William Shatner made the joke during an episode of Have I Got News for You (screengrab)
William Shatner joked that Ilfracombe was laced with prostitutes on Have I Got News for You (screengrab)  screengrab

Original Star Trek actor William Shatner has apologised to the Devon town of Ilfracombe after saying it was "laced with prostitutes".

Shatner, 81, made his jokey claim as guest presenter of BBC's Have I Got News for You, broadcast on 28 May.

Ilfracombe was being discussed on the satirical panel show during a segment on the Olympics torch relay across Britain.

After mispronouncing the town's name to the amusement of the audience members, guest panellist Charlie Brooker commented that Shatner had made the town sound "deeply sexual".

Shatner then asked if he had ever visited Ilfracombe before joking that the place was "laced with prostitutes".

Former mayor of Ilfracombe Paul Crabb invited Shatner to the town to prove "there is no prostitution in Ilfracombe".

In an email, Crabb said: "As Captain James T Kirk, Mr Shatner has been to places where no man has gone before. However, the episode of Have I Got News For You clearly shows he has never been to Ilfracombe.

"If he came, we could show him that there is no prostitution in Ilfracombe and that it is a lovely coastal town."

Shatner replied that prostitution "commonly means sex for something of value".

"I would be hard-pressed to believe that sex was not being had in Ilfracombe for something of value, perhaps a lengthy marriage, children or a valuable career.

"In any event, my apologies for having singled out Ilfracombe as a potential haven for prostitution. With you overseeing, I am sure that will not happen."

Crabb replied that a vast majority of Ilfracombe residents would have taken the comment as tongue-in-cheek but others were upset by it.