LONDON – The opaque visor of one of Britain's most famous helmets has been lifted.
The identity of The Stig, the always-anonymous test driver on the popular television show "Top Gear," has long been a closely guarded secret. On Wednesday, lawyers said the BBC had been refused an injunction blocking publication of a book revealing the identity of the character.
Shortly after, publishers HarperCollins said in a statement that a 33-year-old racing driver named Ben Collins "has a great story to tell about his seven years as The Stig, which will appeal to a wide audience beyond just motoring enthusiasts."
Calling it a "victory for freedom of speech," HarperCollins said the book will be published in Britain on Sept. 16.
The white-suited Stig is the second in the role; the first Stig, who wore a black suit and helmet, was Perry McCarthy. He left the show in 2003 after his identity was revealed.
The show has a long-standing policy of not commenting on The Stig's identity. A "Top Gear" spokeswoman said no decision has been made on whether the character will be back when the show returns.
"Top Gear" is one of the BBC's most successful programs, and is seen in more than 100 countries around the world. Alongside the show's three garrulous hosts, The Stig is an always-silent presence, fearlessly navigating the show's test track in glamorous cars.
Speculation over his identity is a favorite pastime for fans of the show, and the "Top Gear" website sells T-shirtsSpeculation over his identity is a favorite pastime for fans of the show, and the "Top Gear" website sells T-shirts proclaiming "I am The Stig," "I am not The Stig," and "I am The Stig's fat cousin," among others.
"The whole point of The Stig is the mystique — the bizarre characteristics he has, the wonderment created about what he might think, feel, do or look like," producer Andy Wilman said in a post on the show's website. "Kids adore the conceit, and I believe adults, although they know it's a man in a suit (or is it?) gladly buy into the whole conceit because they find it entertaining."
The Stig's Facebook page — which more than 2.5 million people "like" — says he was recently attacked by a goose, that his ears "are not where you would expect them to be," and that he thinks the movie "Star Wars" is a documentary.
The BBC said it sought the injunction — the hearing was held in private — because viewers like the mystery surrounding the driver's identity and it's "vital to protect the character of The Stig."
The broadcaster said that the judgment does not prevent them from taking the issue further in the courts.
'The BBC will not be deterred from protecting such information from attack no matter when or by whom it should arise," the broadcaster said in a statement.
Collins' website says he has raced on the Formula Three and NASCAR circuits, and drove James Bond's Aston Martin in the 2008 film "Quantum of Solace."