Guess where your TV licence is going.

Is the the identity of Top Gear’s The Stig really a matter of national security?

The BBC seem to think so.

For you and I, the unknown identity of The Stig thing was mildly amusing a few years ago perhaps. But we’re over it now. Now it’s all just a bit of a bore.

But the BBC doesn’t agree.

In fact, in a bid to prevent the ‘revelation’ of the identity of Top Gear’s mystery driver being revealed, the Beeb took matters to  the High Court today. They’ve taken legal action to block HarperCollins’  publication of an autobiography which will reveal The Stig’s real identity. 

The guy in the costume is apparently bound by a confidentiality agreement and according to the BBC, revealing who he is would ‘spoil viewers’ enjoyment of the programme’.

Sure.

It all started with a self-important warning delivered by the BBC’s lawyers to newspaper editors a couple of weeks back. They emailed an urgent notice, forbidding any disclosure of the identity of The Stig. As a result, his imminent anonymous autobiography has triggered this latest round of media authoritarianism, as his contract apparently contains said confidentiality clause, designed to protect the mystique of his identity – and, presumably more importantly, the lucrative merchandising opportunities he represents for the BBC…

The latest candidate for the identity of the character is a Formula 3 driver called Ben Collins. He’s a former TV presenter who has raced in Gran Turismo cars at Le Mans, on the Nascar circuit in America and won seven races in Formula Three. He’s yet to comment on the matter.

It’s widely rumoured that the BBC’s lawyerly missives are just another round of clever marketing for the show, designed to stoke up the “great debate” again. It’s certainly done just that.

Back to the hearing, and, unsuprisingly, there’s been much dispute over whether the press and public are to be privvy to the legal arguments. The BBC’s counsel, Richard Spearman QC, argues that they should be entirely excluded (no suprises there then), whilst Hugh Tomlinson QC, for the publishers, said they should stay but be ‘subject to extensive restrictions covering the disclosure of any confidential information pending the conclusion of the matter’.

Ordering that it was appropriate to proceed behind closed doors, the judge said publicity would defeat the object of the hearing. “It seems to me that having the hearing in private is a much more effective barrier to information which might in due course be the subject of an injunction passing more widely into the public domain.” He added that the public interest in “having justice in open court for all to hear” could be dealt with by a public judgment being given “in due course”.

This Stig is the second in the role. The first, Perry McCarthy, was dropped in 2003 after his identity was uncovered.

HarperCollins has criticised the BBC for using licence fee cash on the moves to block the book and said it would “vigorously defend” its right to publish it. From their 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.”

Quite right.

And as for the real identity of The Stig? I’m not sure that anyone really cares.

Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd www.bluewoodtraining.com

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