Tag Archives: plagiarism

Thieves at BBC Studios nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Award in Edinburgh

President Obonjo – the original by ten years

As mentioned in my blog last week, BBC Studios have outrageously sold a stolen concept to Channel 4/E4 either by blatant amoral plagiarism or because of a breathtaking lack of interest in or knowledge of the current and recent UK comedy scene – a non-broadcast pilot that has clearly been based on the theft of the intellectual property of comedian Benjamin Bankole Bello – his comedy character President Obonjo.

In what could be read as a two-finger sign to BBC Studios, ‘President Obonjo’ has today made a clean sweep in nominations for the three annual Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The President Obonjo character has been nominated for Comic Originality (on the basis that the BBC have flagrantly ripped-off the basic idea)… and for the Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid Award.

I am not so sure about the latter as BBC Studios’ actions potentially have the outcome of destroying Benjamin Bello’s so-far successful ten-year career… and the cynical BBC people involved must clearly know this – they are apparently amoral, not actually stupid.

Malcolm Hardee admired cunning stunts…

Ironically, E4 and BBC Studios have been nominated in the Cunning Stunt Award category “for exponentially increasing the knowledge of, and sales for, President Obonjo with their ‘appalling theft of his character’.”

In an apparent further two-finger gesture to BBC Studios and E4, President Obonjo will be compering the traditional two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show in Edinburgh’s Counting House venue starting tomorrow at 2359 – that’s midnight.

As it is part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival, entry is free. Whether you will exit with your soul unsullied is a matter for conjecture. 

The Award nominations are:


COMIC ORIGINALITY

Legs

Sean Morley

Joz Norris

– President Obonjo

– Charles Quarterman

Jimmy Slim and Lewis Blomfield


CUNNING STUNT

– E4 & BBC Studios – for exponentially increasing the knowledge of, and sales for, President Obonjo with their “appalling theft of his character”.

– Jimmy Slim and Lewis Blomfield – for creating and distributing flyers which have scratch-card like elements on them.

– West End Producer – for releasing a poster featuring 5-star reviews appearing to be from well known critics and producers (M Billington, L Gardner, S Clapp, C Mack, Andy Webber). However, the names mentioned were actually members of the public he phoned up (eg Andy Webber is a man who lives in Bognor Regis), who gave permission for their names to be used.


ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID

– Catherine Cohen – for her force-of-nature take on millennials and their outwardly perfect, inwardly bleak lives.

– Tom Crosby – for creating a highly addictive video game and getting people hooked on it during the introduction to his show

– Sophie Duker – for being a self-aware, increasingly prominent voice of intersectionality as it changes Western culture

– Candy Gigi – for having a world class voice that could go global and showcasing it in a new musical genre

– President Obonjo – for, in future, either winning a legal battle over ownership of his character or becoming leader of the country


Malcolm Hardee’s children, Frank and Poppy Hardee, say: “One of our dad’s greatest qualities was finding and supporting new talent. This award in honour of our father will hopefully help to continue to promote new, exciting and slightly eccentric comedy acts at one of the world’s most famous comedy festivals.”

#JusticeForObonjo

 

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BBC Studios and Channel 4 risk court case by ripping-off President Obonjo…

#JusticeForObonjo !

BBC TV has a track record for simply stealing ideas.

Kate Copstick, doyenne of UK comedy critics agrees: “They do have a bit of a rep for being sticky-fingered.”

I mentioned one case in passing in a 2013 blog in which the Beeb tried to rip-off an idea the late Malcolm Hardee and I had. 

Which brings us to the current great rip-off scandal involving BBC Studios.

Monday 12th August sees a one-off event at the Edinburgh FringeAn Audience with President Obonjo: in effect, a fake press conference by the original African comedy dictator. This should be quite an event. Fur will fly.

Everyone on the UK comedy scene seems fairly gobsmacked at the utterly blatant rip-off of Benjamin Bankole Bello’s widely-known, much admired and increasingly prestigious character President Obonjo – an African military dictator adrift in the UK – which he has been building on the UK comedy circuit for the last ten years…  

The BBC have sold a non-broadcast pilot idea to E4 (part of Channel 4) featuring an African military dictator adrift in the UK but in what – on the basis of a trailer promoting it – appears to be a wildly racist lowest-common-denominator pile of steaming crap.

I am, perhaps, being too generous.

The general perception of the BBC (and, guilty by association) Channel 4 is that they are either 

  1. blatant thieves or 
  2. an amateurish shambles who don’t know anything about the live comedy industry…

When news of this rip-off first surfaced a few weeks ago, it seemed obvious that it was, indeed, a rip-off. But, as I blogged at the time, there was and is another – perhaps worse – possibility:

The (as it turned out) ironically-titled 2015 Fringe show

“If the BBC Studios Comedy team are not thieves, they are so utterly ignorant of their own area of entertainment that they should be sacked for utter laziness and for being incompetent wankers.”

When this scandal – for scandal it is – blew up, the BBC producer associated with the apparent rip-off, Ben Caudell, contacted Benjamin Bello for a meeting on 22nd July… presumably to try to smother criticism. 

