Petition to reinstate Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson hits one million

LONDON (AFP) - An online petition to reinstate Jeremy Clarkson in the hit BBC programme "Top Gear" reached a million signatures on Friday as the controversial presenter hinted that he may be sacked by the corporation.

In a stunt organised by the Guido Fawkes political blog, the petition was delivered to BBC headquarters in central London on a tank hired for the occasion with a banner reading "Bring Back Clarkson".

Clarkson was suspended by the BBC this month over a "fracas" with one of the show's producers, which was later reported to be a spat over not being provided with a hot meal after a day's filming.

The BBC has pulled the last three episodes of the series, which has more than 350 million viewers across the globe and earns around £50 million (S$103 million) each year for the broadcaster's commercial arm, BBC Worldwide.

"Punish Jeremy Clarkson all you want but don't pull 'Top Gear' off the air," said Harry Cole, a journalist for Guido Fawkes, adding: "We are representing the silent majority of 'Top Gear' viewers."

A boorish bigot to some and a straight-talking maverick to others, the presenter was already on a final warning from the broadcaster due to frequent scandals over apparently racist remarks.

The petition for Clarkson on the website change.org reads: "We the undersigned petition the BBC to reinstate Jeremy Clarkson. Freedom to fracas."

One signatory, Charlie Houghton, wrote: "Jeremy is a bastion of light in a dark PC world."

A petition to sack Clarkson, calling him "a deplorable man" who used offensive language, had around 7,300 signatures on Friday.

The results of an investigation by the BBC are expected next week, although Clarkson himself appeared to say it would be a foregone conclusion in an expletive-laden tirade reported by British media.

In footage obtained by the Daily Mirror newspaper, Clarkson was seen speaking on stage at a charity gala, saying he wanted to do one last lap of the "Top Gear" track in Surrey near London before the "bastards sack me".

He later thanked his supporters, saying that the outcome of the investigation would come clear soon.

"Many many thanks to all of the people who have called for my reinstatement. I'm very touched," he wrote on Twitter. "We shall all learn next week what will happen."