Tag Archives: programme

How BBC TV forgot the person they stole a comedy series idea from

Malcolm Hardee - he never got a BBC TV series

Malcolm Hardee: Was it his original idea?

My blog yesterday mentioned Sean Brightman’s excellent tumblr pages The Alternative Alphabet.

He is quite rightly thinking of developing this idea of an A-Z of Alternative Comedy. But I have a cautionary tale for him.

At the end of the 1980s, the comedian Malcolm Hardee and I submitted an idea to Janet Street-Porter, who was then Head of Youth & Entertainment Features at BBC TV and who knew and liked Malcolm.

The idea was for a 26-part factual series titled The A-Z of Comedy. Each programme, based round a single letter of the alphabet, would include pieces on people, places and subjects, both current and past. We pitched it to the BBC because only they had such a vast visual library to draw on.

We submitted a detailed outline of the series, episode-by-episode, with a breakdown of the specific subjects in each episode.

Each episode had a balance between old and new, between recordings and newly-shot material, between people and programme clips and themes.

Janet Street-Porter was interested and submitted it to BBC2 Controller Alan Yentob, who thought about it for a while and then okayed it.

But about six months later the BBC, going through their potential projects again, decided not to go ahead with it.

Fair enough.

Fast forward a couple of years.

Malcolm Hardee gets a phone call from someone at the BBC – he is not clear if it’s a producer or a researcher – saying they are thinking of making a series called The A-Z of Comedy. It would look at various people, places and subjects, both current and past.

Malcolm often got calls from TV people wanting to plunder his encyclopaedic brain about various ideas and his contacts book for various people. They almost never paid him for any of this advice. It was a cheap and fast way to research a programme.

In this case, he said he could not help them… and then phoned me up, more bemused than angry, to tell me they had nicked our idea.

I do not know if they had stolen idea. I did not take the phone call. Malcolm reckoned they had had our programme outline lying around for a couple of years and just nicked the idea, forgetting who had originally suggested it.

Maybe they did. Indeed, I presume they did – the BBC at that time had a track record of stealing ideas.

Shit happens.

But maybe they didn’t.

It was just an idea – though beefed-up in detail in our submission.

And ideas cannot be copyrighted – only scripted formats.

Although it was our idea, it was hardly original. Indeed, Malcolm and I got our idea by distantly remembering an old TV series Alan Melville’s A to Z (on various subjects) which the BBC screened in the late-1950s.

The A-Z of Comedy is one of those ideas which lots of people will independently come up with at various times. The trick in our case was in the balancing of the various elements and in having Malcolm present it.

Basically, the truth is that, if a large company or corporation rips you off, there is nothing you can do about it. They can afford to out-finance you if you were ever stupid enough to take them to court.

And, no…

BBC TV never made the A-Z of Comedy series. Like many other ideas, including ours, it merely melted away like ice cream stains or grains of cocaine on TV executives’ desks.

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The golden age of British TV shows included a woman dusting things

In the imagined golden olden days of British independent television, ITV was actually a loosely-linked collection of regional companies with some programmes transmitted locally, some fully-networked and some partly-networked.

As a result, there were some occasionally odd programmes on air.

Keith Martin presenting at Anglia TV

Keith Martin presenting at Anglia TV

Yesterday, I was talking to Keith Martin who worked, it seemed, almost everywhere as a freelance announcer and presenter. He worked on pirate ship Radio Caroline, for the BBC Forces’ broadcaster and for, among many other ITV stations, ABC, Anglia, ATV, HTV, LWT and Thames.

“I remember,” I told him, “writing introductions for Houseparty in, I guess, the 1970s. That was just housewives sitting around randomly talking with no script.”

“Well,” said Keith, “that was a Southern Television production and was a forerunner and far more entertaining than the current Loose Women on ITV, which is done in a stationary way with a row of delightful ladies just gossiping.”

Houeparty - just women chatting

Houseparty from Southern TV – women chatting randomly

“I seem to remember,” I said, “in Houseparty, there would be a ding-dong on the door bell and someone would come into a living room which had been built in the studio.”

“It had this vast kitchen,” remembered Keith. “I suppose you could have called it a farmhouse kitchen. The programme wasn’t networked to all the ITV regions, but Anglia TV certainly took it – it was probably cheap.”

“How did you introduce Houseparty at Anglia?” I asked, “Because you never had any idea what they were going to be chatting about.”

“Most of the opening station idents in front of the programmes,” Keith reminded me, “had noises – little bits of music which someone got paid repeat fees on – but this particular programme had a silent ident, probably because Southern never thought it was worthy of even a harp being plucked. The ident used to come in silently, just like the Granada symbol.” (Granada allegedly had a silent logo to avoid paying for music.)