He was apparently a tad surprised when Benjamin turned up with the aforementioned Kate Copstick, the most revered and arguably most fearsome comedy critic in the UK. It is not irrelevant that Copstick trained as a lawyer.

So let us be generous and presume that the BBC did not wantonly steal the idea from Benjamin. Let us assume that they are simply incompetent.

At the meeting with Benjamin Bankole Bello (remember that exact name) and Copstick – speaking in his capacity as a member of the BBC Studios Comedy team – Ben Caudell claimed never to have known about the widely-known President Obonjo character before the scandal blew up – although ‘President Obonjo’ had been performing on the live circuit over the last ten years, had staged two well-reviewed Edinburgh Fringe shows and had had multiple contacts with the BBC over a period of years. 

Ben Caudell also detailed how the BBC’s character of an African military dictator adrift in the UK had been developed separately from any knowledge of the existence of ‘President Obonjo’, an African military dictator adrift in the UK.

Interestingly, Copstick was later told by another BBC production person an entirely different story of how the BBC ‘innocently’ developed the entirely original character of an African military dictator adrift in the UK. 

A load of bull (Photo by Christian Wiediger via UnSplash)

The cynical might observe that, if you are going to tell potential porkies, at least agree beforehand on the same story. At least one (or more) of these conflicting stories has to be bollocks.

Anyway… Ben Caudell said, in his own defence, at the meeting with Copstick and Benjamin Bello (ie in front of witnesses), that “I don’t have much to do with live comedy… They’re not nearly as important as they think they are”.

This might go some way to explain how a BBC producer or a bunch of BBC producers (I believe the collective noun is ‘a bullshit’ of BBC producers) could be totally and utterly ignorant of an act which had been playing the London and UK circuit for ten years – widely known – AND had staged two well-reviewed (4-star) Edinburgh Fringe shows AND had multiple contacts with BBC TV over several years specifically about the President Obonjo character (the BBC response at that time had been: “We like what you do”).

Let us be clear that the BBC rip-off character was (allegedly) thought-up by BBC producers, progressed after discussion and development with others to the top of BBC Studios Comedy tree without anyone realising there was a President Obonjo act. Allegedly.

President Obonjo had been twice in the BBC New Comedy Awards competition with videos submitted in 2012 and 2014. The character was considered for the BBC’s own Caroline Aherne Bursary Scheme in 2018 and President Obonjo sketches were submitted to BBC3 earlier this year.

Bear in mind that the BBC’s ‘Colonel Banjoko’ character was (allegedly) created by people who had never heard of Benjamin Bankolo Bello’s original character President Obonjo. There is a striking similarity in names going on there.

I had thought Ben Caudell might have gone for the My Sweet Lord defence in which George Harrison copied I think note-for-note Ronnie Mack’s country & western song He’s So Fine but said he had not consciously copied the song: it must have got into his subconscious after hearing it.

The increasingly prestigious President at the 2017 Fringe

But, no, Ben Caudell, speaking on behalf of BBC Studios, was not saying he or anyone else had seen or heard of Benjamin Bankolo Bello’s President Obonjo character when creating their Colonel Banjoko character.

They could have said they didn’t like ‘President Obonjo’ and had been inspired to create a ‘better’ and different character.

But no. The claim was that no-one at all at any point in the development and commissioning process had ever heard of or seen the President Obonjo character… (Reminder: the previous BBC response to viewing the President Obonjo character: “We like what you do”)

So Ben Caudell suggested:

“As a gesture of goodwill, we will use best endeavours to feature President Obonjo in some way in an episode of a potential future series. This would of course be subject to broadcaster and commissioner approval.”

So no real offer of anything.

As Copstick wisely says: “As soon as they say best endeavours, they’re really not interested.”

When pushed further, Ben Caudell suggested: “How about this: to demonstrate that we really do want to acknowledge President Obonjo, why don’t we – with your permission – do a video version of your poster idea in our pilot? We’re thinking of doing a VT explaining Colonel Banjoko’s rise and fall. A photo of President Obonjo could feature in that, as the Colonel’s predecessor. How does that sound?”

Worth remembering here that it is a non-broadcast pilot which would not be screened on-air.

Last week, Kate Copstick got in touch with Karl Warner, Controller of E4, pointing out that the proposed BBC/E4 series “with its curiously, closely similar spoof African dictator will destroy (Benjamin Bello’s) act, his career and his livelihood. We met with Ben Caudell, who is producing the pilot. He gave one version of how the character came to be, since when we have been assured by someone else of another version (completely different) of how the character came to be. He (Benjamin Bello) is looking at a ten year career disappearing. Should this show be allowed to go ahead he will have nowhere to go with his character… his career… his creation.”

Karl Warner replied: “We’re satisfied that there’s been no infringement of intellectual property by BBC Studios in this case.”

Note that Channel 4’s statutory public service remit includes that it should “be innovative and distinctive.” 

I think a hollow laugh might be in order at this point.

