The identity of the original "Black" Stig, Perry McCarthy, was exposed by a Sunday newspaper in January 2003, and confirmed by McCarthy later that year. The black-suited Stig was subsequently "killed off" that October in the series 3 premiere, and replaced in the following episode by a new White Stig who lasted through to the end of series 15.
In series 13 episode 1, the show jokingly unmasked the Stig as seven-time world champion F1 driver Michael Schumacher. In the hiatus following series 15, racing driver Ben Collins was revealed to be the Stig in a court battle over Collins' impending autobiography, titled The Man in the White Suit. In series 16, debuting in December 2010, Collins was replaced by a second White Stig, whose identity has so far remained secret.
The idea for the character was part of former host Jeremy Clarkson's and producer Andy Wilman's concept for the relaunched Top Gear show, bringing a new format to the original version of Top Gear which ceased production in 2001. The relaunched show introduced a live studio audience, the Stig, a racetrack, and madcap stunts. Clarkson is credited by the Sunday Times with having come up with the original idea for the Stig.
Clarkson and Wilman wanted to have a professional racing driver as part of the show's cast, but ran into difficulty finding a driver sufficiently adept at speaking on-camera. Clarkson then asked Wilman why the driver needed to speak at all, and they decided that the Stig's role would be silent.
The name Stig derives from Wilman and Clarkson's time at Repton School, where new boys had always been called "Stig". According to the original Stig, Perry McCarthy, speaking in 2006, the producers had wanted the anonymous driver to be called 'The Gimp', referring to the use of gimp suits in BDSM sexual role-playing. After McCarthy objected, they settled upon the name Stig. McCarthy had said of the idea at the time that "I don't want to be forever remembered as the Gimp".