“When I was at Anglia,” said Keith, “I always made a point of talking over the opening logo because the programme always opened up with these women gossiping about something or other. So I would just say something like Oh, that’s not true! It can’t possibly be true! and then the sound would mix into their gossip and, a lot of the time, it made sense and it was hysterical. The engineers out the back would yell: Perfect! Perfect!”

In the 1960s, this was a TV star

A UK star with its own TV show in the 1960s…

“Who broadcast the feather duster?” I asked him.

“Oh, that was an ABC Television series,” he told me. “I don’t think it lasted very long because I suspect (the ITV regulatory body) the ITA didn’t think it was meaningful enough.

“It was just popular records playing with this woman talking occasionally to camera and she would do the housework while the record was playing. She was doing feather dustering around the house. And this was on television! I’m surprised it’s not been brought back.”

“This programme lasted half an hour?” I asked.

“Oh, at least half an hour,” said Keith. “And it was live.”

“What sort of year was this?” I asked.

“Some time in the 1960s,” said Keith. “The thing was you could tune into these programmes, switch them on and you could hear ‘popular records’ being played on television. Associated-Rediffusion did something very similar with Kent Walton (who went on to be a wrestling commentator). That was dancing and prancing. It was an excuse to play ‘gramophone records’ and the visuals were young people dancing and prancing around in the studio. Cool For Cats, it was called.

“It was all carefully rehearsed as, I’m sure, the dusting programme itself was so that, by the time the music finished, you would only have got to a particular point in the dusting, otherwise you would be dusting the same doorknob again.”

“What did the woman with the duster say?” I asked.

“Please!” replied Keith. “I’m old, but I’m not that old. I saw it as a child. How I saw it I don’t know. It would have been networked to the Midlands and the whole of the North of England.”

Ah! The golden days of television, before everything was dumbed down.

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Jimmy Savile: The birth of a paedophile hoax on “Have I Got News For You”

Jimmy Savile – the truth?

Late tonight, ITV1 are broadcasting their much-publicised Exposure programme on The Other Side of Jimmy Savile. They are mad. They should schedule it in peak time.

A couple of days ago in this blog, I posted an alleged transcript of the un-broadcast sections of a BBC TV Have I Got News For You episode in which Jimmy Savile appeared. At the bottom of the transcript, I revealed that it was a 1999 hoax.

The reason the hoax has been believed by many over the twelve years since it first appeared is partly because it was built on (as it has turned out) well-founded rumours.

But also because it was so well-written.

So who wrote it and why?

Comedian Richard Herring, who knows most things, told me it was some people calling themselves SOTCAA and, indeed, it was. Two of them.

Around 2005, when they were writing on the Cookd and Bombd forum, they were calling themselves ‘Alan Strang’ and ‘Emergency Lalla Ward Ten’.

Now I’m told I should call them Joseph Champniss and Mike Scott.

“At the time this all took place,” Joseph Champniss told me yesterday, “SOTCAA was hosted by NotBBC.

“Sometime in 1999, we started pondering on how affected stories get attached to ‘classic’ shows and films over the years which go down well in pub conversations but also blur any kind of factual coverage – stuff like the rushes of The Wicker Man being buried under the M4 motorway and so on.

“On the other hand, some of the bits we’d gathered for Edit News etc, seemed a tad on the unbelievable side – such as Paul McCartney getting his nob out in Magical Mystery Tour. So we decided it would be fun to stick some obviously fake stuff on the site, just to see whether or not people would actually question it. Part of the site’s remit was to get comedy fans questioning the media, refusing to accept everything at face value.

“Faking some Have I Got News For You out-takes was originally going to be part of that initial plan. We probably decided on it after watching the Unbroadcastable Have I Got News video, which itself features rushes material… but mainly because we enjoy the idea of rushes per se.

“The original idea was to stick the page on the site in Hidden Archive and see if anyone noticed/cared. Emergency Lalla Ward went off and wrote the actual page – based on a tape of the broadcast itself. If you watch the show in tandem with the fakery you’ll note that he’s specifically ‘filled in’ stuff where there was an obvious edit-point. However, this was really only ever a first draft. Something to build on and re-write later in a less obvious/explosive fashion.

“What with everything else we were hurriedly completing for the site at the time, the story gets a bit blurred from this point on. We definitely sent it down to Rob the webmaster along with all the other finished pages so that he could turn it into a website. At this point, SOTCAA was just a bunch of Word documents with pictures attached. Rob then sent the results back to us on a disc so we could see how the thing looked, design-wise. The Have I Got News For You page stood out like a sore thumb. Far too obvious a fake, we thought.