Obviously, Copstick, I and Benjamin Bello have discussed the problem. This part of our discussion might be interesting, remembering that Copstick and I have a TV production background and Copstick trained as a lawyer:


President Obonjo and Copstick in Edinburgh

COPSTICK: Ben Caudell talked vaguely about the people upstairs. But, basically, anyone who has any power at the BBC doesn’t want to have anything to do with this and they’re just going to carry on. He can do nothing. 

The men in suits will not react, because they are so sure they are more powerful than anybody and can just wait until it all goes away. Or they will mumble something about “best endeavours”. 

There was a chance when we met him that he was actually vaguely decent and was thinking Well, maybe there’s something we can do that will keep everybody happy. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think he was just sent in there like a canary in the mine. They think it’s all going to go away.

I contacted a very prominent QC who specialises in Intellectual Property who says we have a reasonable case on several fronts. I asked to what extent could sections of the Universal Declaration of  Human Rights, as taken on by the EU’s Human Rights legislation, be used in an Intellectual Property case where the victim has kind-of shot himself in the foot because he has previously sent off ideas to a company. And, as we know, ideas are not copyrightable. 

JOHN: That’s the massive get-out clause for all broadcasters ripping-off people’s ideas.

COPSTICK: Yes. The fucker is that Benjamin sent the BBC ideas and one of them was not a chat show but, from what I’ve read of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, your rights in your own Intellectual Property are your human rights, because your Intellectual Property is seen as an extension of yourself – especially where it’s something like a character. So, even though you are fucked under UK statute law, because you sent them ideas, there is the Human Rights angle.

JOHN: What did the QC say?

COPSTICK: He said: “That’s interesting”… Given than Benjamin has been doing this character and only this character for ten years, you could argue that it is his business… It is a business he has created and a business in which there is a lot of goodwill. It is a ‘brand’ and there is a lot of goodwill. So, by doing what BBC Studios and Channel 4 are doing, they are infringing the goodwill of the brand. Which is (a) true and (b) very monetisable.

JOHN: Well, I’m not worried about a court case. I would welcome the publicity!

COPSTICK: We will fight if necessary and the embarrassment factor for them would be at absolute maximum.

JOHN: And the QC would work pro bono…

COPSTICK: Yes.

JOHN: My angle is that, even if they didn’t rip it off intentionally – which stretches credulity a bit – the only alternative explanation is that they are incompetent idiots.

COPSTICK: They are worse than incompetent idiots. They are dangerous and damaging. 

JOHN: …because they are knowingly going to destroy a career built-up over ten years…

COPSTICK: Yes. They are going to destroy a career AND… they don’t care!

JOHN: And, given that Ben Caudell is married to an actress, Diane Morgan, it’s shocking that he doesn’t care more about performers’ careers.

COPSTICK: They really don’t care and also, even if everything they say is true, then what does that say about the attitude of BBC Television Comedy to live comedy? Live comedy is only important to them as a place where they go to steal ideas.

Although Benjamin did not send them a format with the President in a talk show format, by putting AN Other President in the talk show, they have more or less stolen the character as long as there’s enough similarity between the two presidents. What they will do is change his back story.

BENJAMIN: I talked to an Intellectual Property lawyer too and one of the things that President Obonjo does is he is very prominent on social media including YouTube videos and he is talking in character. 

JOHN: You are so prominent all over the place that it is inconceivable – unless the producers at the BBC are utterly incompetent and simply not even remotely doing their job properly – that they didn’t know you existed. The only way in which they could not know you existed was if they were totally inept.

If they claim that nobody developing or commissioning comedy at BBC TV or at Channel 4 had ever heard of you, it implies nobody at BBC TV Comedy or at Channel 4 Comedy knows or cares anything about live comedy over the last couple of years, let alone the last ten years.


#JusticeForObonjo !

President Obonjo’s 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show

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BBC TV stole this character comic’s identity, making Channel 4 complicit

The one, the original – President Obonjo – cajoles, intimidates and for sure entertains his audience

In the last four days, within the cyber bubble of the UK comedy industry, there has been a shitstorm on Twitter and Facebook about BBC Studios apparently ripping off a character comedian’s long-running on-stage persona and selling a series pilot based on it to E4 (part of Channel 4).

So obviously, yesterday, I had a chat with the wronged ‘President Obonjo aka comedian Benjamin Bankole Bello (remember that exact name).

There is a certain element in this rip-off by the BBC of life imitating art.

President Obonjo Stole My Identity – at Edinburgh in 2015

In 2015, at the Edinburgh Fringe, Benjamin performed a show: President Obonjo Stole My Identity. 

“Remind me what it was about?” I asked him yesterday.

“It was about the fact I had created this character – President Obonjo – and people had forgotten about me, Benjamin Bello. Everybody just wanted President Obonjo. Even when people saw me without the uniform, they always called me President Obonjo. So the whole idea was that President Obonjo had stolen my identity.”

“And you performed that around the London circuit…”

“Yes. And around the country. And for two weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe. It got a 5-star review from Fringe Guru and 4-stars from The Wee Review.”

