LONDON — A British trade union is denouncing a low blow from the host of the popular TV show "Top Gear."
The UNISON union on Thursday demanded the BBC fire Jeremy Clarkson after the opinionated TV presenter said striking public sector workers should be shot.
Clarkson apologized Thursday afternoon, saying he had not meant anyone to take him seriously when he said strikers who had participated in Britain's largest public sector walkout in 30 years on Wednesday should be executed "in front of their families."
"I'd have them all shot," Clarkson said on BBC television's "One Show" on Wednesday. "I mean, how dare they go on strike when they've got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?"
The BBC apologized for the remarks Thursday and said it had received around 4,700 complaints.
And Clarkson said he was sorry – sort of.
"I didn't for a moment intend these remarks to be taken seriously – as I believe is clear if they're seen in context," he said. "If the BBC and I have caused any offense, I'm quite happy to apologize for it alongside them."
UNISON, which represents more than 1 million public sector workers, said Clarkson should be fired immediately. It said it was seeking legal advice and considering referring the comments to police.
The union's general secretary, Dave Prentis, said Clarkson's comments "were totally outrageous, and they cannot be tolerated."
The furor even drew a response from Prime Minister David Cameron, who branded the comments "silly."
"It was obviously a silly thing to say and I am sure he didn't mean that," Cameron – a friend of Clarkson – told ITV television.
The BBC in the past has fielded complaints over irreverent quips by Clarkson, one of the hosts of the popular car show, which is broadcast in more than 100 countries.
Clarkson's jokey machismo and gibes about environmentalists, cyclists and the perceived forces of political correctness are part of the show's formula for success, but have landed "Top Gear" in trouble before.
The BBC fielded complaints after Clarkson made a joke linking truck drivers with prostitute murders and when he described former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as a "one-eyed Scottish idiot."
Earlier this year the BBC apologized to Mexico's ambassador after Clarkson and his co-hosts described Mexicans as lazy and oafish.