The identity of the masked character has for years gone hand in hand with a pint of beer and a packet of pork scratching as it is debated in pubs across the land. However this week’s Sunday Times has lifted the lid and revealed the driver to allegedly be Ben Collins. The paper cites financial documents of Collins Autosport Ltd, the former Formula Three driver’s company which attribute payments received a month after the Stig’s first TV appearance to ‘driving services provided for the BBC, mainly in the Top Gear programme’.
A BBC spokesman said of the accounts: “It was no surprise that Ben Collins’ company listed Top Gear amongst its work as Ben had appeared numerous times on the programme and he often supplied other drivers for both the programme and Top Gear Live.” The Times’ revelations seem far from conclusive.
What we know for certain is that last week the BBC confirmed it was taking legal action to prevent the Stig from revealing all through the publication of his planned autobiography.
The BBC maintains that revealing the identity of the character would ‘spoil viewers’ enjoyment of the show’. Cynics among us may dismiss this suggestion and propose that the BBC merely wish to maintain the show’s formula that has proved such a ratings winner.
Defending publishers HarperCollins said in a statement: “We are disappointed that the BBC has chosen to spend licence fee payers’ money to suppress this book and will vigorously defend the perfectly legitimate right of this individual to tell his story.”
The motive of the auto biographer is unclear. An examination of the law would suggest there may be little financial reward.
The facts here are not dissimilar to those of the 2001 case, Attorney-General v Blake. Blake was a former member of the security and intelligence services who had allegedly operated as a double agent for the Soviet Union. His employment contract included the term: ‘I undertake not to diverge any official information gained by me as a result of my employment, either in press or in book form.’
Subsequently Blake contracted with some publishers to publish his autobiography – a book which disclosed some of Blake’s various activities as a secret intelligence officer. The disclosure was in breach of contract.
Upon publication of his autobiography the House of Lords found Blake to be accountable to the Crown for all of the profit he made as a result of his breach of contract.
Whoever is the Stig he must think carefully – should they publish their autobiography they could potentially face losing their job on the show for breach of contract and may find that all profits from the publication are accountable to the BBC.
The BBC are seeking an injunction to prevent the driver from publishing his autobiography. Mr Justice Morgan has granted their request for the case to be heard in private, ruling that a hearing in public ‘would defeat the object.’
Some say he is Ben Collins … all we know is he is called the Stig.