In an August 2015 blog from the Edinburgh Fringe, I wrote about Benjamin performing President Obonjo Stole My Identity: “He has great audience control. The character was immediately taken-to-heart by the audience. And then he takes the uniform off, becomes Benjamin Bello and analyses the nature of character comedy, wonders why the character he writes and performs is funnier than he himself is on stage… and then puts the uniform back on and becomes the character again. Loud, loud laughter.”

I myself had first blogged about the President Obonjo character when I met Benjamin at a radio show recording in Streatham in September 2014.

In November 2016, I interviewed him about his appearance in the final of the Leicester Square Theatre New Comedian of the Year competition.

In that year, he had reached the finals of seven comedy competitions and won two of them. It “has helped my profile” he told me then. 

Obonjo’s 2017 Fringe show – The Rise of a Comedy Dictator

In August 2017 I blogged, again from the Edinburgh Fringe, that his “African dictator character dominates any room and he had a “full-to-the-brim audience eating out of his hand… a tribute to his skill.”

Bear all this in mind, dear reader, in what follows. Remember almost ten years on the comedy circuit, the Edinburgh Fringe shows, the 5-star-reviews.

Last Wednesday (17th July) the Chortle comedy website reported that E4 had announced  that “Famalam and Sliced star Samson Kayo is to play a fictional African dictator” called Colonel Banjoko in a new spoof talk show.

By the next day, Chortle had contacted Benjamin Bankole Bello about the rip-off fake Africal military dictator Colonel Banjoko character (note, too, the similarity in names) because the President Obonjo character is so widely known by people in the comedy industry and is the only fake African military dictator on the comedy circuit. When reviewing President Obonjo over the years, Chortle had previously written: “It’s a great comic construct.”

The Londonist had reviewed Obonjo as having “the potential of that high-status, comedy bomb-proof kind of character.”

Fringe Guru, giving President Obonjo Stole My Identity a 5-star review, wrote: “On the face of it, it works as a well-crafted political comedy… But it’s the layers of context that really make this a fascinating, bewildering and painfully funny experience.”

When Chortle talked to Benjamin Bello last week, he told them: “E4 and BBC Studios have stolen my act… I have been developing the character President Obonjo on the comedy circuit for nearly ten years. I have carefully crafted the comedic personality of an African military dictator adrift in the UK and the similarities to the E4 pilot announced yesterday are deeply worrying… This is stealing 10 years of work.”

BBC Studios claimed their character (an African military dictator adrift in the UK) was the idea of “the BBC Studios Comedy team”.

But this is not what people in the comedy industry thought. 

President Obonjo in Streatham back in 2014

Comedian Dane Baptiste, a personal friend of actor Samson Kayo, said: “This is clearly a rip off of @realObonjo, a character that we on the circuit know and love. And we know nobody there came up with it because, well, you know…”

Comic Ignacio Lopez posted: “I saw a story about @E4Tweets’s new ‘African Dictator’ show & was about to congratulate @realObonjo, then I read it & realised it’s someone else. I find it hard to believe nobody flagged up the blatant similarities at any point during the development.”

The Wee Review website wrote of the announced E4 show: “A mad African dictator terrorising his audience for laughs? Count us in. Sounds like a great concept. In fact, we know it’s a great concept because someone’s successfully been entertaining Fringe audiences with it for years. And his name is President Obonjo… Comedy is a small world and it defies credibility that someone in a position to make or commission a TV comedy was not aware that a circuit act had been performing a very similar act for a decade. The assumption has to be they knew. And they knew they could get away with it.”

I agree. Either “the BBC Studios Comedy team” blatantly and intentionally stole the President Obonjo character thinking that they could wantonly and without consequence fuck-over a hard-working comic who does not (yet) have an agent… or “the BBC Studios Comedy team” had never heard of a widely-admired, widely-known, well-reviewed, award-winning comedy act which had been successfully playing the circuit for ten years and had appeared multiple times in full-length shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

If “the BBC Studios Comedy team” are not thieves, they are so utterly ignorant of their own area of entertainment that they should be sacked for utter laziness and for being incompetent wankers.

It is not as if the President Obonjo act was unknown to the BBC.

He was twice in the BBC New Comedy Awards competition – “I submitted my videos to them: I think it was 2012 and 2014,” Benjamin told me yesterday.

President welcomed me in London yesterday

“So they saw you in uniform in character in the videos?” I asked.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “And they acknowledged. They said: Yes, we like what you do. I also applied for the Caroline Aherne Bursary Scheme at the BBC in 2018 and I submitted sketches to BBC3 this year.”

(BBC3 is the channel which produced and transmitted Famalam, the series in which Samson Kayo starred – the same Samson Kayo who was announced as starring in the BBC Studios Obanjo rip-off series for E4.)

“The sketches you suggested to BBC3 specifically featured the President Obonjo character?” I asked.

“Yes. They just said: Come up with ideas. If you’ve got any sketch ideas, submit them to us. So I submitted ideas for the President Obonjo character.”