“I remember us getting together with Rob at the Hen & Chickens, Islington, to ponder on what – if anything – to do with it. Maybe the rewrite as planned, or something similar. Until we decided on what to do, Rob commented out the link on the Hidden Archive index page so that it was only visible to people viewing the source code. This brings us up to March 2000, when the site first went live.

“At some point during all of this, one of us came up with the alternate idea of leaking the unedited piece to Matthew Wright (then writing a column for the Daily Mirror) to see if he’d fall for it. April 1st was coming up, so it seemed like as good a time as any for a hoax.

“The idea was to contact Wright anonymously, point him towards the page, mention that it had been ‘hidden’ and then run away laughing, hoping that he’d fall for it and include some sort of reference to it on his gossip page. If successful, we would have then replaced the page with a great big ‘April Fool’ sign, and published the transcript in full with suitable amendments referencing this.

“But that idea came and went, as did April Fools Day, and we just forgot all about it – until June when an anonymous forum dweller discovered the link.”

Co-hoaxer Mike Scott says: “I was annoyed when the script leaked because it was a rough draft in dire need of roughening up. I thought it’d never fool anyone unless it was toned down a bit. I heard that Paul Merton was infuriated by it, which disappointed me at the time.”

“Amusingly,” says Joseph Champniss, “the publication resulted in something similar to what we’d planned, albeit via a more scenic route. It certainly wasn’t a planned forum-leak. Had we realised beforehand what was going to happen, we would have removed the credit from the base of the page! We probably should have put a stop to it sooner, but all three of us were fascinated – and not a little excited – about how far it could conceivably go.

“We found out for sure a bit later when solicitors, apparently acting on behalf of Sir James Savile OBE, managed to close down the site pending an enquiry re libel, defamation of character etc etc. As webmaster, Rob was required to write a legally-binding letter in hardcopy pointing out that the script in question had never actually been ‘officially’ published on the site (and that we had no plans to publish it in the future) before the ban could be lifted.”

One reason why I thought the fake transcript was so convincing was because, I assumed, the people who wrote it were TV insiders. But I was wrong. Appearances can be deceptive.

“We were just very keen comedy fans,” Joseph Champniss told me yesterday, “with a particular fondness for out-takes and the underside of what gets broadcast and what doesn’t. I’m an illustrator/designer – I did a few bits for Lee and Herring‘s TV shows, such as designing the puppet crows on This Morning With Richard Not Judy. That’s the extent of my TV production background! We also did the sleeve notes on the recent Fist of Fun DVD releases.”

“The fake transcript is very impressive,” I told him.

“Well,” he replied, “a quick quote (from memory) is that Victor Lewis-Smith told us: If it was you (and I never believe anything hoaxers say) then you should be doing more of it! It was all over Fleet Street. They were onto Merton. They were onto me. A friend cornered Chris Morris at a Fall music gig later that year and asked him what he thought of it. Funniest thing I’ve read all year, is the quote we still use occasionally!”

In July 2000 Lucy Rouse, editor of the TV trade magazine Broadcast, wrote a piece in the Guardian, saying:

You may have recently come across an email, which has been doing the rounds for the last week or so. It purports to be a transcript of out-takes from one of last year’s episodes of BBC2’s Have I Got News for You, featuring Sir Jimmy Saville.

With it goes just about every lesson you ever needed to learn about the perils of the electronic revolution: anything goes if it’s in electronic form but you really shouldn’t treat every email you read as gospel.

TV producers could never be accused of telling the truth, relying, as they do, on a whole series of out-takes before they hit on a version of events they’re happy to broadcast. And this seems to have been the case with this particular episode of Have I Got News.

The supposed out-takes are said to have come from sources close to the producers and were being widely circulated over the internet at the end of last week.

Paul Merton is always a man to push the televisual boundaries of libel laws as far as they will stretch but the transcript went a lot further than anything you would have seen on the show. The trouble is – according to sources – a huge chunk of the middle section of the email is fabricated.

In one particularly terse exchange appearing in the “transcript”, for example, Merton supposedly attacks Saville about his personal hygiene. In another, the comedian seemingly loses the plot completely and launches into an incoherent rant before being asked by a rattled Angus Deayton if he wants to stop the recording.

It may have been a piece of fiction, but it made an afternoon wading through 112 messages in Outlook a lot more amusing than it might otherwise have been.

“What’s it like?” I asked Joseph Champniss yesterday: “Your comic insinuations being proved to have been right thirteen years later?”

