The BBC’s decision to postpone the remaining episodes of Top Gear has seen it lose millions of viewers and receive thousands of complaints.
Sunday night’s planned episode was replaced by a Red Arrows documentary which pulled in just one million viewers – compared to the five million who regularly tune in for the popular motoring show.
The BBC has refused to say how many viewers have contacted it about its decision to suspend Jeremy Clarkson and postpone the remaining episodes but it is believed to be in the thousands.
Communications watchdog Ofcom said it had received more than 100 complaints, with a spokesman saying it will take no action as it “can only assess a breach of the broadcasting code if a show has actually aired”.
The BBC’s inquiry into Clarkson’s Top Gear “fracas” has started – less than a week since it announced the presenter was suspended after allegedly punching producer Oisiin Tymon after filming for the show during a row over a hot meal at a hotel.
Ken MacQuarrie, the senior BBC executive tasked with sorting out what is becoming an increasing embarrassment for the corporation, is believed to be in London and starting work.
But sources close to the investigation say it is impossible to put a deadline on its work until it hears from the two men central to the inquiry – Clarkson and Tymon.
Clarkson was seen leaving his west London home today shortly before 2pm but refused to make any comment to waiting reporters,
A BBC spokesman said: “The BBC’s position is the one we set out in a statement last week. We have an investigation led by Ken MacQuarrie to establish the facts and people should wait for the outcome of that.”
Clarkson is still scheduled to appear alongside co-hosts James May and Richard Hammond at four live shows in Norway on March 27 and 28 and a decision on whether to go ahead is expected early this week.
All three men’s contracts expire three days after the Norway gigs, which could render any disciplinary hearings redundant.
The controversy took a further twist this weekend when victims of Jimmy Savile denounced comparisons of the support shown to Clarkson to the widespread protection offered to the dead paedophile presenter as “upsetting” and “totally offensive”.
A senior figure at the BBC was reported as suggesting Clarkson is able to behave as he wishes because of his celebrated position and support from powerful friends, including Prime Minister David Cameron.
The Mail On Sunday claimed the BBC chief compared the support for Clarkson to the way sex offender Savile was defended.
The reported comments drew a furious response from victims of the former Radio 1 DJ.
Liz Dux, a lawyer from Slater and Gordon, which is representing 169 of Savile’s alleged victims, said such comparisons upset victims.
She said: “Many of Savile’s victims find a direct parallel between these issues to be upsetting and highly inappropriate.
“One victim said that while both have celebrity status, to suggest other similarities is totally offensive.
“Nevertheless, they want the lessons from Savile learned, whereby fame and celebrity must never be an excuse to overlook wrongdoing.”
The BBC boss also added it was “common knowledge” that Clarkson has “personal issues”, saying they would advise him to take one of two courses of action – “to try to play it down – or I would go into rehab and show the world I am trying to change”.
A friend of Clarkson said the presenter had called BBC bosses to apologise over the fracas in an attempt to draw a line under the matter.
Writing in the Sunday Times, AA Gill said the investigation into the row was “preposterous and ponderous”, and praised him as hard-working.
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”.