|Top Gear character|
|Portrayed by||Perry McCarthy (2002–2003)
Ben Collins (2003–2010)
|First appearance||20 October 2002
(Series 1; Episode 1)
|Created by||Andy Wilman
|Introduced by||Jeremy Clarkson|
|Occupation||Test driver and trainer for celebrity guests|
The Stig is a character on the British motoring television show Top Gear. The Stig's primary role is setting lap times for cars tested on the show, as well as instructing celebrity guests, off-camera, for the show's "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" segment. The character is a play on the anonymity of racing drivers' full-face helmets, with the running joke that nobody knows who, or indeed what, is inside the Stig's racing suit.
The identity of the original "Black" Stig, Perry McCarthy, was exposed by a Sunday newspaper in January 2003, and confirmed by McCarthy later that year. The black-suited Stig was subsequently "killed off" that October in the series 3 premiere, and replaced in the following episode by a new White Stig who lasted through to the end of series 15. In series 13, the show jokingly unmasked the Stig as seven-time world champion F1 driver Michael Schumacher. In the hiatus following series 15, racing driver Ben Collins was revealed to be the Stig in a court battle over Collins' impending autobiography, titled The Man in the White Suit. In series 16, debuting in December 2010, Collins was replaced by a second White Stig, whose identity has so far remained secret.
- 1 Creation and name
- 2 Characteristics
- 3 Role
- 4 Identity
- 5 Other appearances
- 6 Cultural impact and merchandising
- 7 Episode notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Creation and name
The idea for the character was part of host Jeremy Clarkson's and producer Andy Wilman's concept for the relaunched Top Gear show, bringing a new format to the original version of Top Gear which ceased production in 2001. The relaunched show introduced a live studio audience, the Stig, a racetrack, and madcap stunts. Clarkson is credited by the Sunday Times with having come up with the original idea for the Stig. Clarkson and Wilman wanted to have a professional racing driver as part of the show's cast, but ran into difficulty finding a driver sufficiently adept at speaking on-camera. Clarkson then asked Wilman why the driver needed to speak at all, and they decided that the Stig's role would be silent.
The name Stig derives from Wilman and Clarkson's time at the private Repton School, where new boys had always been called "Stig". According to original Stig Perry McCarthy, speaking in 2006, the producers had wanted the anonymous driver to be called 'The Gimp', referring to the use of gimp suits in BDSM sexual role-playing. After McCarthy objected, they settled upon the name Stig. McCarthy had said of the idea at the time that "I don't want to be forever remembered as the Gimp".
The Black Stig wore a black helmet and black Stand 21 racing suit, gloves and shoes. The White Stig's current uniform consists of a white Alpinestars racing suit with small Grand Prix Racewear logo, a white Simpson Diamondback helmet, black on white Alpinestars Tech 1-ZX gloves, and white Alpinestars Tech 1-T racing shoes. His original white helmet was a Simpson Speedway RX model, replaced by a Simpson Bandit and later by the Diamondback; his shoes began as Alpinestars Tech 1-K kart items.. The second White Stig's uniform is very similar to his predecessor, but has black epaulettes.
Anonymity and silence
When introducing the Stig in the Top Gear premiere, Clarkson said, "We don't know its name, we really don't know its name, nobody knows its name, and we don't wanna know, 'cause it's a racing driver."[ep 1] According to the Daily Mail in 2010, his face is never revealed on set, and not even the celebrity guests being trained on the reasonably priced car are allowed to learn his identity. He stays suited and with his helmet on throughout the show, arriving early and leaving late, having his own dressing room and eating privately. The studio audience has no access to him at any time.
According to a 2006 article in The Sunday Times, most of the Top Gear crew did not know the Stig's identity; one camera assistant reportedly observed the Stig eating his lunch in the back of an ambulance to avoid being spotted. In 2009, another Times article reiterated that only a few production staff, the show's presenters and other BBC journalists knew the Stig's true identity.
