Slurring his speech to mimic the disfigured Victorian Joseph Merrick, famously dubbed the Elephant Man, TV presenter Clarkson said on BBC2’s Top Gear the vehicle – an unnamed Japanese camper van – looked like something that you wouldn’t talk to at a party. Co-presenter Richard Hammond called it the elephant car.

Making gestures of a disfigured person, Clarkson said: “You know sometimes you meet someone and they have got a growth on their face and it is bigger than their face … one of those really ugly things.”

Clarkson and the BBC are now facing calls to apologise by the bodily disfigurement charity, Changing Faces.

The charity’s chief executive James Partridge said: “Mocking people with a disfigurement, a facial growth in this case, is irresponsible and extremely offensive. People with disfigurements experience discrimination and bullying which occasionally includes violence. Phrases like ‘Elephant Man’ are among those that are used to humiliate people. Jeremy Clarkson’s comments create a culture of ridicule and bullying against people who are ill, disabled or have unusual features.”

Mark Boylan, who has a condition called neurofibromatosis, which causes large tumours to grow on the face, said: “As a genuine Top Gear fan, I was gutted the presenters felt the need to stoop to such a low level. Their humour singled out people who are visually different.

“Although some may perceive these as harmless remarks made by a few people, the fact that they were seen by millions could potentially influence their reactions to people with visual differences. Even though we may be in the minority, our right to respect is equal to that of any majority.”

The BBC has declined to comment on the complaint.

In November, Clarkson prompted more than 20,000 complaints to the BBC when he joked on The One Show that striking public sector workers should be shot.