“Well, they weren’t ‘our’ insinuations in the first place,” he replied. “Those stories did the rounds for years – the Louis Theroux show covered it far more publically! So there’s no sense of ‘we told you so’ here. We heard other stories off the back of the transcript a bit later. One quote – from someone whose name I can’t even begin to recall – went Good effort, my dears, but Jimmy liked boys not girls! Some of the recent press stories suggest that this may be true also. Maybe I’m just bitter because Jimmy Savile never replied to my letter to Jim’ll Fix It for me to meet Kenny Everett back in 1981…!

“As for the ability to con readers after all these years… It’s odd… It’s doubtful this particular spoof could have been created – and spread so far – at any subsequent point in the internet’s history. It was in 1999 – pre-YouTube. These days, the first question would be So where’s the footage then? To be fair, even back then, a few people were saying So where’s the Real Audio of the soundtrack? But it was perfectly plausible back in the days of dial-up that a text transcript would be the most convenient medium for disclosing such information. I suspect the main reason it’s lingered so long on the net is that the links usually take people back to that little archived text-file page on Zetnet… A more innocent age.”

“Years ago,” says Mike Scott. “in one of our sillier moods, we had the idea of sending out a press release saying that Linehan and Mathews were working on a fourth series of Father Ted, sans Dermot Morgan (who died in 1998), to be called Father Dead. We wrote a fake script page and everything. Nowadays this would have been identified as a hoax almost immediately but, back in 1999, we felt there was a small air-pocket of reality in which this was ‘just about’ plausible. It would depend on where you heard the news.”

“By the way,” Joseph Champniss told me yesterday, “I’ve been reading a few more recent discussion threads which insist that we erroneously claimed that Jimmy Savile was a guest on Paul Merton’s team rather than Ian Hislop’s and that this proved that it was a hoax. The intro to the Zetnet page certainly claims that. But that intro was added by whoever uploaded it there. I think our original page just said Some out-takes from a recent episode. The fact that we spelt Savile’s surname incorrectly (as Saville) was never commented on, mind you!”

Fakery is an interesting topic and widespread, though faking something does not necessarily mean it is untrue. For example, you may have assumed from the above that yesterday I talked to Joseph Champniss and Mike Scott.

I did not.

I did exchange e-mails with Joseph Champniss two days ago – I claimed it was ‘yesterday’ to make it seem more vivid. The quotes are true.

But most of what you read above is not from my e-mails with Joseph Champniss. It was cobbled-together (with his knowledge), including the quotes from Mike Scott, from four separate pre-existing posts on other sites on the internet.

What you see and read is not necessarily reality, as the life of Jimmy Savile perhaps proves.

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Barking mad censorship continues at the Edinburgh Fringe Programme office

The censored and acceptable Edinburgh Fringe show image

Yesterday, I blogged about the insanity and inanity which has characterised the compilation of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme this year. In particular, the barking mad decision by the Fringe that the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PRICK was unacceptable and that it should be replaced by the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PR!CK which was acceptable.

Commenting on my blog, Stuart’s reaction was: “I thought this was an isolated incident, but I’m genuinely disturbed by how many people have come forward and said they’ve had copy disallowed for reasons of ‘taste’, ‘decency’ or ‘house style’. This was the Edinburgh Fringe we were talking about – What’s happened?!”

The other cracker which I mentioned yesterday was that comedian Richard Herring’s updated version of his 2002 show TALKING COCK (which was printed in the Fringe Programme under that title with no problem in 2002) had been changed by the Fringe Office – without his knowledge – from TALKING COCK: THE SECOND COMING to TALKING C*CK: THE SECOND COMING.

Quite why the word ‘cock’ (which, in this context comes from ‘cock & bull story’ – a phrase with a totally non-sexual origin and meaning) was deemed offensive but, in this context, the word ‘coming’ was deemed inoffensive is a mystery.

And it remains a mystery. And it is not alone. Australian comedian Jon Bennett is performing his first Edinburgh Fringe show PRETENDING THINGS ARE A COCK at the Edinburgh Fringe this August.

The show’s title has been printed in full without any problem in the brochures for the Adelaide Fringe, the Edmonton International Fringe, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Montreal Fringe and the Vancouver International Fringe. And, this August, the Edinburgh Comedy Festival booklet/posters/flyers will have ‘Cock’ written in full in Pretending Things Are a Cock, but the official Edinburgh Fringe Programme will not.

This morning, producer Bronwyn Hooton told me: “It’s baffling to think that the Edinburgh Fringe – the largest fringe in the world – is censoring the art forms that appear within it, when your own Commonwealth countries do not.”

The Edinburgh Fringe, this year, seems determined to become a laughing stock world-wide, not just in Britain.

