Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Stig and breach of confidence

When I hear the name Stig, it brings back memories of Stig of the Dump, which only goes to show how old I am. Although it is a common enough Scandinavian forename, to me it is inextricably linked with dumps - not a great connotation. For whatever reason, the makers of BBC's unaccountably popular programme Top Gear chose it as the designation of the anonymous racing driver who features in the show. Now he (the real driver, that is) is writing his autobiography, and the BBC is trying to stop it from being published. The title of this post links to to the story on the BBC website.

It strikes me as a very unedifying dispute for several reasons - but presumably the legal analysis is simple enough: the contract surely contained a confidentiality clause, as secrecy lies at the heart of the whole scheme. If it doesn't, it must surely be implied, or an equitable obligation must exist. But there's another twist to it.

The Stig's identity appears to be widely suspected, because it is laid almost bare in the annual return of a company owned by a certain (far from household name) racing driver. Presumably this is one of those companies set up to hire out the individual concerned, who is under an exclusive contract to his company. In which case, presumably the BBC contracted with the company not the individual - indeed, if it were otherwise there would be no disclosure of dealings with the BBC in the company's accounts. It is hard to imagine that obligations of confidentiality would not be imposed on the company and the driver, but didn't the BBC see a public filing of the company's accounts and its directors' report coming? Now, I don't think there's anything in company law that requires the amount of detail that seems to have been disclosed, so that in itself ought to be a breach of confidence: but the BBC say that the programme and that company have lots of dealings anyway.

The BBC's report presents this not so much as a breach of confidence and of contract, but an attempt to take advantage of the reputation attaching to the Top Gear brand - a very modern analysis, I think, to emphasise the brand above other matters, and not a particularly convincing one.

All in all, a very strange affair - perhaps more will be revealed one day.

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