Stig's BBC career heading for an emergency stop

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The Independent Online

The brakes have been slammed on racing driver Ben Collins's career as Top Gear's The Stig following his High Court battle with the BBC, sources said today.

Mr Collins is thought to be highly unlikely to return to television screens as the show's faceless mystery driver after the mystery was very publicly solved.

The case has also cast doubt on whether the character will reappear at all in the next series of the programme, played by a different driver.

A decision on whether The Stig will be axed altogether is expected in the next two months but is unlikely to be announced before the series starts in December.

The corporation took legal action to block publication by HarperCollins of an autobiography which would unmask Mr Collins's identity.

But after more than a day of legal argument in private, Mr Justice Morgan said yesterday he would not grant the BBC a temporary injunction to do this.

The identity of the driver has been a badly-kept secret, having already been published in the media last year.

Simon Dowson-Collins, HarperCollins's director of legal services, said The Stig was in court yesterday - but added that the publisher would not confirm the mystery driver's identity until the book launch on September 16.

He said: "We were very surprised the BBC took such action to prevent freedom of expression. We maintained all along that the information is already in the public domain."

It was widely reported that The Stig was Mr Collins after his company's financial reports listed Top Gear among its work.

The BBC responded that this was "no surprise" as he had appeared numerous times on the programme and supplied drivers for it.

A spokesman for the BBC, which claimed the book would breach confidentiality obligations, said: "The Top Gear audience has always made it clear they enjoyed the mystery around the identity of The Stig. The BBC felt it important to protect that anonymity.

"The BBC brought this action as we believe it is vital to protect the character of The Stig, which ultimately belongs to the licence-fee payer.

"(The) judgment does not prevent the BBC from pursuing this matter to trial and it will not be deterred from protecting such information from attack no matter when or by whom it should arise."

Top Gear presenter James May said today that another Stig could be found for future editions of the show.

But he said it was "a shame" that the driver's anonymity had been spoiled.

"I mean, the whole point of being the Stig is that you are nobody. The Stig is a character," May said.

Speaking to Absolute Radio host Christian O'Connell this morning, he added: "It's like, you know, it has to have a person in the suit, obviously, and its always the same person, always has been because that way we get consistency, and Stig is anonymous because it's good fun.

"It's a testing device, the Stig, and it protects it from corruption, if nobody knows who it is - that's the really good thing about it."

May said it would be feasible to find a replacement: "We can get another one. There may be many more Stigs in many more galaxies."

And he joked that they would wreak their revenge on The Stig when they begin filming a new series of Top Gear next month.

Ideas for future stunts, he said, included "driving round to the Stig's house and nailing his head to the table... going and getting our overalls back because they're not his, they're ours".