Former Stig Perry McCarthy described in 2009 how, to maintain his anonymity, he would put on the Stig's helmet while going through the Top Gear security gates, and then change into his racing overalls in a special room behind the gatehouse before driving into the studio areas. He would speak as little as possible in the backstage areas, and put on an accent which some mistook as French. McCarthy also explained that hiding his identity while coaching the celebrities for Star in a Reasonably Priced Car proved difficult. He said that he did reveal his true identity while coaching Ross Kemp and David Soul, as he had previously known them and they promised that they would be silent about his role. For other drives, if celebrities asked if he was a particular person, he would just say "How did you know?", adding that more often than not, the suggestion was Michael Schumacher.
The Stig is never shown talking on screen, although he does talk with celebrities while training them and helping them around the track. Clarkson has joked that he is "not a very talkative chap". When asked about his identity in a rare spoken interview for a German channel, the Stig reportedly said, "I don't remember; my memory was erased when I got the job." The Stig's muteness has extended to appearances in other media, such as the "Brain Stig" video released by the BBC on YouTube in 2009.
Clarkson has written in his newspaper column that the Stig is not permitted to talk or comment on the cars he is given to drive because "the opinions of all racing drivers are completely worthless," going on to explain that, because of their familiarity with cars equipped for track racing, racing drivers believe any and all road cars are on low-scale compared to racing cars.
The show has often compared the Stig's driving ability to others, particularly Formula One drivers. When Jeremy Clarkson said that the Stig believed that the Suzuki Liana, the show's Reasonably Priced Car at the time, could do a lap time of 1:44, former F1 driver Nigel Mansell, appearing as a guest on the programme, duly obliged by posting a time of 1:44.6; the Stig then posted a time of 1:44.4.[ep 2] After Rubens Barrichello became the first person to beat the Stig's time (coming in at 1:44.3), the show repeatedly referred to a jealous rivalry between the Stig and Barrichello. Lewis Hamilton currently holds the record for F1 drivers with a time of 1:42.9.[ep 3] Clarkson has often mentioned that F1 drivers seem to take a different racing line on the test track than the Stig, such as on Jenson Button's drive;[ep 4] however, during Barrichello's and Hamilton's visits to the show, Clarkson observed that they took the same line around the track as The Stig.[ep 5] F1 driver Mark Webber's appearance on the show was marked at the conclusion of his lap with Clarkson presenting him with an "I AM THE STIG" T-shirt.[ep 6]
The Stig's introductions on the show have underlined his oddness. Initially the presenters heralded his appearance with simple humorous introductions, such as "His Holiness, the Stig!"[ep 7] Beginning in series 6, the introductions began to follow a format of, "Some say that [two bizarre characteristics]. All we know is, he's called the Stig." Characteristics described in this format include:
- He has no face
- He is terrified of Scouts
- The drinks in his cabinet contain 15 different types of custard
- His favourite T-Shirt has a picture of a T-Shirt
- Afraid of bells
- Confused by stairs
- He's been producing artificial sperm for years, even though we've repeatedly asked him not to.
- Never blinks
- Naturally faces magnetic north
- All of his legs are hydraulic
- Two sets of knees
- Is convinced Star Wars is a documentary
- Heart ticks like a watch
- Spends spare time catching fish with his tongue or foraging for wolves in the woods
- Face appears on high-value stamps in Sweden
- Left nipple is shaped like the Nürburgring
- One eye is a testicle
- Invented the curtain
- Salary is paid by the BBC in strong pornography
- Owns the world's largest collection of pornography
- Developed the "wonderful" scent of Wednesday
- Only knows two facts about ducks, and both of them are wrong
- Has a full size tattoo of his face, on his face
- Has terrible plans involving the Moon
- Was turned down for a spot on["I'm a celebrity..." because he is one
- Thinks crisps are animals.