Bronwyn continued: “The welcome video on EdFringe.com says: The Fringe was created 65 years ago when eight companies who hadn’t been invited to take part in the international festival, in the true show-business tradition and in a flash-mob style decided to stage their work anyway. On a tradition of open-access and freedom, to have censorship issues from the Edinburgh Fringe Office themselves seems to go against this ethos they claim to abide by.”

The word ‘cock’ in Pretending Things Are a Cock had to be censored (to ‘c*ck’) on the image used in the Fringe Programme because the word was deemed to be offensive, though the image itself (see above) was not.

I could barely believe my eyes when I saw this censored image.

But it is a very nice asterisk and, obviously, it has made a big difference.

Has the Fringe Office got their kn*ckers in a twist and gone completely mad this year?

Well, yes, apparently it has.

The Chortle comedy website yesterday pointed out that, printed in the upcoming Fringe Programme will be “a show called Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory, which has escaped the blue pencil, comic Chris McCausland has been allowed to use the quote from a Chortle review ‘balls-out funny’ and a show called Sex Ed: The Musical contains the blurb: Have you ever tried hand-to-gland combat? Playing the clitar? Spelunking? Have you ever been vaginally tardy?

Writing in his blog yesterday, Richard Herring pointed out that Kunt and The Gang’s name is acceptably print-worthy to the Fringe Office, as is Reginald D.Hunter’s show title Work in Progress… And Nigga (Reg has a tradition of putting Nigga in his titles) and that, indeed, in Richard’s own Programme entry, the Fringe Office took no exception to the phrase “the yoghurt-spitting sausage” but, somehow, ‘cock’ was too much for them to swallow.

Comedian Jody Kamali commented that the Fringe Office “said I couldn’t use three dollar signs in a row ‘$$$’ in my Fringe entry, as it didn’t fit their ‘house style’.”

Also, following my blog yesterday, Chortle phoned the Fringe Office and reported that “when asked why certain words are deemed offensive and others not – and how Herring’s title was changed without him knowing until now – the Fringe office said they did not wish to comment.”

No surprise there. But there was a surprise that – several weeks after the final deadline had past – the Fringe Office told Richard Herring yesterday that his very expensive quarter page ad in the Fringe Programme was suddenly also unacceptable. He was told that he would have to disguise the word ‘cock’ by removing the letter ‘O’.

In his blog yesterday, Richard wrote: “I wonder will the Fringe brochure people object if the “O” of cock is… hidden behind a big splurge of dripping white liquid… (it) might be allowed because a splurge of white liquid is not on the list of rude words.”

The two substitute censored versions he submitted to the Fringe are below:

“Talking Cock” – censored with an asterisk

“Talking Cock” – censored with a splurge

Presumably, the Fringe Office objected to Richard Herring’s ‘cock’ because of what they perceived as the use of a genital word (even though the common phrase Talking Cock is not sexual in origin).

However, they had no objection to a review quote on the ad, which says:

“Man’s answer to the Vagina Monologues – The Guardian”

So, apparently the word ‘cock’ (in the context of the non-sexual-origined phrase Talking Cock) is unacceptable but the word ‘vagina’ (which has a solely genital meaning) is completely acceptable.

Richard Herring, in his blog yesterday, wrote:

“Whilst I acknowledge there is a point where some choice has to be made over what is suitable to go into a general publication, I am concerned about the draconian level of censorship that is occurring here and what it says about what the Fringe is turning into. This should be the last place where freedom of expression is clamped down on.”

Or, as Richard said to me: “Underneath the silliness and twatdom it’s a very important issue”.

What on earth is going on?

One thing is certain. There is no point asking the Fringe Office.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Language, PR

Edinburgh Fringe becomes laughing stock as comedians & critics turn on it

To be seen on posters all over Edinburgh in August – but not in the Fringe Programme.

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Last week, I wrote a blog about this year’s extraordinarily heavy-handed and draconian censoring of the £400 Edinburgh Fringe Programme entries. (Performers pay almost £400 to get a meagre 40 word listing in the Fringe Programme).

You might have thought, at £10 per word, you could print what you want within the law, especially at a cutting-edge, pushing-the-barriers event like the Edinburgh Fringe but, this year, the newly-idiotic Fringe Office appears to have taken leave of its senses.

In 2009, I staged a show titled Aaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s Bollock Relief! – The Malcolm Hardee Award Show. I did wonder if there might be any objection to the testicular word but, no, there was no problem at all listing it in the Fringe Programme. The Fringe, after all, is an easy-going, laissez-faire, open-to-all beast; it is not run by Scotland’s Wee Free Kirk.

Or is it?

Yesterday, the Chortle comedy website ran an article by Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge and highly-respected journalist Jay Richardson. It reported that the Fringe had refused to allow comedian and ITV1 Show Me The Funny contestant Stuart Goldsmith to list his new show as Stuart Goldsmith – Prick in the Programme. They insisted that he had to change the word Prick to Pr!ck.

