In the wake of all the recent furore over Ben Collins' self-unveiling as The Stig from cult BBC motoring show Top Gear, the original Stig, one Perry McCarthy Esq, has spoken exclusively to to tell the Beeb to 'pull their socks up' with regard to just how much money the so-called 'tame racing driver' should be paid - and sought to set a few records straight at the same time.

Last month, the BBC failed in its bid to gain a High Court injunction against the publication of Collins' revealing memoirs, The Man in the White Suit, and the single-seater turned sportscar ace has since gone on to speak out against the corporation for trying to 'bully' him into cancelling the book and paying him comparative peanuts for his enforced and increasingly difficult-to-maintain anonymity whilst his co-presenters and producers were at the same time raking in 'millions from merchandising' [see separate story - click here].

Top Gear's famously outspoken lead presenter Jeremy Clarkson has retorted by angrily describing Collins as a 'greedy tw*t' [see separate story - click here], but McCarthy - who played the role of the initial Black Stig from 2002 to 2003 - reckons there is no smoke without fire, and contends that his successor was likely somewhat hard done-by.

"It's always a difficult balance, it really is," mused the irrepressible former grand prix ace. "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. [In 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 the other one.."

Quipping that his recurrent highlight from his stint on the show was 'sitting next to Jodie Kidd', McCarthy went on to correct a common misperception that he, like Collins, 'outed' himself from the role in his own autobiography, Flat-Out, Flat Broke. It was very much, he insists, a mutual decision - and one that pre-dated the launch of his entertaining book.

"It just keeps being written, and I'm really getting fed up with it!" the 49-year-old underlined. "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.

"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]. If I put my hand out and shake it, that's how it stays.

"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 Jeremy, Richard [Hammond] and James [May] 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."

As to suggestions that Top Gear might have been damaged by the very public row over The Stig's identity, McCarthy suggests the waters will soon calm once more - and that another re-invention will come along to perpetuate the myth of arguably the programme's most popular star.

"I think it'll recover - people have short memories," he opined. "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."

As to the speculation, finally, that Jonathan Legard's place alongside Martin Brundle in the BBC F1 commentary box may be under threat for 2011, McCarthy quipped that whilst it is a challenge he would happily take on, he knows who he would tip as the right man for the job.

"If [Legard] does go, I'd say Ben Edwards really," he mused. "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, so...[puts on a Catherine Tate voice] whatever!"