Future of Top Gear uncertain after Clarkson sacking
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Sacking Jeremy Clarkson was the easy part. Keeping the global Top Gear brand, which generates $100 million a year, on the road looks like a new headache for the BBC after his colleagues suggested they could follow him out of the door.
Clarkson's contract will not be renewed after an internal BBC investigation concluded that the 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 filming.
Tony Hall, the BBC Director-General who made the decision, admitted rebooting Top Gear with a new team "will be a big challenge and there is no point in pretending otherwise".
It could be a challenge too far for Richard Hammond and James May, Clarkson's side-kicks, who appeared bereft at the departure of the man who turned a previously-cancelled series into a cash cow.
May said: "I think we are very much the three of us as a package. It works for very complicated reasons that a lot of people don't fully understand. So that will require a lot of careful thought. Much as I think he's a knob, I quite like working with Jeremy."
Hammond tweeted: "Gutted at such a sad end to an era. We're all three of us idiots in our different ways but it's been an incredible ride together."
Although the presenter's $1.96 million-a-year deal to present the BBC Two motoring show runs out next week, Clarkson has a second seven-figure contract with BBC Worldwide, the corporation's commercial wing. Worldwide agreed the deal when it paid $16.5 million for Clarkson's stake in a joint venture which had owned the commercial rights to Top Gear, which has been sold into 214 territories.
Worldwide has axed two Top Gear Live shows in Norway this week but thousands of ticket-holders are still expecting to see Clarkson reunited with his colleagues Hammond and May, as advertised, at a series of huge arena events in Australia and the UK.
A Worldwide spokesman said the BBC was "working through the implications of [yesterday's] announcement with our partner Brand Events and will make a statement on the Live tour as soon as possible". A source close to Clarkson said he too was working through the implications - with his lawyers.
Will Burrows, head of employment at law firm LHS, said: "It's a high-risk decision by the BBC and Clarkson's legal team will be locked in negotiation with the corporation to decide what happens to the enormous amount of money generated from Top Gear as a result of Clarkson's involvement in the brand."
Clarkson's future may lie in the US - there were rumours that the online platform Netflix could build a show around him. Rupert Murdoch tweeted: "How stupid can BBC be in firing Jeremy Clarkson? Funny man with great expertise and huge following." However, it's understood Sky is not interested in working with him.
Channel 4 responded to speculation they could hire him by releasing a statement saying they have "no plans to work with Jeremy Clarkson".
A spokesman for ITV said they would not comment on "a BBC issue" but it is understood they are not about to make a bid for the BBC veteran presenter.
Netflix told The Independent it had "no comment" on his sacking.
The BBC is seeking a new host who can maintain Top Gear's irreverence without indulging in the racial slurs which had already resulted in Clarkson, 54, receiving a "final warning".
Chris Evans, a favoured candidate, appeared to rule himself out. He said: "Regardless of whether it would be a hit, I'm voting a no for myself."
Other names include Stephen Fry, Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge, Jodie Kidd, Suzi Perry, Piers Morgan and Dermot O'Leary.
Clarkson's fate was sealed after the 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 A&E.
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."