Jay Richardson also reported that comedian Richard Herring’s show Talking Cock (whose title was printed in full in the 2002 Fringe Programme) is being reprised this year but the title has been modified by the Fringe to Talking C*ck: The Second Coming.

When I read this, I asked Richard Herring what he thought about it. His reaction was a little surprising:

“Actually,” he told me, “this is the first I’ve heard about the title being censored.”

Just to recap here… Richard told me this yesterday – 8th May. The final Fringe deadline was 11th April after which no changes could be made. The Fringe Programme is published on 31st May. The Fringe Office had never even told Richard they had changed the 40-word listing for which they charge performers £400…!

I thought I had better check if the Fringe really had changed the word “cock” to “c*ck”, so I contacted Martin Chester, Publications Manager at the Fringe. In a rather terse reply, he e-mailed:

“I can confirm that Cock will appear as C*ck in the 2012 Fringe Programme.”

Richard Herring explained to me yesterday: “I was told I couldn’t use the words ‘dick’ and ‘fuckinghamshire’ in the 40 words. I wasn’t too surprised about the ‘fuckinghamshire’ (honourable member for fuckinghamshire was the line) even though that isn’t a swear word and presumably means you have to censor ‘Scunthorpe’ too.

“But I thought ‘dick’ was a bit of an over reaction. Not only is it a very minor rude word, it’s also a name.” In fact, of course, it is Richard’s own name. “Hopefully,” Richard told me, “Dick Van Dyke won’t come to the Fringe – they’ll have to call him D*ck Van D*ke.

“I am annoyed to find out that the title has also been censored,” Richard continued. “‘Cock’ itself is not a rude word and is used everyday in many non-offensive ways by farmers and their cocks (who only say cock-a-doodle-do) and cockneys (sorry c*ckneys) say Hello cock. For them to decide that the title of my show is not allowed to be printed in their programme is quite insulting in itself and not something that an Arts Festival should be condoning. Frankly I think they’re being stupid c*nts.”

Personally, I think it is more idiotic than that.

The word ‘cock’ in the phrase ‘talking cock’ is actually a shortened version of ‘cock and bull’, the dictionary definition of which is “to talk nonsense or engage in idle banter”. That commonly-used English phrase comes from the name of two public houses in Stony Stratford – the Cock and the Bull.

The fact that the Fringe Office sees fit to censor this commonly-used phrase as supposedly offensive (without even telling the man who paid them almost £400 to have his listing printed) betrays a level of illiteracy (and financial dodginess) at the Fringe Office which is rather worrying at what is allegedly the biggest Arts festival in the world.

It also means that performers in future should beware of making any reference to any other pubs in their show titles. If the Fringe insists that a reference to the Cock inn has to be censored, who knows what they would do with a far-worse reference to any King’s Head or Prince Albert pub.

I asked Kate Copstick, doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers and also a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and Show Me The Funny judge, what she thought.

“I am lucky enough to remember the glory days of the Fringe,” she told me yesterday, “when I was peripherally involved in a show called Whoops Vicar is That Your Dick? Sadly, this year, whoever is ‘gate-keeping’ the Fringe programme has completely lost their sense of … well, simply their sense. Not only has the irreproachable Stu Goldsmith been censored, but a regular and highly thought-of event entitled ArtWank (on the PBH Free Fringe) has felt the heavy hand of the Idiot In Charge. They are now ArtW*nk. And even they are not alone. If the Fringe Society REALLY want to control that which is offensive in the Fringe Brochure – what about ticket prices ? Pricks and wankers, the lot of ’em.”

Comedian Sameena Zehra told me: “This is ridiculous. how pathetically coy can you be? ‘Pr!ck’? Could it be that the Fringe is now becoming about money and advertising, instead of pushing the boundaries of performance and art? If the Fringe wants to be part of the establishment, it should join the official Festival and we should create an alternative Fringe that does what it says on the tin.”

Mervyn Stutter has been presenting shows at the Fringe for 26 years, notably his annual Pick of The Fringe show (which presumably narrowly avoided the Fringe Office censors by one letter).

His e-mailed reaction to me yesterday was: 

F**k me! (note my clever use of Fringe approved self censoring there) This is tragic.”

I asked him if he remembered any favourite show titles printed in the Fringe Programme in the last 26 years. Like Kate Copstick, he, too, fondly remembers Whoops Vicar is That Your Dick?

“There was a wonderful Australian act,” he told me, “called somebody-or-other and The Travelling Wankbrains. My memory fails me, but the first name was also filth!

