Sacked Stig accuses BBC of hypocrisy

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The Independent Online

The man sacked from his role as The Stig on Top Gear has today accused the BBC of hypocrisy after he claimed they were the ones who first blew his identity.

Ben Collins revealed he began working on his memoir when he feared his stint as the anonymous driver was on the skids.

Breaking his silence after a BBC legal bid to block the book failed, he told The Sun that the court battle was "ridiculous".

The BBC tried to prevent publication of his autobiography, claiming it had a confidential arrangement with the 35-year-old driver.

Collins told the paper that the corporation "wanted to bully me out of contention".

He said: "It is a travesty that a state-funded broadcaster gagged my free speech. It was hypocritical to suggest I'd done any more to reveal myself than they had."

He said an arm of the BBC had been responsible for putting his name in the public arena two years ago in a feature speculating about The Stig's identity in the Radio Times, which is published by BBC Worldwide.

He said his name was published as one of the potential candidates which led to him being recognised.

"I was astonished. I was being outed by the very people I worked for. Yet I knew nothing about it," he said.

Collins said he had made every effort to hide his identity, keeping covered up at all times and eating on his own away from the crew during filming.

But he said the Radio Times unmasking was a turning point: "It caused a huge question over whether I was viable any more."

The driver - who has appeared in a white jump suit and helmet since 2003 as The Stig - said at one stage he was sidelined, when another driver was hired for a series of live shows.

"It was becoming clear that it was either jump or be pushed. Last Christmas I began writing my book," he said.

Collins said he was hoping for the backing of his BBC bosses over the book but they became "hostile".

The book, The Man In The White Suit, is published next week by HarperCollins, which is owned by News Corporation.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "Today's interview appears in a newspaper that is owned by the same company that is publishing Ben's book. It seems to have been designed simply to attempt to generate further sales."

A BBC source added: "The Radio Times - which is published independently of the BBC - used a list of possible names supplied by bookmaker William Hill on which Ben Collins's name appeared.

"These were already in the public domain so to say the BBC confirmed all of this is nonsense."

The BBC added Collins was warned that going public with the book would be incompatible with remaining in his role.

A spokeswoman said: "The BBC categorically refutes any accusations of bullying.

"Once Ben informed the BBC of his intentions, he was reminded of his confidentiality obligations and it was made clear to him that if he went ahead with the book, he would not be able to remain in his role."