Given that E4 has commissioned a potentially career-destroying rip-off copy of President Obonjo’s 10-year-running character, it is worth remembering that parent company Channel 4’s statutory remit is “to deliver high-quality, innovative, alternative content”… Call me pedantic, but I do not see this statutory – I repeat statutory – remit to deliver innovative content as being the same thing as ripping-off existing, hard-working performers.

To look on the bright side of this utter shitstorm, we are one week away from the start of the Edinburgh Fringe, at which ‘President Obonjo’ unveils a new hour-long show: Goodbye Mr President… You could pay thousands to a PR guru to get publicity like this. 

I saw a work-in-progress preview of the new show two months ago and posted that the preview of Goodbye Mr President “was extraordinary and should be even more astonishing by the time it reaches Edinburgh. A tragic, true, single story which elicits natural laughs. It feels like the ideal Fringe show. Serious points being made about comedy, comedians, friendship and life. Laughs, tears, a gripping narrative and serious thoughts to take away from the venue.”

To continue looking for a twinkle of daylight among the BBC bullshit, this story of the BBC stealing President Obonjo’s identity and selling it to E4 could form the basis of a fascinating Edinburgh Fringe show by Benjamin Bello in 2020.

… MORE DETAILS OF THIS STORY IN A LATER BLOG HERE

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Edinburgh Fringe: an audience member urinates on a bag – & other extreme acts

Thoughts on performing at the Edinburgh Fringe

Thoughts of horses and fish tails perplex me

I woke at 6.10am this morning, dreaming of a horse with a fish tail.

My brain had not yet worked how the fish tail was physically connected to the horse.

It was not where the horse’s tail should be. And it was not where the horse’s legs should be.

I have no idea how this connects to events at the Edinburgh Fringe. Perhaps in its lack of any context or normal concepts of common sense. Odd things seem normal in August in Edinburgh.

Ian Fox and Spring Day in Edinburgh

Ian Fox & Spring Day shared Unsearchable laughs yesterday

Yesterday afternoon, I went to see Ian Fox’s show The Unsearchables – a ridiculously enjoyable hotch potch of bizarre photos and facts which you CANNOT find by searching on Google… in the format of an audience involvement gameshow.

It did not seem strange that someone in the audience said they knew a couple who had named all of their five sons Mark. No other forenames. All five were called Mark. And American comedian Spring Day (her real name), who lives in Japan, said that one line she wished she had never heard was when she was having an operation in a Tokyo hospital where they did not realise she understood Japanese. As the anaesthetist injected Spring just before she was about to be cut open, he said: I wonder if this will be enough?

Harriet & Miss Behave last night

Harriet & Miss Behave were game last night

Yesterday evening, I saw the Miss Behave Gameshow which involves a lovely male assistant called Harriet and which climaxed with the audience winner going into the street outside Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop and smashing a mobile phone to bits with a mallet.

This is a perfectly acceptable and normal thing to see on an Edinburgh street in August.

But are there any limits to what anyone can say or do at the Fringe?

At yesterday afternoon’s increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club, doyenne of comedy reviewers Kate Copstick told Billy Watson (the former Nob Stewart) and surreal act Mr Twonkey:

Billy Watson (left) & Mr Townkey (right) (Photograph by Kate Copstick, courtesy of Billy Watson)

Billy Watson (left) & Mr Twonkey (right) at The Grouchy Club (Photograph by Kate Copstick, courtesy of Billy Watson)

“My boundaries for what is unacceptable in comedy are pretty low. I didn’t even know I had any. The only time I have ever felt like walking out when someone told a joke that I felt was totally unacceptable was maybe 20 years ago, when I was working with Bobby Davro and I was trapped in a studio with him. One of his jokes was What turns fruit into vegetables?… AIDs.”

“That’s a great joke,” I said.

“I think it was because,” Copstick replied, “at the time, I had quite a lot of friends who were nearing the vegetative state. But, since then, I’ve not seen anything at all where I thought: Mmm. That’s not really on.

Rumour has it some thought a line was crossed at Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop a couple of nights ago when, during the late night (00.20am) show, a member of the public came in with a Just For Laughs bag and (the details I have heard are a bit hazy, depending on who tells me) somehow this eventually ended (after encouragement from Bob Slayer) with the lady urinating on her own bag on the floor.

As a result, there was a philosophical falling-out between a couple of the other hosts and Bob Slayer about what was acceptable and unacceptable.

I bumped into comedian Alexander Bennett in the street yesterday. He knew someone who was there during the incident.

“I think pretty much anything is acceptable,” I said.

Alexander faces up to old age as a young man

Alexander Bennett: the face of a self fire starter…

“I remember,” said Alexander, “seeing Adam Riches‘ show years ago and one of the best bits was when he got an audience member to spit in his mouth. The thing about that is it’s all on the performer. Nobody is risking any harm apart from the performer. Venue staff don’t have to worry about it; the audience doesn’t have to worry about it. It’s all down to the performer. The audience reaction when that happened was priceless.

“I’m all for gross-out stuff. I like the reaction. The Euuaaaghhh! reaction is very close to Ha-ha-ha… But pissing on the floor at the Bookshop… Who is suffering there? It’s kind of the venue.”

