The “fracas” that led to Jeremy Clarkson’s suspension reportedly erupted because the Top Gear host could not order a steak at a Yorkshire hotel.
The details emerged after David Cameron backed the star, calling him a “huge talent” and saying he hoped the situation could be resolved so his children would not be left “heartbroken”.
Clarkson is alleged to have punched Top Gear producer Oisin Tymon during what the corporation officially described as a “fracas”.
Reports suggest the star had been unhappy at being unable to get hot food at Simonstone Hall Hotel near Hawes, North Yorkshire, where the crew were staying after filming.
In an incident reminiscent of the famous “Waldorf Salad” episode of Fawlty Towers, the hotel’s chef was reported to have gone home by the time they arrived and the stars were offered cold meat platters, although the presenter requested a £21.95 steak.
Two newspapers quoted a source who claimed Clarkson blamed Mr Tymon for not arranging hot food and described the incident as a “scuffle”. The hotel’s general manager then cooked the meal for the star, the source claimed.
The Mirror quoted Clarkson, when asked if he was concerned about losing his position at the BBC, as saying: “Well it’s coming, isn’t it? Honestly, it’s very soon. Let’s just let sleeping dogs lie for the moment.”
Earlier Clarkson - who is a friend of the Prime Minister and lives in his Witney constituency in Oxfordshire - laughed off his latest controversy, telling reporters he was “just off to the job centre”, but said he has regrets about what happened.
Mr Cameron told BBC Midlands Today: “I don’t know exactly what happened. He is a constituent of mine, he is a friend of mine, he is a huge talent.
“I see that he said he regrets some of what happened. All I would say - because he is a talent and he does amuse and entertain so many people, including my children who’ll be heartbroken if Top Gear is taken off air - I hope this can be sorted out because it is a great programme and he is a great talent.”
Asked if the BBC was wrong to suspend him, Mr Cameron said: “I don’t know what happened. Every organisation has to be able to be free to manage its talent and to say to people, ‘you can do this’, or ‘you can’t do that’, so I don’t want to interfere in the running of the BBC.”
He added: “The Prime Minister has many responsibilities, sadly securing the future of Top Gear isn’t one of them.”
The BBC’s director-general Tony Hall also said he was a “fan” of Clarkson, but added that allegations of a fracas were “serious”.
More than 650,000 people from across the world have signed an online petition demanding that the outspoken host be reinstated.
The Prime Minister has many responsibilities. Sadly, securing the future of Top Gear isn’t one of them.
Yesterday, the 54-year-old joked as he left his flat in Kensington amid a media scrum.
He said: “I’ve been suspended haven’t I? I’m just off to the job centre. At least I’m going to be able to get to the Chelsea match tonight.”
Asked if his suspension was over a row about food he said “no, no, no” but said “yes” when asked if he had any regrets about what had happened.
It was reported that a BBC disciplinary panel has already been convened to decide his fate.
Ken MacQuarrie, the head of BBC Scotland who conducted the investigation into Newsnight’s false expose of Lord McAlpine, is to chair the panel, the Radio Times said, with witnesses expected to be called by the end of the week.
A formal disciplinary letter summoning the presenter to appear at the hearing is expected to be posted today.
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”.
Lord Hall confirmed that an investigation was taking place, telling reporters after an appearance at the European Scrutiny Committee: “The most important thing in anything like this is to gather the facts. We do not have the facts at the moment.”
He added: “I am a fan of Jeremy Clarkson but this is a serious thing that is alleged to have taken place.”
When questioned on whether he supported the Top Gear presenter, Clarkson’s co-host James May said: “In many ways no, I have said many times before the man is a knob, but I quite like him. It’s all getting a bit ridiculous.”
Asked what he could remember about the row, May said: “Not very much, I was blind drunk.”
Former culture secretary Maria Miller described Clarkson as a “legend” and insisted the BBC had to improve the way it dealt with “larger than life characters”, suggesting it could learn from football managers who also have to deal with headstrong characters.
Clarkson could walk away from the show when his contract runs out at the end of the month.
All three of the show’s hosts were understood to be days away from signing new contracts that would have kept them at the wheel of the show for another three years when Clarkson was suspended.
The BBC owns the rights to the Top Gear brand, which is valued at £50 million, and includes the show, DVD rights and live shows, raising the prospect of Top Gear continuing on the BBC while Clarkson takes a similar show to one of its rivals.
Two episodes of this series have been postponed and the future of the third and final episode is unclear after the bust-up which took place after filming in Newcastle.
This is the latest in a long line of controversies which has seen the presenter offend foreign diplomats, viewers, MPs and his own bosses at the BBC.
Clarkson was put on what was called his final warning last year following a racism row after claims he used the N-word while reciting the nursery rhyme Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe during filming of the BBC2 programme.
Nick Clegg said the decision over Clarkson’s future was for BBC bosses alone.
The Deputy Prime Minister told LBC: “The guy’s obviously incredibly popular and the show that he does provides entertainment to millions of people, but who is responsible for determining whether he carries on or not is his employers.
“I don’t know what happened in this cold/hot meal fracas. I don’t know what happened. A punch-up is apparently what happened.”
He added: “He is an employee of the BBC, they are his boss and so if they think he has done something wrong ... then it is for them to decide.”
Asked if he enjoyed the show, Mr Clegg replied: “I quite like it, yes. It makes me laugh.”
Ukip leader Nigel Farage told LBC: “I’m quite certain that if, as Ukip party leader, I punched one of our officials, I think I would be in considerable hot water.
“I do enjoy Top Gear, it’s very entertaining. Deliberately provocative and controversial and whenever I sit down and watch it I always laugh.”
Asked if he could replace Clarkson, he replied: “It’s a lovely idea.”