- Doesn't like to get his helmet wet
- Has a stripe-y top just like James'
- Can open a beer bottle with his testicles
- His feces have been found as far north as York
- Thinks the "Credit Crunch" is a breakfast cereal
- To unlock him, you have to run your finger down his face, vertically
- Due to a rigged phone vote has a new name: Cuddles
- Is not machine washable
- Sucks the moisture from ducks
- His crash helmet is modelled on Britney Spears' head
- Once threw a microwave oven at a tramp
- Allergic to the Dutch
- Banned from the Chelsea Flower Show
- Has a digital face
- His ears aren't exactly where you'd expect them to be
- Has webbed buttocks
- Once punched a horse to the ground
- If you tune your radio to 88.4 MHz, you can hear his thoughts
- There is an airport in Russia named after him
- His sweat can be used to clean precious metals
- His breath smells of magnesium
- Is illegal in 17 U.S. States
- Wanted by the CIA
- Sleeps upside down
- His New Year's resolution is to eat fewer mice
- He has 50,000 photographs of his own camera
- 60 years ago this week he also became a Queen
- Had an affair with John Prescott.
- If he felt like it, he could fire Alan Sugar.
- Gets terrible eczema on his helmet.
- Thinks Harper Seven (David Beckham's daughter) is a convicted terrorist cell.
- Is taken by the ancient Greeks as a god.
Some introductions have referred to current events, such as:
- "If you give him a really important job, he'll skive off and play croquet" (a reference to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott in 2006)[ep 8]
- "Has dreams about what Rubens Barrichello would look like in a ham slicer" (a reference to Barichello being faster than the Stig around the test track the week before)
- If he was getting divorced from Paul McCartney, he would have kept his stupid whining mouth shut" (a reference to McCartney's divorce with Heather Mills in 2008)
- "He always wears a helmet because a man once smashed him in the face with a model of Salisbury Cathedral" (a reference to the Silvio Berlusconi assault with an alabaster statuette of Milan Cathedral in December 2009)
- "He's banned from the town of Chichester and...in a recent late-night deal, he bought a slightly dented white Fiat Uno from the Duke of Edinburgh" (a reference to conspiracy theories surrounding the death of Princess Diana)
- "He regrets "buying his new holiday home in down-town Cairo" (a reference to the Arab Spring in early 2011)
- "He contains 47% horse" (a reference to the 2013 horse meat scandal)
- "He used to work in Rome, but gave up his job to be able to keep up with his work here" (after the Pope's retirement in early 2013)
- "On a recent trip to Cornwall, he stopped off for one of his special, big wees in Somerset" (a reference to the recent UK flooding)
- "If he had worked for CNN, he wouldn't have gotten such pitifully low ratings that his show got cancelled" (a reference to the cancellation of Piers Morgan Live)
He has been depicted as a piece of cargo, being collected by Clarkson from the baggage conveyor at the airport;[ep 9] he has also been shown stored in a cupboard when not in use.
The show has also featured the Stig's listening habits, as heard on the car stereo as he drives laps. Often a specific genre is chosen for one or more series. The Stig has been shown listening to:
- Power ballads
- One-hit wonders
- Easy listening
- Country and western
- Morse code
- Progressive rock
- Whale sounds
- Baroque music
- Advertising jingles
- Foreign language learning tapes
- Romantic audio novels
- Salesman techniques
- ABBA (in French and Spanish)
- Elton John
- Bee Gees (including, in one episode, the Bee Gees in German)
- Speeches of Margaret Thatcher
- Self-help tapes
- Pipe band music
- Chas & Dave
- National anthems
- The Archers
- Tuvan throat singing
In 2009, the Stig appeared at the National Television Awards, where he silently accepted an award and handed host Griff Rhys Jones a letter from the Top Gear hosts, which instructed Jones to give the Stig the award in his left hand, as his right one is magnetic, and cautioning organisers that he wasn't to be seated near the cast of Coronation Street, as "he's decided all northerners are edible".
In the Top Gear end credits, the Stig is credited alongside Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May as a presenter. The Stig's primary role on the show is at the Top Gear test track at the show's base at Dunsfold Aerodrome, Surrey. His two main functions are to post lap times for featured performance cars in the "Power Laps" segment, and to train celebrity guests to set lap times in the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" segment.
The Top Gear website describes the Stig's test-driving role as follows:
Every performance road car that comes to the Top Gear test track eventually ends up in the hands of our tame racing driver...He doesn't do sponsorship, excuses or post race press-conferences. He exists for one reason alone – to wring every last drop of performance out of any car he drives, giving us a definitive lap time around our demanding test track.