“The Fringe back then was free for all and you could call it how you wanted to. No corporate money or images to maintain. No Mary Whitehouse sensibilities on the Fringe – only a woman on Edinburgh Council – the legendary Moira Knox. Her public objections to ‘naughty’ shows always guaranteed big Box Office.”

Martin Soan, originator of the Greatest Show on Legs act, whose image the Fringe Office also censored this year, agreed yesterday. When I told him about the ‘prick’ hoo-hah, he responded: “Ah! Censorship… The alternative advertising!”

What gets up my own nose – because it shows a totally idiotic new mentality at the Fringe Office – is not so much any objection to supposedly ‘dodgy’ words or images, but that I was told by the Fringe Office (as mentioned in my previous blog) that Charlie Chuck’s Fringe Programme entry (which I wrote) was “required” to be re-written because it was ungrammatical.

Among other ludicrous things, I was told that the phrase “with burlesque bits of French songs and lady assistant” had to be changed to “with burlesque bits of French songs and A lady assistant” (at £10 per word) to be acceptable because all entries in the Fringe Programme have to be “grammatically correct”.

Yes, you can no longer, I was told, write in headliney telegramese. Your £400 40-word entry now has to have totally grammatically-correct sentences containing subject, verb and object. That is what I was told. Subject-verb-object. And apparently, if necessary, also the definite and indefinite articles. You have to use the word ‘a’ if it is grammatically necessary – at a cost of £10 minimum.

This is madness of a gargantuan order which almost demands a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award of its own for sheer inanity.

Mervyn Stutter says: “My advice to Stuart Goldsmith is to keep going public. Make as much noise about it as possible. It’s what social networking is there for. He might also find useful the phrase Kick against the Pricks – ‘To argue and fight against people in authority’ (Cambridge Dictionary)”

It could, indeed, be a motto for dealing with the newly-narrow-minded Fringe Office people in general.

According to the Bible, Jesus said it to St Paul – “Kick against the Pricks” – It is quoted in Acts of the Apostles (9:5)

No doubt the Fringe Programme would today refuse to run the Biblical quote without replacing the i with an ! or an *

But, as the late Malcolm Hardee would have said: “Fuck ‘em.”

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Edinburgh Fringe magnifies comedian Malcolm Hardee’s testicles and objects to Charlie Chuck’s English grammar

Charlie Chuck- What the duck is the Edinburgh Fringe doing?

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Now, make no mistake, I love the Edinburgh Fringe. One thing I like about it is its freewheeling, hands-off nature. Anyone can perform at the Fringe; the Fringe Office itself merely acts as a central not-really-controlling-anything hub. They charge you to put your 40 word listing and perhaps an ad in the Fringe Programme. But it is very relaxed and freewheeling.

In theory.

Except for the fact that they appear to have thrown away the spirit of the Fringe and gone in for mindless bureaucratic stupidity this year. Two examples:

1. THE GREATEST SHOW ON LEGS

This admirably anarchic, occasionally naked-balloon-dancing troupe have already had problems, with the PBH Free Fringe refusing to allow one of their members appearing in a show on the PBH Free Fringe to appear as part of the Greatest Show on Legs in the Laughing Horse Free Festival. (It’s complicated – I blogged previously about it.)

But the Greatest Show on Legs ARE now performing (with special guests standing-in for the missing member – yes, I said the missing member) at Bob Slayer’s Alternative Fringe venue The Hive (administered as part of the Laughing Horse Free Fringe). When I left for China three weeks ago, they were going to be performing for three days in the final week (and on the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show). Now they will be performing for five days in the final week (and on the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show).

So they paid for their entry in the Fringe Programme, which includes a tiny photo. The words were:

Famed naked balloon dancers, The Legs return to Edinburgh with extraordinarily eccentric comedy sketches and surprise guests. “Surreal and anarchic comedy” (Huffington Post), “Anarchic high point” (Guardian), “Manic and riotous” (Chortle)

The photo (which I have reproduced here at the size it would have appeared in the Fringe Programme) is on the left. I say “would have appeared” because the Fringe refused to run the photo, saying:

The man on the left of image, is not fully covered by his balloon. As this is a universal publication – one that is read by adults and children – we need to be sure that every image included is suitable. We therefore require you to either use a different image, or photo shop the existing one to ensure that the balloon is covering the entire area.

This was news to me as the photo has been run elsewhere, at a more visible size, before.

But, indeed, when I viewed the original image at full-size, I could vaguely see something and, indeed, if I looked at it at 300% original size, I could see what I think is the shape of the bottom of the late Malcolm Hardee’s testicles. I suppose I should be more certain as, with most comedy-goers of a certain age, I saw them often enough.

