‘Top Gear’ host’s suspension shifts BBC’s hit show into neutral

The final three episodes of the current season of the BBC’s automotive-themed program ‘Top Gear’ have been postponed pending the results of an investigation into reports that one of the show’s hosts had an altercation with one of its producers.

The Daily Mirror reports that host Jeremy Clarkson hit a producer over a catering issue after he discovered that dinner wasn’t ready when shooting wrapped up during a location shoot in the U.K. city of Newcastle last week.

“He just saw red and hit the assistant producer, who he blamed for not having organized the food. He snapped,” a source told the British tabloid.

The BBC hasn’t confirmed the nature of the incident, saying only that Clarkson was involved in a ‘fracas’ and that he was the only one suspended. The broadcaster confirmed Wednesday that 'Top Gear' has been put on hiatus.

Clarkson does have his supporters, however. A Change.org petition started by fans asking the BBC to "Reinstate Jeremy Clarkson" has garnered over 400,000 signatures since his suspension was announced.

Co-host James May characterized the incident between Clarkson and the producer as "a bit of a dustup." "But I don't think it's that serious," he added.

"Top Gear'''s blend of car humor and blokey banter has won it legions of fans. The current series was launched simultaneously in more than 50 countries and the BBC has sold the format for locally produced versions in the U.S., China, Russia, Australia and South Korea.

It has also attracted controversy, much of it attached to Clarkson, the best-known of the three main presenters.

In October, the "Top Gear" crew was forced to flee Argentina after facing violent protests for allegedly referencing the 1982 Falkland Islands war on a license plate.

Last year Clarkson asked for forgiveness following allegations that he used the racist n-word during filming for the show. He said at the time had been given a "final warning" by producers.

In 2011, the BBC apologized to Mexico after Clarkson and his co-hosts characterized Mexicans as lazy and oafish.

Will Wyatt, a former director of BBC television, said the broadcaster could try to continue "Top Gear" without Clarkson, but "it would be a bit like the Musketeers without D'Artagnan."

"He is certainly the major personality in it and a huge part of its appeal," Wyatt said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report