When first introduced, the Stig was described as the resident test driver, as the presenters could not consistently post fast times themselves. His stated mission was to "just go out there and drive fast".[ep 1] The original Stig, Perry McCarthy, described in 2006 how a racing driver was intended to be used as part of the presenting team in order to produce definitive fastest lap times for tested cars.
|The Stig (Black)|
|Top Gear character|
|Portrayed by||Perry McCarthy, occasionally others|
|First appearance||20 October 2002
(Series 1; Episode 1)
|Last appearance||26 October 2003
(Series 3; Episode 1)
McCarthy was cast as the Stig following a chance meeting with Jeremy Clarkson at the 2002 launch party for McCarthy's autobiography, Flat Out, Flat Broke: Formula 1 the Hard Way!. This led to an audition as a regular presenter, before the production team decided the racing driver would be anonymous. (Contradicting this, McCarthy said in 2008 that Clarkson had mentioned the idea of a "top secret" racing driver at their first meeting.)
After the first series ended, an article in The Sunday Mirror on 12 January 2003 named McCarthy as the Stig. The newspaper quoted a show insider as saying, "Just a handful of the crew know that he is actually Perry." McCarthy responded at the time, "I do know who the Stig is but I cannot comment any further." After the second series ended, McCarthy published the second edition of his autobiography, in which he confirmed that he was the Stig. McCarthy was then "killed off" in the first episode of the third series.
The scene which saw Black Stig "killed off," nicknamed "Top Gun vs Top Gear," was an attempt to race to 100 mph (160 km/h) and then come to a halt on the 200 metres (660 ft) long flight deck of HMS Invincible, a Royal Navy aircraft carrier on which British Aerospace Sea Harrier jump jets reach 100 mph (160 km/h) before take-off. He would be using the "old Top Gear Jag," a white Jaguar XJS bought for a "couple of hundred quid," stripped of its fittings and fitted with nitrous injection to take it to 500 bhp (370 kW). The Stig accelerated along the deck, and an on-screen speedometer indicated 109 mph (175 km/h) before a cutaway shot saw the car flying off the end of the runway ramp and into the sea. Clarkson then revealed in the last scene of the episode that a glove floating on the sea was all that divers had found. According to McCarthy, "We tried to make it as much like a scene out of James Bond as possible."
The explanations for McCarthy's exit vary. While McCarthy described the parting as amiable in 2008, The Times claimed in 2009 that he had fallen out with producers. In 2010, McCarthy said he had become tired of the job, which he claimed paid £700 a week, and that part of his annoyance stemmed from an attempt by a car owner to sue him for ruining his car and the BBC's refusal to defend him due to his anonymity. He said the BBC chose not to renew his contract and had him written out of the show.
Although McCarthy said in 2006 that, following his exit from Top Gear, he harboured ambitions of re-entering racing in the Grand Prix Masters series, he went on to run an investment company and appear as an after-dinner speaker.
According to the Sunday Times, writing in 2009, McCarthy revealed in his book that there had always been more than one Stig, and that 47-year-old Julian Bailey, a former Formula One driver, had acted as a stand-in for McCarthy. In a June 2009 interview with the Daily Mail, Bailey, who was selling his home in Effingham, Surrey, said "I was one of the Stigs ... which was pretty handy as filming was done just down the road. ... I have stopped now, but I am not supposed to talk about it."