“It is Bob’s venue, though,” I said. “His gaff; his rules. He’s the one who has to clean up afterwards.”

Alexander replied: “I remember Sean Lock telling a story years ago about Johnny Vegas vomiting while he was doing his pottery and making a vase out of the vomit and puke. I think you can make anything work if the circumstances are right. The only thing to consider is Who is the victim?

“You could get a lot of money now for a Johnny Vegas puke vase,” I suggested. “Last night comedy harpist Ursula Burns told me her local church was trying to sell her scrapings from St Someone’s bones.”

Malcolm Hardee outside Grover Court in 1995

Could grains of the Real Malcolm inspire young comedians?

“Well,” said Alexander, “there’s a massive relic industry all over the world selling shavings of the saints.”

“The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee was cremated,” I said. “Perhaps we should start selling Grains of Malcolm Hardee to up-and-coming comedians.”

“Malcolm Hardee was burned?” asked Alexander. “I bet he went up fucking quickly. All that alcohol. I have always wanted to set myself on fire on stage. I want to sing Sweet Caroline and set myself on fire. There’s a bit in the lyrics about getting warm.”

“What about singing The Doors’ Light My Fire?” I asked.

“There is no art,” said Alexander, “in setting yourself on fire to a song that contains fire in the lyrics. There’s no art to that. I want to build up some romantic thing with an audience member and then have them set me on fire. I would then sing Sweet Caroline and fall backwards into a swimming pool. I like the idea of stunts being part of comedy shows. It’s that improv thing. I could set myself on fire, then get Bob Slayer to piss on me to put out the flames.”

“Too much alcohol in his blood, too,” I said. “It would be like a reverse flame thrower.”

Later, in the basement of Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop, I heard why the audience member had been encouraged to piss on her Just For Laughs bag a couple of nights ago.

One of the wonderful acts at Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop is Stompy aka The Half Naked Chef aka Richard Stamp. (There is a video of him on YouTube)

Last night, Stompy told me:

The entrance to Stompy’s maze

The entrance to Stompy’s amazing maze

“Two years ago, my company DotComedy took our maze Get Lost! to Montreal (where the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival is held). It’s an outdoor show with a 20 metre square maze with 13 performers in it. Interactive. Comedy. Fairy tale like. We did well – there were 2,000 people a day coming through the show.

“We talked about bringing the show back the next year. Just For Laughs said they couldn’t afford it. Fair enough. But then they said: We’re going to make our own one.

“I said: Well…That’s not really on, is it?

“They said: It’s not going to be anything like your maze. In fact, its just going to be an App on a phone. It won’t be a physical thing you go into.

“So I said: OK. That sounds fair enough.

“Last year, I didn’t have any friends who went to Just For Laughs, so I heard nothing more.

A pensive Stompy by the Bookshop toilets

A pensive Stompy by the Bookshop’s toilets

“This year, friends of mine started sending me pictures of this maze that’s been made. The copy is very similar. Obviously, I haven’t got the copyright on mazes. That was probably a feller in Crete. But the thing is the content of their maze is really similar to mine.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“Well,” said Stumpy, “they use a sort of card game to go round the maze. They have this spider web area. So I got in touch with them about it. I was pretty upset. I put stuff on Facebook and it got around and lots of people joined in.

“I was very annoyed with them. So then Just For Laughs got very annoyed with me and they have lots and lots of lawyers. So, a couple of weeks ago, they sent a letter to me saying they are going to sue me for Defamation of Character.”

“Can a company have a character?” I asked. “Maybe in Canada.”

“In Quebec,” said Stumpy. “Montreal. I just don’t want to go through the legal… About ten years ago, they ripped-off one of my other shows called The Misinformation Tent. They should call themselves Just For Lawyers.””

“I suggested: “The publicity you get and the bad publicity they would get… They would be damaging their own reputation far more than you ever could.”

Of such things, are Edinburgh Fringe incidents made. Like a woman pissing on a Just For Laughs bag in Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop in a late-night show.

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Magician Paul Daniels on how “Have I Got News For You” re-appeared his joke

Paul Daniels with the lovely Debbie McGee

Paul Daniels and the lovely Debbie McGee live by the Thames

Magician Paul Daniels performs at the Balham Comedy Festival next Tuesday. It is billed as “a show full of magic, comedy and amazement” with Paul and his wife – the lovely Debbie McGee.

“So your Balham thing involves a toilet?” I asked when we met this week.

“Oh, I’ll just wander on and have a chat,” he told me. “If I’m going to do an after dinner speech, for example, Debbie won’t let me write it, because I ad-lib better. I float free. I’m kind of a jazz comedian, a jazz magician. I don’t have a set route. I have this belief that, whatever happens, I’ll get out the other end.

“I have a sort of routine with the magic – it has to have a beginning, a middle and an end. But, with the beginning and middle, I can kinda drift into stuff and I don’t mind if I’m distracted or the audience wants to know something. I’ll wander off what I’m saying, but I’ll find a way back.

“In the early days, when I played the working men’s clubs, I was winning comedy awards which is long-forgotten because, when you get to the BBC, it’s all: Oh no, you’re the magician. Jokes must be edited out. 

