Top Gear’s original Stig, Perry McCarthy, has entered into the ongoing debate centred around the unveiling of the second Stig’s identity and sacking from the show in the wake of the masked driver – since confirmed to be Ben Collins – being sacked from the show after the BBC lost its injunction to block the publication of his autobiography.
Speaking exclusively with Crash.net, the one-time F1 driver (pictured) told the BBC to “pull their socks up” with regards to just how much the show’s ‘tame racing driver’ should earn for fulfilling the role.
McCarthy also discussed the ongoing rumours that BBC F1 commentator might get the sack at the end of the season, and offers his suggestions as to who could fill the vacancy…
The network failed in its bid for a High Court injunction to block the publication of Collins’ memoir, The Man in the White Suit – which we will review in the coming days – and Collins has in turn spoken out with allegations that he was poorly paid and bullied into cancelling the book.
Much of Collins’ dissatisfaction stemmed from his relative income in comparison to the retainers paid to the show’s three co-hosts, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, and that his enforced anonymity was proving increasingly difficult to keep a secret. The principal trio earned in the millions each year, particularly on the back of the show’s considerable merchandising.
In turn, Clarkson went on the record in a webcast interview, and blasted Collins’ alleged greed and lack of professionalism.
However, McCarthy – who played the role of the original ‘Black’ Stig in 2002-3 – has suggested that his successor may have had some grounds to complain.
“It’s always a difficult balance, it really is,” McCarthy said. “For me personally, the BBC should pay The Stig a lot of money. I would say that, but even on the other Stig’s behalf, I would say it for him, because they are paying for anonymity. The Stig is a big source of income for the BBC with regard to all the merchandising it has, and it’s also a key element in a show that is sold internationally – and again, that is a fantastic income-driver.
“To keep The Stig quiet is an important part of the show, and needing someone who can pedal pretty well should be worth a lot more money than they’re paying – and then they scream in pain when it’s released. I think they need to pull their socks up a little bit on this one, because the other presenters are being paid terribly well.
“Top Gear was good fun for me. I enjoyed it; it was an extension of what I’ve always done, which is driving cars round a track. Most of the time I was just testing the cars and then I’d have the ‘Star in a Reasonably-Priced car’ bit to deal with. It was fun meeting some of the celebrities I didn’t know – that was good – but it was a job, and it wasn’t the best job in the world for me as some people think it is, because I had the luxury of driving very, very fast racing cars for most of my career. [Towards the end] it was just going nowhere for me – it was a lot better being ex-Stig than current Stig. I seem to have worked that out a bit quicker than [Collins].”
Yet again, McCarthy also set about trying to correct a frequently reported misconception that he unveiled his identity when he released his own autobiography, Flat Out, Flat Broke (which we have reviewed here). Interestingly, this is a story which Collins himself pedals in his memoir, in spite of McCarthy’s claims that the truth was quite the opposite!
“It just keeps being written, and I’m really getting fed up with it!” the former F1 driver said. “Every time a Stig story comes out, at the base of the story it says the first Stig, Perry McCarthy, was fired for releasing his identity in his autobiography. Well, the actual thing is that my autobiography was launched in 2002.”
McCarthy’s autobiography actually makes no reference to his role as The Stig, with a reprinted edition (released long after he left the show) only picturing him in the black overalls and helmet costume on the cover.
“Jeremy was there at the book launch and we all had a great time, but he then told me they were bringing Top Gear back to the screen and they had an idea for me, and they were talking about the secret racing driver. I then did the first two series’, but there were certain things that weren’t working out for me – I was racing for Audi at the time, I was pretty busy and I wasn’t particularly happy with BBC money, and I’m fairly vocal about that kind of thing!
“After I left, three months later we launched a repeat of my book Flat-Out, Flat Broke, only this time it made mention of The Stig – but I’d already been ‘outed ‘at the end of the first series by the News of the World. People were writing about me being The Stig during the second series, so I wasn’t the one who released [the information].
“I like Jeremy very much – I’m a great admirer of his, I think he’s God’s gift to broadcasting and is just a brilliant journalist. It was fun working with them, and I’m really pleased that [the hosts] are carrying on with the show and having a good time. It’s a really popular show, and I think they do a terrific job, I really do. I’m really proud to have been associated with it.”
And as for claims that the show’s image will have been damaged in the wake of the very public spat with Collin, McCarthy suggests that fans of the show will get over it pretty quickly.
“People have short memories,” he said. “They’ll bring out Silver Stig or whatever! I hope they’ll continue with the idea, because it’s now got a global brand attached to it. I think they like it, and if they juice it up saying ‘and this time, nobody’s ever going to find out’, people always want to know what they can’t know and people always want to get what they can’t get, don’t they?
“I think the format is right there, and okay, it may have looked bad on certain parties at Top Gear for a little while, but as long as they can keep providing an entertaining and fresh format for the show so it retains its viewership, then I think it’ll be okay.”
With respect to the speculation that Jonathan Legard’s role as partner to Martin Brundle in the network’s F1 commentary booth could soon come to an end, McCarthy didn’t exactly refuse an opportunity to take on the role himself, but did suggest an alternative man for the job.
“If [Legard] does go, I’d say Ben Edwards really,” he pondered. “Ben is the absolute logical choice – he does a really good job, he’s very knowledgeable and I think he’d gel well with Martin. He’d be my choice.
“You thought I was going to say me, didn’t you?! I do have an opinion on pretty much everything that happens in grands prix so I guess I’d have fun, and Martin’s a good mate of mine, but nobody’s given me a call or talked to me about it.”