First White Stig
|The first White Stig|
|Top Gear character|
|Portrayed by||Ben Collins, occasionally others|
|First appearance||2 November 2003
(Series 3; Episode 2)
|Last appearance||1 August 2010
(Series 15; Episode 6)
The first White Stig was introduced in November 2003, following the Black Stig's exit in the prior episode. His identity remained secret until it was revealed as Ben Collins in August 2010. During this Stig's time on the show, the character's role expanded from Power Lap times and "Reasonably Priced Car" training to include appearances in other show segments, such as producing timed runs in the Isle of Man road test;[ep 9] driving a Caterham Seven from Caterham to Knockhill;[ep 10] riding a London Bus, the DLR and the Tube across London;[ep 11] jumping a snowmobile off a ski-jump in Lillehammer, Norway;[ep 12] and playing a police pursuit driver in the White Van Man challenge.[ep 4]
Speculation over identity
Since the White Stig's debut, there was widespread speculation over his identity. Various sources claimed him to be a number of different racing drivers, including Collins, Damon Hill, Julian Bailey, Russ Swift, Darren Turner and Tim Schrick, as well as former Top Gear presenter Tiff Needell. Several people, including Hill and musician Jay Kay, claimed to be the Stig themselves. It was also speculated that the Stig was played by multiple drivers, a theory hinted at by original Stig Perry McCarthy. After observing the Stig's charity drive around the Silverstone Circuit just before the July 2008 British Grand Prix, former Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso remarked, "Whoever’s in that car is a seriously good driver. ... I’ve no idea who he is, but he’s definitely ex-F1."
In January 2009, rumours about the Stig's identity were stoked, in part by a News of the World article alleging to have discovered the Stig to be a married man in his 30s, living in a £300,000 home and driving a £15,000 car, on an income of around £150,000 from his Top Gear job and some stunt and test driving. In the same month, an art gallery owner reported that the Stig had revealed his identity to the gallery owner and his son, after contracting with them (under the guise of a BBC executive) for a series of signed and limited prints of the Stig. In the latter instance, the Stig was alleged to be Ben Collins. It was also reported that a builder doing work at Collins' home had found the Stig's trademark suit and gloves on display there. Another story, in the Daily Mail, named eight different drivers that it claimed had played the white Stig at some point. A BBC spokesman said, "We never comment on speculation as to whom or what the Stig is."
As these rumours were ongoing, the Top Gear blog published three entries on 21 January revealing the Stig to be, respectively, Damon Hill's deceased father Graham Hill; Royal Bank of Scotland chairman Sir Tom McKillop; and newly inaugurated U.S. president Barack Obama. Two days later, Clarkson joked in his newspaper column in The Sun that the Stig was BBC royal reporter Nicholas Witchell: "And now you know, I’m afraid he will have to be dropped from a Hercules transport plane and killed. Worse, because the secret is out, the Telegraph will have to find another big secret to expose. Might I suggest they look into Doctor Who’s TARDIS because I’m willing to bet it really isn’t as big inside as the BBC claim."
When Richard Hammond crashed a jet-powered car, the accident report into the crash described Ben Collins as someone "who worked closely with Top Gear as a high performance driver and consultant."
Michael Schumacher 'revealed'
On 20 June 2009, Clarkson announced in his newspaper column that the Stig would show his face in Top Gear's series thirteen premiere, airing the next day. According to Clarkson, the Stig was "fed up with newspapers speculating that he's a photocopier salesman from Bolton, or lives in a pebble-dashed house in Bristol."
The episode showed the Stig driving a black Ferrari FXX around the test track for a record-setting time of 1:10.7, before walking into the studio and sitting down. As the audience shouted "Off! Off!" the Stig removed his helmet to reveal himself as seven-time world champion F1 driver Michael Schumacher. In the subsequent interview, Schumacher exhibited some of the Stig's supposedly defining character traits, such as knowing only two facts about ducks (both "facts" being wrong).
Following the revelation, the Stig alleged to be Schumacher was shown driving the Suzuki Liana but did not set a lap time; instead, video clips showed the Stig exhibiting very poor car control, striking a camera tripod, and eventually getting lost. Clarkson closed the segment by observing that possibly, Schumacher was not truly the Stig after all. While the BBC initially would not confirm whether Schumacher's reveal was a stunt, The Telegraph reported the next day that a Top Gear spokesman confirmed Schumacher had played the Stig during the Ferrari circuit, but that "the identity of the driver at other times would remain 'a mystery'."
Ben Collins' autobiography
On 19 August 2010, it was reported that a legal dispute was developing between the BBC and publishers representing the Stig, over plans by the Stig to release an autobiography revealing his identity. A BBC spokesman said, "The BBC is in a legal dispute over the publication of a book relating to Top Gear as this breaches agreed contractual and confidentiality obligations relating to the show." The Stig was reportedly unhappy that he had been unable to profit from his Top Gear role to the same degree as the other presenters.