“Of course, you always over-record a show. Louis Theroux came to interview us and stayed three months. You over-record and then edit it down. We used to over-record my TV show by about 10 minutes. But, I mean, Have I Got News For You is like a…”

“Oh God!” I said. “Don’t! I sat through one recording. It was endless. I think it took over three hours.”

“Yes. Just to find 30 minutes of something funny,” said Paul. “Which is weird, because they’ve got it all written down anyway. I mean, Punch magazine published the script once.”

“Why did you go on it?” I asked.

“Because I couldn’t figure out,” explained Paul, “why my very funny friends weren’t funny when they were on it.

“I went on and I told a good gag about Bush and Blair and the War – about having ‘wargasms’ – I said they weren’t allowed to have sex any more because of Clinton, so they had wargasms instead.

“My longest, oldest friend was sitting in the front during the recording and, when he saw the show go out, he told me: You don’t do any gags! You did loads of gags when we were there. Where were they? He was going to write and complain. He’s like that.

“I said: Oh! It’s alright… But one week later, my wargasm joke was in the show told by the presenter (Angus Deayton).”

“I’m shocked,” I said.

“Good,” said Paul. “That’s my job.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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Joke theft? Where did late UK comedian Malcolm Hardee get some of his gags?

Martin Soan prepares himself for Switzerland

Martin Soan prepares himself for Switzerland

Comedy trio The Greatest Show On Legs are playing five shows in five cities in five days in Switzerland this week. This morning, Martin Soan set off by train, laden down with props for the shows. The other two GSOL members – Steve Bowditch and Richard Ryszynski aka Dickie Richards – flew by plane. It is the best way to fly.

The late legendary comic Malcolm Hardee used to be a member of the Greatest Show On Legs. He was famous or infamous for many things as a comic, club-owner, compere and anarchic character. One was the fact that he had around six jokes which he lived on for around 20 years. Another was a set of catchphrases, most or all of them picked up from other people.

If a member of the audience left to go to the toilet during one of his shows, Malcolm would say to the audience: When he comes back… let’s all hide.

“I did that first,” laughed Martin Soan yesterday, “out of desperation and I didn’t realise it was funny until Malcolm said it. I said it at a gig The Greatest Show On Legs were doing. I can remember the stage but I can’t remember where it was, but something fucked-up. I was on-stage introducing a sketch and I think the tape machine or something fucked-up, so I was left on stage and had to fill and some guy just got up and walked off and I said: Let’s all hide before he gets back.

“I don’t know if I even got a laugh that night, but Malcolm took it on in later shows and he got laughs from it.”

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

The legendary Malcolm Hardee – pirate of many a good gag (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

One of Malcolm’s opening lines when he played a new venue (or sometimes even if he had played it lots of times) was to say:

“In show business, there’s a saying that you play (enter name of venue) twice in your career. Once on the way up. Once on the way down. (PAUSE) It’s good to be back…”

Before he left for Switzerland, Martin Soan told me Malcolm had nicked this line from comedian Ian MacPherson.

“It was Ian MacPherson’s gag and Malcolm had seen him do it,” Martin told me. “So Malcolm then goes out and does it and Ian MacPherson found out somehow. Ian MacPherson was actually really cool about it. But he rings up Malcolm and says: Hey! MaaaIcolm…  heard you did one of my gags…

“So Malcolm goes: Oh, err, well oy-oy, I.. err… I… ugh… the… I…erm… the… ugh… I… oy-oy

“And Ian MacPherson is really cool about it but he says: I want £400 for it.

“And Malcolm sent him £400 for the gag – or £200 or whatever it was. I dunno how much. But that story is the truth. And Ian MacPherson – of course – was gobsmacked.

“He’d been down to Malcolm’s club the week before and Malcolm had told him he would get paid £150 and only gave him £100 on the night. The sort of thing Malcolm usually did.

“But Malcolm paid Ian MacPherson for the gag… obviously because it was a great gag and he wanted to keep doing it forever.

“At Malcolm’s funeral, I opened the doors with the coffin behind me and I bellowed into the empty church: They say you play St Alfege’s twice in your career. Once on the way up. And once on the way down. It’s good to be back!… and then the whole procession came in and the audience filled the church.”

THERE IS MORE ABOUT THE ORIGIN OF THIS JOKE – INCLUDING IAN MACPHERSON’S VERSION OF WHAT HAPPENED – IN A BRITISH COMEDY GUIDE ARTICLE.

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Why you can do nothing if the BBC or anyone else steals your TV or film idea

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

Justice, as always, is blind in the UK

I went to a Creative England ‘crew night’ at Elstree Studios last night.

In theory, these evenings are a chance for people to sell their services – as camera people, accountants, make-up artists, prop suppliers and the rest – to producers, directors and production companies. In practice, it mostly turns out to be suppliers of such services talking to other suppliers of similar services and to recently-graduated film students while they desperately look over their shoulders for non-existent producers, directors and production company executives.

