Remember the BBC's Biggest Star?
Clarkson isn't the first BBC presenter to be hugely popular, overbearing, rude and seemingly irreplaceable. Back in the 1950s Gilbert Harding was almost as famous as the Queen and definitely - in those pre-celebrity days - the number one TV and radio "personality". BBC managers suspended him on more than one occasion but he was always reinstated. I'll wager that any petition to keep him on the airwaves would have reached several millions.
Harding's brand (although in those days branding was something you did to cattle) was being the rudest man in broadcasting. He was a pompous and exceptionally unpleasant character both on and off camera. But he was also a true revolutionary - breaking the cosy fireside world of broadcasting and bringing the unexpected onto the airwaves. Audiences loved him, or loved being shocked by him, and the tabloids faithfully reported every insult or slight he doled out. I rather like a story told of when Harding met a mother and her two children. The great man was used to being mobbed by his public and when the two kids remained seated in his presence he remarked to the mother that her offspring must be crippled. Imagine that in 2015.
Harding died suddenly, on the pavement outside the BBC's headquarters in 1960. He was 53. The BBC was forced to manage without its premier star. The world didn't end and only weirdo retrophiles like me have the slightest clue who Gilbert Harding was.