptable. We would be happy to help Mr Clarkson understand the positive contribution people with sight loss make to society."

Ian Macrae, editor of Disability Now, who is himself visually impaired, said: "That the BBC will not tolerate racism expressed in private by one of its front- line presenters, while failing to condemn Clarkson for an overtly disablist reference to a major public figure, smacks of double standards."

It was all too much for the corporation. After a flurry of across-the-world telephone conversations, a statement of apology was issued by Clarkson amid the rising tide of criticism for the "offence" he had caused.

"In the heat of the moment, I made a remark about the Prime Minister's personal appearance for which, upon reflection, I apologise," he said.

The corporation said in a statement: "We note that Jeremy has issued an apology for the personal remarks he made about the Prime Minister."

No further action was expected to be taken.

The latest crisis to beset the BBC comes hot on the heels of a controversy over Ms Thatcher, being dropped from the corporation's The One Show after using the word "golliwog" to refer to a tennis player.

Meanwhile, the corporation also put out an apology yesterday for broadcasting on breakfast television by accident Bale's expletive-laden rant on the set of the film, Terminator Salvation. The clip was introduced on BBC Breakfast at 6.55am but the extract was abruptly cut seconds later when Bale's swearing was heard. There was an immediate apology from the show's presenters for the incident.