Around the same time, the Sunday Times claimed that financial documents for Ben Collins' company, Collins Autosport, provided evidence that he was the Stig. The Times stated that beginning a month after the White Stig's first appearance, the company had experienced an increase in profits ascribed to "driving services provided for the BBC, mainly in the Top Gear programme." Collins did not comment on this story; the BBC said it was "no surprise" as Collins had appeared several times on the show as well as provided other services.
On 23 August 2010, the BBC and the Stig's publisher, HarperCollins, appeared in court. HarperCollins confirmed that it was being sued by the BBC over the autobiography's publication, stating, "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 BBC said, "This situation has come about as a result of an attempt by an external party to profit from unauthorised use of the Top Gear brand, one of the BBC's biggest and most watched shows in the UK and around the world. As a result, it is important that the BBC does all it can to uphold confidentiality clauses that have been agreed to in relation to the show."
In a 27 August 2010 entry on the Top Gear blog, executive producer Andy Wilman attacked HarperCollins for attempting to reveal the Stig's identity: "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. ... HarperCollins have decided none of that is as important as their profits." He also clarified that half of the BBC's legal costs were being funded by BBC Worldwide, their commercial arm.
On 29 August, the Daily Mirror claimed that photos of Collins at his England home on the same day that the Stig had appeared at a Top Gear event in Germany proved that Collins had already been fired from the Stig role. When asked about the ongoing High Court action, Collins stated, "I am not allowed to talk about it."
The legal hearings continued in private on 31 August. On 1 September 2010, the case was decided against the BBC, as the High Court refused to grant an injunction blocking the publication of the autobiography now acknowledged to be authored by Collins. Collins was in court for part of that day's hearing, but neither he nor the BBC confirmed afterward that he was the Stig; a BBC spokesman said, "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. Today's 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." On 3 September 2010, the BBC News website published a profile of Collins that began: "Former Formula Three driver Ben Collins has won a legal fight to publish an autobiography in which he claims to be The Stig."
Collins' book, The Man in the White Suit, was published 16 September 2010.
Immediately following the High Court's decision, Top Gear presenter James May commented, "Obviously I'm now going to have to take some legal action of my own, because I have been the Stig for the past seven years, and I don't know who this bloke is, who's mincing around in the High Court pretending it's him." He expounded on the pretence in a newspaper column the next day, describing his dual life as the Stig and "Captain Slow."
Speculation about the future of the Stig character began immediately. On 3 September 2010, May told a radio show that the Stig would be "dealt with" in a similar manner to how the Black Stig was eliminated. On the same day, The Telegraph reported that the BBC would not be renewing Collins' contract and that Collins would be soliciting offers to star in his own programme. (A month later, he joined the show Fifth Gear for its eighteenth season; he then became a co-presenter on the Polish programme Automaniak.) On 4 September, The Sun quoted a BBC spokeswoman as saying "No decision has yet been made as to whether The Stig will be killed off." Clarkson advertised for a new driver in his 4 September newspaper column, noting the successful applicant must know that "no one, under any circumstances, should ever rat on their friends". In a 7 September interview, Clarkson said that Collins was "history as far as we are concerned. He's sacked."
Bookmakers' favourites to become the new Stig included Anthony Davidson, Damon Hill, Russ Swift, Heikki Kovalainen, and an unspecified female driver. One company The Sun reported that racing driver Phil Keen, a former stand-in for the Stig, was likely to fill the role.
On 5 November 2010, the Top Gear website released a video clip about its "Stig Farm," the end of which introduced a new Stig for the travelling stage show Top Gear Live. The video also featured a Stig attempting to write a book on a computer, and correcting one of its many mistakes with Tippex.
In the "USA Road Trip" special (debuting 21 December 2010), the presenters branded the Stig a traitor; May declared his true name to be Judas Iscariot. In a challenge mimicking a drive-by shooting, the targets used were cardboard representations of the Stig (with Hammond taking special care to shoot the Stig in the back).
