THE BBC has apologised after the Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson called for public sector workers to be ‘shot in front of their families’ during a live television interview.
In a series of gaffes on the station’s popular The One Show, the 51 year-old suggested that public sector workers should be shot dead in front of their families.
The veteran television presenter and newspaper columnist, whose show is broadcast on BBC Two, also complained about being delayed by people throwing themselves in front of trains.
The public broadcaster issued a swift on-air apology, saying he sometimes overstepped the mark in his quest for "comic" value.
The BBC also disclosed that it had received complaints about the comments but could not provide exact numbers.
During his interview, Clarkson was asked what he would do with strikers, he replied: "I would have them all shot".
He continued: "I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families.
"I mean how dare they go on strike when they have these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed, while the rest of us have to work for a living."
While some members of the audience laughed, the presenters, Matt Baker and Alex Jones, were clearly left stunned and embarassed by his comments as they shifted uncomfortably in their seats.
Later he added: "'I do sometimes use the train to come to London but it always stops in Reading. It's always because somebody has jumped in front of it and somebody has burst.
"You just think, why have we stopped because we've hit somebody? What's the point of stopping? It won't make them better."
His comments on the BBC One programme, sparked instant condemnation from viewers, who angrily posted furious comments on Twitter. But others applauded his controversial statements, saying they were clearly said a joke.
At one point, the phrase “Jeremy Clarkson” was the highest “trending” topic on the micro-blogging site and the fourth most popular issue worldwide. Some called for a boycot of Clarkson while others urged viewers to complain to the BBC.
Piers Morgan, the former Daily Mirror editor and now CNN chat show host, tweeted: "Public sector workers should be executed in front of their families" - Jeremy Clarkson, paid millions by public sector/taxpayer #OneShow".
He later added: "Just to be clear, Jeremy Clarkson thinks underpaid, overworked nurses on strike today should be 'executed in front of their families."
John Prescott, the former deputy Prime Minister, added: "I know Jeremy Clarkson likes winding people up but it's worth pointing out he gets £1m a year from the license fee/public sector".
In response to a user’s comments he added: "Clarkson says these things to be outrageous & obviously doesn't mean it. But I think he's misjudged the public mood."
Later posting the clip to his more than 102,000 followers he added: I think we should take his comments with a pillar of salt but... "
Author Tony Parsons tweeted: "Jeremy Clarkson has misjudged the moment. Criticising striking public sector workers today is like sieg-heiling at Last Night of the Proms."
At the end of the show, the presenters issued an on-air apology for Clarkson’s “exaggerated” comic talents and “strong views”.
"Although we enjoy Jeremy's views, which he sometimes exaggerates for comical effect, we are seriously sorry if his comments about deaths on the railways has upset anyone," he said.
A BBC spokeswoman said: "The One Show apologised at the end of the show to viewers who may have been offended by Jeremy Clarkson's comments." She declined to comment further.
Clarkson was appearing on the BBC show to promote his new DVD, Clarkson: Powered Up.
He previously caused outrage when had described former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who lost his sight in one eye in an accident suffered while playing rugby as a teenager, as a "one-eyed Scottish idiot".