I went because Elstree Studios are at the end of my high street in Borehamwood and because I correctly guessed there would be free egg sandwiches and crisps. I am an overweight man without shame.

I got chatting to an enthusiastic young man who foolishly started talking to me because (I think) he figured anyone as old and overweight as me must be a good bet for an established figure with finance to spare.

How wrong can an enthusiastic young man be?

“I’ve got this great idea,” was his opening gambit.

Mistake Number One.

Never tell a stranger your idea. They may steal it.

If a large, established film company wants your idea, they will probably just pay you money and give you a producer credit.

If a successful, well-financed film company simply steals your idea, you can do nothing about it. They will out-finance you in any legal case and, if you abandon your case, you will be liable for their costs.

If a small film company steals your idea they may possibly, if you are lucky, give you a percentage of the film’s net profit (which will be zero), no salary and a producer credit.

If a small film company screws you and makes an unsuccessful film from your idea and you sue them, you are throwing your money away in legal costs because the film made no money and there are no profits in which you can share.

If a small film company screws you and miraculously makes a successful film from your idea, gets shedloads of money and you sue them then, again, they will simply out-finance you and, if you abandon your case, you will be liable for their costs.

If a TV company steals your idea, you are similarly screwed.

You cannot afford to sue a TV company. They will out-finance you in the legal process and, if you abandon your case, you will be liable for their costs.

Malcolm Hardee outside Grover Court in 1995

Malcolm Hardee told the man from the BBC to “Fuck off!”

Many years ago, the late Malcolm Hardee and I had an idea for a 26-part TV series. It would be made either as an independent production for the BBC or, more probably, as a BBC series with us as producers/associate producers or in some way involved and paid. We mapped out the structure and detailed series format.

We suggested our idea to the excellent and entirely trustworthy Janet Street-Porter who, at that time, was Head of Youth at BBC TV. She liked it and passed it upward to Alan Yentob who, at that time, was Controller of BBC2. He said he wanted to do it.

This was early in the year.

By autumn, the legendarily indecisive Yentob had changed his mind and decided he did not want to make the series. It may have been for budgetary reasons. Or on a whim.

But fair enough. No problem.

The idea, pretty much, had to be made as a BBC production/co-production or not at all because it partially relied on a lot of the BBC’s archive material.

About three years later (I can’t be exact) Malcolm received a phone call from someone at the BBC saying they were thinking of making a 26-part TV series and could they talk to him about putting them in touch with various people. The proposed BBC TV series had the same title as our idea, was on the same subject and had the same structure. There was no mistaking the rip-off.

Malcolm told the BBC man to fuck off and laughingly told me about the phone call. The BBC had forgotten from whom they had stolen the idea and had approached the very person they had nicked it from.

But it is not as simple as that.

Ideas are only ideas and two people can separately have an entirely original idea.

That was not the case with our idea, as the structure and even the title of the series was what we had suggested. It had been blatantly ripped-off, though it was never actually made.

Oddly, in the UK, the BBC has a worse reputation for stealing ideas than ITV, Channel 4 and the small independent producers. I suspect this is because of size.

I suspect what happened with our idea (which had been given a provisional go-ahead as a general, well-formatted idea for a BBC project but had not had any concrete work done on it) was that it had been discussed by and mentioned to various people and, three years later, someone simply plucked it from their memory without remembering or caring how it had got into their mind.

Channel 4 has fewer reasons to steal ideas

Channel 4 is less likely to steal

Channel 4 has no corporate reason to steal ideas: it commissions but does not make programmes. And, unlike the BBC and ITV, small independents (by and large) have no standing staff crews. They do not have staff instantly available for projects. They get ideas commissioned and then employ people on a project-by-project basis.

So, if you take an idea to them and you have all the contacts, knowledge and experience, they might as well bring you in as part of the production team and possibly (though rarely) cut you in on a small percentage of the money because it is easier to use your knowledge rather than employ someone who has to get to the state of knowledge you already have. Also, it is not the production company’s money; they can insert you into the production process within the budget which gets agreed by the commissioning channel; you become part of the overheads.

With the BBC, there are large numbers of staff on the payroll, so it is psychologically easier to rip-off external people’s ideas because the BBC is a vast organisation; and it is practically easier to rip you off because there are people already on the ongoing BBC payroll who can get together all the facts, contacts and research required.

It is easier to screw you and the person screwing you will probably not even be the person you gave your idea to.

It will be their boss or their boss’s boss or another producer who heard the idea from another producer who heard it from the secretary of the person you originally told.

So…

– There is simple theft of an idea.

– There is second-hand theft of an idea.

– There are cases where people have genuinely forgotten they heard the idea from someone else and think it is their own new idea.

– And there are cases where two unconnected people have simply come up with exactly the same idea because it is a concept whose time has come.

Whatever.

You can send manuscripts, plot outlines, formats and everything to yourself or your solicitor in strongly sealed envelopes by registered post and not open them when you receive them – thus being able to prove that you had a specific idea in detail on a specific date…

But, by and large, if a TV or film company or a producer decides to rip off your idea, there is nothing you can do about it unless you win the Lottery.

So it goes.

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