During Collins' appearance with a military amputees rally team, broadcast in July 2011, he was introduced by Hammond as "ex-Stig Ben Collins." Collins returned to Top Gear in the series 18 special "50 Years of Bond Cars," where Hammond interviewed him on his work as a stunt driver in the film Skyfall. Hammond again introduced him as an ex-Stig and referred several times during the interview to Collins' departure. Collins wore a t-shirt during the interview which read "I am the Stig."
The second White Stig (current Stig)
|The second White Stig|
|Top Gear character|
|First appearance||26 December 2010
(Series 16; Episode 0)
On 26 December 2010, five days after the "USA Road Trip" special, Top Gear aired a "Middle East Special" in which the presenters re-enacted the journey of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. At the episode's conclusion, they discovered a manger bearing not Jesus, but a baby Stig.
In the season 16 premiere a month later, the presenters explained that Stigs grow very quickly, and the new Stig was thus already fully grown. Aside from a slightly different helmet and overalls, the current Stig resembles the previous Stig. In his first episode, the current Stig set a speed record around the track (1:15.1) in an Ariel Atom V8, which has since been broken by a time of 1:13.8 in the Pagani Huayra (Series 19 Episode 1). The current Stig is believed to be Gordon Shedden, a British auto racing driver. He has neither confirmed or denied that he is the Stig.
The Stig's "cousins"
Various episodes have featured "cousins" of the Stig, often when the show is filming outside the United Kingdom.
In the US Special in 2006, the show featured a portly American cousin nicknamed "Big Stig."[ep 13] He raced the presenters' cars around the Palm Beach International Raceway track. "Big Stig" should not be confused with the white Stig of the US version.
The Botswana Special featured the Stig's African cousin, with dark skin, wearing just Puma racing boots, a loincloth, white racing gloves and the iconic white helmet. He raced two of the presenters' chosen cars around an improvised rally track; Clarkson's Lancia Beta refused to start. According to the special's DVD commentary, this cousin did have experience in Formula 1 racing.
In Series 12, episode 1, "Rig Stig" made his debut, sporting a "sunburned" right sleeve and glove in reference to his supposed job as a lorry driver. He appeared powersliding a Team Oliver racing truck to show to the presenters that a lorry could drift.
There was another cousin in the Vietnam Special, although his scenes were not broadcast due to time constraints. He was nicknamed the Stig's Vietnamese/Communist cousin and wore a red uniform. The footage was however included in a later DVD release. Top Gear hired a local motorcycle stunt rider.
In Series 14, episode 2, the Stig's vegetarian cousin, nicknamed "Janet Stig Porter", appeared. He wore green overalls, Birkenstock sandals with socks, and a solar-powered helmet. He drove the presenters' "Hammerhead Eagle iThrust" hybrid around the MIRA test circuit to see how long it would last, but died from the car's diesel fumes.
In Series 15, episode 2, the Stig's German cousin, nicknamed "Herr Stig" and "Stiggy Ray Cyrus", appeared. He was almost identical to the main Stig, the main difference being a mullet haircut. He drove the presenters' cheap sports saloons around EuroSpeedway Lausitz.
In Series 18 episode 1, the Stig's Italian cousin, "Bunga-Bunga Stig", was introduced during the final leg of their Italian Road Trip at Imola Circuit. He came out of a motor-home dressed in a suit, followed by three glamorous girls, to set a lap time in a Ferrari 458 Italia.
In Series 18 episode 2, the Stig's Chinese cousin "Attack Stig" made his dramatic arrival by kung fu kicking through a door at the local race track. While in appearance he looks the same as the normal Stig, the Chinese Stig is found to be highly violent and attacks indiscriminately with martial arts. His unruly behaviour caused problems not just for the presenters but also for the Top Gear filming crew, flag bearer and a nearby track marshal, the latter of which this Stig even interrupted his timed lap of the Roewe 350 in order to attack. After the timed laps, he walked on-screen and kicked James "in the plums." His behaviour was so bad that Clarkson remarked, "that's the worst Stig we've ever had."
