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What's the Stig matter? BBC loses its challenge to keep the Top Gear driver masked

Left: Ben Collins as the Stig. Right: Ben Collins unmasked

So now all you gearheads can sleep more soundly tonight, safe in the knowledge that Ben Collins has been unmasked as the Stig. (The rest of us will let out a collective mumble of ''The Who?'' and go back to driving our 15-year-old Toyotas.)

The Stig is the dude on the popular car-review TV show Top Gear who drives really fast while disguised as an Apollo-era astronaut. His identity has been a long-hidden secret, and the BBC, the anxious goose that sits on Top Gear's golden egg, had wanted to keep it that way. Nice way of boosting freedom of expression there, BBC.

The BBC had gone all the way to Britain's High Court to suppress Collins's upcoming memoir, which would of course have pulled the helmet off Britain's most enigmatic driver of cars that go silly-fast. Today the public broadcaster lost its challenge, and the world can know now for certain that the Stig is, indeed, Bristol-born race driver Collins. Now if only we could find Jimmy Hoffa ….

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It's a bit of good news for British book publishers, who often find themselves on the receiving end of injunctions, thanks to privacy-friendly courtroom decisions. Jude Law recently won his battle to get his ex Sadie Frost to cut from her memoir bits that he found unsavoury (as well as pictures of their children). And Andrew Morton's biography of Angelina Jolie wasn't even published in Britain, which he attributes not to Jolie's powers to cast hexes across oceans, but to ''the Ice Age of libel chill,'' which he recently claimed, in a Sunday Times article, is freezing the blood of British publishers. (I'd post the link but it's frozen behind a pay wall.)

As I've written before, London is not-so-fondly known to writers as ''the town called sue,'' although the new coalition government promised, just after its election, to review libel laws.

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