The cast and crew of British motoring show Top Gear have fled Argentina after furious residents hurled stones at a BBC car bearing a license plate which appeared to reference the 1982 Falklands War.
Presenter Jeremy Clarkson was among those who were forced to abandon their vehicles after an angry crowd gathered and began throwing stones. One of the vehicles — a red Porsche — carried the plate H982 FKL, which local newspapers and residents took to be a reference to the 1982 Falklands conflict.
“It was an outright provocation,” said Cesar Gonzalez, the head of the Falklands’ veteran center in Rio Grande, the capital of Tierra del Fuego in Patagonia, in southern Argentina.
“Their license plate had the number 982, an allusion to the war (1982) and the letters FLK for the Falklands. It was a mockery to us all,” Gonzalez told AFP on Friday.
Argentine forces were stationed in Patagonia at the time of the conflict in the Falklands, known locally as Las Malvinas and still claimed by Argentina. The conflict still looms large in the minds of many here. The BBC confirmed its team had left, but denied the registration plate was intended as a deliberate provocation.
Executive producer Andy Wilman, said: “’Top Gear’ production purchased three cars for a forthcoming program; to suggest that this car was either chosen for its number plate or that an alternative number plate was substituted for the original, is completely untrue.” The Rio Grande mayor banned the vehicles from driving in the city and declared Clarkson and his team “personas non gratas” following a request from unions and veterans groups.
It is the latest in a string of controversies for the television show, one of the BBC’s most popular programmes for foreign sales.
Britain’s broadcasting watchdog criticised the BBC in July after Clarkson used an “offensive racial term” in an episode on Myanmar. Regulator Ofcom said that Clarkson’s use of the word “slope” as slang for a person of Asian origin, was potentially offensive and that the BBC had failed in its duty to viewers by broadcasting it.
The ruling came three months after Clarkson was forced to apologise over footage in which he appeared to use another racist term as part of an old nursery rhyme during filming. The show has previously got into hot water over its unflattering depictions of Albanians, Romanians and Germans and calling Mexicans “lazy and flatulent“.
The crew were in South America filming an episode on the remote Patagonian highway between Chile and Argentina. Patagonian daily newspaper Diario Jornada said: “Top Gear is filming in Patagonia and there’s controversy.”
“Even though the BBC authorities asked the popular presenter Jeremy Clarkson to behave himself during his time in Argentina, he chose to use the provocative number plate H982 FKL on his Porsche, in reference to the 1982 Falklands (Malvinas)” war, in which Britain defeated Argentina, it said. A local official in the town of Ushuaia — the world’s most southernmost city — told AFP that the BBC crew had left Tierra del Fuego on Friday morning and that the cars hadn’t driven in town.