In Series 21 episode 1, the Stig's Teenage cousin appeared, with headphones on, a low waist line allowing his underwear to be seen and a phone he seldom stopped looking at. He drove a modern hot hatchback to set a hill run time against the presenters's classic hot hatchbacks. He also appears in advertisements promoting the mobile game Top Gear: Race The Stig.
The U.S. Top Gear, Top Gear Australia and Top Gear Russia also feature their own versions of The Stig. Top Gear Australia's Stig, when the UK-Australian "Top Gear Ashes" episode was filmed, was wheeled on, upside down in a delivery crate. Additionally, when Top Gear Australia visited New Zealand (in series 3 episode 2), they introduced their Stig's Kiwi cousin, "The Stug" (referencing New Zealand English's centralised short-"i" sound). When Top Gear U.S. drove a modified off-road racer through Colorado against a kayak, they introduced "Backwoods Stig," who wears a white racing overall with torn off sleeves. The Stigs are rarely used in the US version as presenter Tanner Foust is himself a professional racing driver.
In the DVD Top Gear: The Worst Car In The History Of The World, the Stig's Yorkshire cousin, nicknamed "T'Stig" (a reference to the Yorkshire accent), was featured. Alongside his trademark racing outfit, he had a flat cap on his helmet and two whippets by his feet. He was involved in driving a BMW around a Gymkhana course to show how it is done for when James and Jeremy attempt to do so with two of the worst American cars. He was also prompted in driving one of the worst cars that was the candidate for the title, but he fled.
In June 2008 the Stig drove a passenger in a two-seat Formula One car at speeds up to 178 mph (286 km/h) for three laps around the Silverstone Circuit in wet conditions, hours before the start of the 2008 British Grand Prix. The drive was the prize in a charity auction held in aid of Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital where the winning bidder paid £35,000 for the privilege. The Stig appeared at the October 2008 National Television Awards to accept Top Gear's third award for best factual programme, as the other presenters were ostensibly busy filming the new series. The Stig also appears at Top Gear Live events, such as the August 2010 Stunt Show at the Nürburgring in Germany, in which he is billed as the star of the show alongside the other stunt drivers and cars, with the other Top Gear presenters not playing a part. The Stig has appeared outside Top Gear in Clarkson's motoring DVDs since 2005. He also appeared before the BBC's 2011 British Grand Prix coverage when Clarkson and Hammond gave the camera crew a tour of the Top Gear studio.
In the 2011 X Games 17, the Stig can be seen walking in the background during one of Brian Deegan's interviews during Rallycross. Tanner Foust, one of the presenters of Top Gear US, was competing in the event.
Cultural impact and merchandising
The Scotsman described the Stig in 2008 as a "real-life James Bond able to tame the most powerful cars, while possessing all the mystique of Zorro." The Sunday Times in 2009 described the Stig as "not a man but an idea, possibly an extraterrestrial," speculating that, along the lines of the Spartacus mythology, the more people that were linked with the character, the stronger the mystery would become. It paid tribute for how long the show had actually kept the secret.
The question of "Who is the Stig?" has been described as one of the most-asked queries on the Internet. The Sunday Times reported that online and text-answering services rated it as one of the most popular questions of all time, along with the meaning of life.
The Stig has been notionally "spotted" in the wild in images collected for Google Street View. He was photographed by a Street View car standing on the side of the A82 road in Loch Ness, Scotland. He was also captured by a Street View tricycle in three locations within Legoland Windsor in Berkshire, including riding a go-kart and sitting on a camel. A Street View image taken from the A40 Westway of the Stig apparently standing in a window of the Top Gear office was reportedly just a cardboard cut-out.
The BBC has capitalised on the mystery behind the Stig by marketing "I AM THE STIG" T-Shirts and variants through the Top Gear shop. Other Stig merchandise has included bubble wash, pens, keyrings, soap on a rope, lunchbags and a "sonic toothbrush."
Through a partnership with Polyphony Digital, the Stig's helmet and overalls are available for virtual purchase in the videogames Gran Turismo 5 and Gran Turismo 6. Other appearances of the Stig in videogames include Forza Motorsport 4 as avatar items and in Forza Motorsport 5 in the form of racing challenges where you compete against "The Stig's Digital Cousin" one-on-one.
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