'He is a huge talent' - British Prime Minister weighs in Jeremy Clarkson row
Prime Minister David Cameron has weighed into the row over the suspension of Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson, calling him a "huge talent" and saying he hopes the situation can be resolved so his children will not be left "heartbroken".
The TV presenter was suspended following an alleged row with a producer on his hit motoring show.
Clarkson - who is a friend of the Prime Minister and lives in his Witney constituency in Oxfordshire - laughed off his latest controversy, telling reporters he was "just off to the job centre", but said he has regrets about what happened.
Mr Cameron told BBC Midlands Today: "I don't know exactly what happened. He is a constituent of mine, he is a friend of mine, he is a huge talent.
"I see that he said he regrets some of what happened. All I would say, because he is a talent and he does amuse and entertain so many people, including my children who'll be heartbroken if Top Gear is taken off air, I hope this can be sorted out because it is a great programme and he is a great talent."
Asked if the BBC was wrong to suspend him, Mr Cameron said: "I don't know what happened. Every organisation has to be able to be free to manage its talent and to say to people, 'you can do this', or 'you can't do that', so I don't want to interfere in the running of the BBC."
He added: "The Prime Minister has many responsibilities, sadly securing the future of Top Gear isn't one of them."
The BBC's director-general Tony Hall also said he was a "fan" of Clarkson, but said allegations of a fracas were "serious".
More than 600,000 people from across the world have signed an online petition demanding that the outspoken host be reinstated.
Clarkson is alleged to have punched Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon, apparently following a disagreement about a lack of catering after filming for the show.
Reports suggest the star had been unhappy at being unable to get hot food at Simonstone Hall Hotel near Hawes, North Yorkshire, where the crew were staying.
The Sun and Mirror reported the hotel's chef had gone home by the time they arrived and the stars were offered cold meat platters, although the presenter requested steak.
The Mirror quoted Clarkson, when asked if he was concerned about losing his position at the BBC, as saying: "Well its coming, isn't it? Honestly, it's very soon. Let's just let sleeping dogs lie for the moment."
Yesterday, the 54-year-old joked as he left his flat in Kensington amid a media scrum.
He said: "I've been suspended haven't I? I'm just off to the job centre", telling reporters: "At least I'm going to be able to get to the Chelsea match tonight."
Asked if his suspension was over a row about food he said "no, no, no" but said "yes" when asked if he had any regrets about what had happened.
Clarkson was later photographed in the crowd at Stamford Bridge for last night's Chelsea game against Paris St-Germain.
It was reported that a BBC disciplinary panel has already been convened to decide Clarkson's fate.
Ken MacQuarrie, the head of BBC Scotland who conducted the investigation into Newsnight's false expose of Lord McAlpine, is to chair the panel, the Radio Times claimed, with witnesses expected to be called by the end of the week.
A formal disciplinary letter summoning the presenter to appear at the hearing is expected to be posted today.
A lawyer for Mr Tymon said his client "intends to await the outcome of the BBC investigation and will make no comment until that investigation is complete".
Lord Hall confirmed that an investigation was taking place, telling reporters after an appearance at the European Scrutiny Committee: "The most important thing in anything like this is to gather the facts. We do not have the facts at the moment."
He added: "I am a fan of Jeremy Clarkson but this is a serious thing that is alleged to have taken place."
When questioned on whether he supported the Top Gear presenter, Clarkson's co-host James May said: "In many ways no, I have said many times before the man is a knob, but I quite like him. It's all getting a bit ridiculous."
Asked what he could remember about the row, May said: "Not very much, I was blind drunk."
Former culture secretary Maria Miller described Clarkson as a "legend" and insisted the BBC had to improve the way it dealt with "larger than life characters", suggesting it could learn from football managers who also have to deal with headstrong characters.
Clarkson could walk away from the show when his contract runs out at the end of the month.
All three of the show's hosts were understood to be days away from signing new contracts that would have kept them at the wheel of the show for another three years when Clarkson was suspended.
The BBC owns the rights to the Top Gear brand, which is valued at £50 million, and includes the show, DVD rights and live shows, raising the prospect of Top Gear continuing on the BBC while Clarkson takes a similar show to one of its rivals.
Two episodes of this series have been postponed and the future of the third and final episode is unclear after the bust-up which took place after filming in Newcastle.
This is the latest in a long line of controversies which has seen the presenter offend foreign diplomats, viewers, MPs and his own bosses at the BBC.
Clarkson was put on what was called his final warning last year following a racism row after claims he used the N-word while reciting the nursery rhyme Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe during filming of the BBC2 programme.
In recent years he has been cleared of breaching the broadcasting code by watchdog Ofcom after comparing a Japanese car to people with growths on their faces, and faced a storm of protest from mental health charities after branding people who throw themselves under trains as ''selfish''.
He was also forced to apologise for telling BBC1's The One Show that striking workers should be shot, but it is the claims of racism that have really damaged his standing with the corporation.
A BBC spokeswoman said: "Following a fracas with a BBC producer, Jeremy Clarkson has been suspended pending an investigation.
"No one else has been suspended. Top Gear will not be broadcast this Sunday. The BBC will be making no further comment at this time."
The presenter's daughter Em Clarkson tweeted: "Oh God, BBC please take him back. He's started cooking."
A spokeswoman for Northumbria Police said: "It does not appear to have been reported to us and we are not aware of any incident."
Top Gear is one of the BBC's biggest money spinners, pulling in millions of pounds from a devoted international audience.
Its latest series was given a global launch with a simultaneous broadcast in more than 50 countries.
Its success - and Clarkson's vital part in it - saw BBC TV boss Danny Cohen compare him to a top-flight footballer, telling reporters last year that "no one is bigger than the club".
Last year, the show was censured by communications regulator Ofcom for breaching broadcasting rules after Clarkson used a "racial" term during the programme's Burma special, which aired in March 2014.
The year ended with the show's crew forced to flee Argentina after trouble erupted when it emerged they were using a Porsche with the registration number H982 FKL, which some people suggested could refer to the Falklands conflict of 1982.