Tag Archives: plagiarism

BBC Studios and Channel 4/E4 comedy ’theft’. A plagiarist in both their houses?

Colour duplication is fully operational at the BBC in London. (Photograph by Tim Mossholder via Unsplash)

BBC Studios have become embroiled in what they are claiming is the theft both of one of their programmes and of their name by a company calling itself BBC Stewdios.

BBC Stewdios have sold a sitcom pilot idea – Stepson & Co – to E4 (part of Channel 4) about an old-man/young-man rag-and-bone man team. The show is set in the 1990s and bears some similarity to the 1960s-1970s BBC TV father-and-son sitcom Steptoe and Son, which was also about an old-man/young-man rag-and-bone man team.

However, BBC Stewdios claim their sitcom characters were independently developed by producers in their company, none of whom had ever heard of Steptoe & Son and that the setting – the 1990s – clearly distinguishes it from the BBC’s product… Steptoe and Son ran on BBC TV for around ten years.

As for any similarities in the company names, BBC Stewdios have issued a press release saying they came up with their name independently and they had not previously heard of BBC Studios. They say:


“We had obviously heard of the BBC in various contexts – the British Bathroom Company, the Berkshire Boys’ Choir

and, of course, the Blair Broadcasting Corporation based in Iowa – but not the British Broadcasting Corporation.

“Our name came about because our founder John Charles Walsham likes Irish Stew and his Spanish mother used to say it was their family’s God: thus the name Stew-Dios… and ‘BBC’ was decided on because our ideas are Big, Brassy and Creative – thus the name ‘BBC Stewdios’. 

“There is a tradition of three-letter names being used by a large range of television companies – ITV, ABC, CBS, NBC – it is the Rule of Three. We believe there is room in broadcasting for two BBCs and we see a clear distinction between BBC Stewdios and BBC Studios, just as there is room in broadcast TV for two rag-and-bone men sitcom series and we see a clear creative distinction between our Stepson & Co sitcom and the BBC’s ten-year run of Steptoe and Son shows, of which we were honestly and innocently totally unaware. 

Today’s BBC Stewdios Press Statement

“BBC Studios claim their Steptoe and Son sitcom is widely known and respected, but our producer Ken Bawdell had neither seen nor heard of Steptoe and Son.”


When contacted for comment, Ken Bawdell said: “I don’t take much interest in the broadcast television industry… They’re not nearly as important as they think they are”.

Meanwhile Carl Columbia, Controller of E4, has been quoted as saying: “Channel 4 has a statutory public service remit that it should ‘be innovative and distinctive’. We are satisfied that there has been no infringement of intellectual property by BBC Stewdios in this case and there is plenty of room in the industry for two companies called the BBC.”

A BBC Stewdios spokesperson said: “It is a case of pot-kettle-black. BBC Studios have a long-established reputation for ripping-off ideas. Anyone approached by them should expect and prepare for the worse and neither get their hopes up nor give up their day job. Sadly, it now seems necessary to give the same warning about E4 and Channel 4… #JusticeForObonjo

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The Malcolm Hardee Awards and after – President Obonjo to buy Greenland?

President Obonjo and his fearsome bodyguards attended the Malcolm Hardee Awards last night

I am in London.

The Edinburgh Fringe is, as tradition dictates, in Edinburgh.

Up in Edinburgh, the 2019 Malcolm Hardee Awards were announced and presented last night – well, this morning, because the anarchy started at midnight – in the Ballroom of The Counting House during the traditional 2-hour stage show.

The winners were – indeed still are –

Legs display their Malcolm Hardee Award to its best advantage

COMIC ORIGINALITY
Legs

CUNNING STUNT
West End Producer

ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID
President Obonjo

The Awards were classier and glitzier than in previous years because, I hear, the judges were supplied with chips during their deliberations. That never happened in previous years when dry and occasionally stale biscuits were sometimes, but not always, provided.

For American readers: ‘chips’ are French fries. (Sometimes I think George III did us a favour by getting rid of the Colonies.)

President Obonjo, who was also compering the show, arrived with a group of threatening-looking bodyguards. They remained throughout the night and ushered him on-and-off stage in case the deeply-dodgy BBC Studios or E4/Channel 4 had any pickpockets or muggers working in the vicinity.

The mysterious West End Producer

Fellow Award-winner ‘West End Producer’ arrived in his mask, wore it throughout and left in it so Mysterious Mark – organiser of the Awards on behalf of the British Comedy Guide – tells me: “We still don’t actually know who he is.”

Some of the full-house audience apparently walked out after a time, reportedly confused by the bizarreness of the acts: Tom Crosbie, Lucy Hopkins, Legs, Dragos Montenescu, Mandy Muden, Charles Quarterman, Scratch & Sniff and Twonkey.

According to judge Claire Smith, the walkouts were by a few slightly dazed people with startled looks in their eyes.

Fellow judge Kate Copstick confirmed the problem was a new Fringe app which tells people what shows are about to start nearby with the result that people turn up not knowing what the show actually is, just that it’s free.

The result last night, says Copstick was that “we got some young, slightly drunk people who mostly walked out during Twonkey’s performance”.

2016 Malcolm Hardee Award winner Twonkey apparently displayed a jaw-dropping excess of surrealism and, at one point, got thoroughly entangled in the leads of three microphones. It is unclear why he actually needed to have three microphones.

Someone who was in the audience last night tells me, though, that Twonkey managed to ignore the drunks and “pulled it around again, finishing with a blistering performance of Goat Girl – his song about a girl on a skiing holiday on ecstasy…”

Audience members try to restrain Lewis Schaffer last night

The audience contained a large smattering of other comedians including Lewis Schaffer, who may or may not have diabetes (his Fringe show is called Mr Diabetes) and who has been living for months on a diet which excludes all fruit & vegetables but includes lots of meat, some of it raw.

Claire Smith tells me: “He looks great. He has lost a lot of weight, which is good, but his breath smells horrible.”

Apparently, he has been seen around Edinburgh recently wearing a badge saying: YES, I KNOW MY BREATH STINKS.

This is, she tells me, partly because he now believes that eating no fruit or vegetables means he no longer needs to brush his teeth.

“I keep stumbling on him in Edinburgh,” Claire told me today, “crying in underpasses because he has accidentally eaten an avocado.”

Claire today also attended the other, less increasingly prestigious, comedy awards – Dave’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards – where, she reports, significant numbers of half-starved young comedians were to be seen absconding with armfuls of the free croissants. (Dave’s sponsored Comedy Awards has a higher budget than the unsponsored Malcolm Hardee Awards).

President Obonjo salutes his Million Quid win

In later developments, President Obonjo announced he was thinking of putting in a bid to the Danish government to buy Greenland now that Donald Trump is out of the running…

And the BBC posted an online link to their World Service’s Focus on Africa which acknowledged that President Obonjo was “one of the few African comedy acts well known on the UK comedy circuit” (and, indeed, for the last ten years, the ONLY deposed African President/leader character on the UK comedy circuit)… which makes the self-proclaimed ignorance of the apparent Intellectual Property thieves at BBC Studios/E4/Channel 4 even more spectacularly jaw-dropping…

BBC Studios and E4/Channel 4 had originally been shortlisted for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award “for exponentially increasing the knowledge of, and sales for, President Obonjo with their ‘appalling theft of his character'”… but, on the night, they were trounced byWest End Producer –  a man in a rubber mask.

#JusticeForObonjo

BBC World Service – President Obonjo

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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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Filed under Comedy, Magic, Television