In response to 'revelations' by British newspapers that the true identity of Top Gear's iconic Stig is former single-seater and sportscar racer Ben Collins, the BBC has claimed that there is not in fact just one Stig - but actually four.

The Stig is the much-loved, part-man, part-machine star of the cult Jerermy Clarkson-presented motoring TV programme, but his identity has always been carefully preserved by the show's producers, with a perennial white racing suit and helmet and impenetrable black visor hiding his features. The original 'Black Stig' was killed off after just 22 episodes at the beginning of series three in late 2003, when sometime Formula 1 ace Perry McCarthy admitted that he was the man behind the mask.

The Stig tutors celebrities for Top Gear's regular 'Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car' feature, and earlier this week it was widely published that his role is currently assumed by Collins, now a stunt car and development driver who doubled for Daniel Craig in the latest James Bond movie Quantum of Solace [see separate story - click here].

According to the Daily Mail, however, a different man - referred to only as 'Will' - who the Beeb claimed to be the Stig was photographed attending the National Television Awards at the Royal Albert Hall in London in October last year, subsequently driving to the Top Gear headquarters. The newspaper states that after changing, the Stig was seen leaving the building clad in a tight-fitting 'Arai' motor-racing woolly hat to hide his face and a T-shirt proclaiming, with some irony, 'I Am The Stig'.

The name of former grand prix and touring car star Julian Bailey has also been mooted, as have those of 1996 F1 World Champion Damon Hill and even car-mad Jamiroquai lead singer Jay Kay. The BBC, however, is adamant that the truth will never be known.

"Look at the pictures of the Stigs from show to show," a source from Auntie told the Mail. "If you look at the height of Stig in different pictures, that tells its own story. In some he looks a lot taller than others.

"People have become obsessed with finding who the Stig is. but they have not considered that it is possible that it is more than one person. The simple fact of the matter is that there are currently four Stigs who drive on the test track. Since the Stig first drove on the show, it has never been practical to have one single driver taking care of all the Stig's many commitments.

"All the kids that come to meet the Stig want to believe he is a robot with magnetic knees. We love to have the mystery around who he is. I just wish people would give it a rest, though - it's like telling people there is no Father Christmas!"

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