Bob Slayer tells me: “I said to them (the Fringe) if they really had to Photoshop, then to do a very subtle blurring but don’t add anything to the image.”

He also asked to see the Photoshopped result, but never did until a couple of days ago, after the Fringe Office was chased-up. They had changed the photo to what you see on the left… with an entirely new third balloon plonked over the offending vague shape. A ridiculous piece of over-kill, not part of the Greatest Show on Legs’ act and, as far as I can figure, it would be completely impossible to actually perform the act with this third balloon. Ironically, the Photoshopped picture is a load of bollocks.

So, a couple of days ago, the new picture you see on the left was submitted, although it is quite difficult to find colour photos of the Greatest Show on Legs with the late Malcolm Hardee (who is obviously a marketing point). Watch this space in case this one is rejected too. The Fringe appears to have gone control-freak mad. Which brings us to:

2. CHARLIE CHUCK

Cirque du Charlie Chuck is the new Edinburgh Fringe show from a man whose act goes far beyond utter nonsense. The words submitted for the Fringe Programme were:

Vic and Bob’s sidekick, Fringe legend Charlie Chuck, back with cabaret, organ-playing, drum-smashing mixed-up magic, with burlesque bits of French songs and lady assistant. ‘Masterpiece of oddity’ (Scotsman). More scary, more weird. Plus a latex suit.

The response from the Fringe was:

Thank you for your recent registration for the Fringe Programme. I have taken a look at your form, and the copy for the Programme is over the word limit, as some words were missing, as per below:

Vic and Bob’s sidekick, Fringe legend Charlie Chuck, IS back with cabaret, organ-playing, drum-smashing AND mixed-up magic, with burlesque bits of French songs and A lady assistant. ‘Masterpiece of oddity’ (Scotsman). More scary, more weird. Plus a latex suit.

These words are required to be added to make sure the copy is in our house style.

Warm regards,

Katie McKenna
Programme Production Assistant

Note the phrase “These words are required to be added”. Not “suggested”… “required”.

It is worth mentioning at this point that Charlie Chuck was paying almost £400 (OK, it was £393.60p) to have these words put in the Fringe Programme to advertise and promote his show. I can’t imagine The Times or the Daily Telegraph or the equally respectable Guardian objecting to the grammar in a paid-for ad in their hallowed pages.

The Fringe also mounts ‘roadshows’ advising performers how to publicise their shows. One of their annual gems of wisdom is that the Fringe Programme entry is the most important and effective piece of publicity for your show and every word used should count in marketing your show. “Cut out every unnecessary word” is the Fringe’s advice. No mention of adding in an unnecessary “is” or “and” or “a” or of having to use fully-grammatical sentences.

It is also worth mentioning that Charlie Chuck is secondarily listed under “Absurdist” by the Fringe Programme and his shows often start with the words:

“Ay and beway, flippin de bow-wow. Donkey. Woof-bark. Donkey. Woof-bark. Donkey. Woof-bark. Donkey. Woof-bark. Woof-bark.”

And that is one of the more coherent parts of his act.

I think he could justifiably argue that being forced to write a fully-grammatically-correct Fringe Programme listing would be professionally damaging to his career.

When the Fringe was pushed on this mindless idiocy, the reply came:

It seems your show copy was over the 40 word limit when you resubmitted.

(It actually was not over the limit at all and it was resubmitted via the Fringe computer which does not allow over-length entries to be submitted.)

We do attempt to make the copy grammatically correct. Looking at your show copy, I woud (sic) suggest that the first sentence needs a verb, which on (sic) of our team has put in. I don’t see the ‘and’ you refer to in the proof sent. I think ‘and a lady assistant’ reads fine. However, it largely up to you, (sic) as long as your copy adheres to the style guide found on edfringe.com, is grammatically correct and within the 40 word limit (including your show title) it can be run.

Martin Chester
Publications Manager

At the time I write this, the Fringe appears to have accepted an entry from Charlie Chuck which reads:

CIRQUE DU CHARLIE CHUCK
Vic and Bob’s sidekick, Fringe legend Charlie Chuck’s back with mixed magic, cabaret, organ-playing, drum-smashing, burlesque bits, French songs and lady assistant. ‘Masterpiece of oddity’
(Scotsman). More scary, more weird. Plus unexpected latex suit.

Let us hope they do not refuse to run the almost £400 paid-for ad on the basis that the last two sentences are not, in fact sentences. But, it seems, this year at the Edinburgh Fringe mindless bureaucratic stupidity rules.

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How British TV (and radio) programmes are scheduled

I was talking to a comedian a couple of days ago who was surprised that I took so much interest in the scheduling patterns on TV and radio.

I am not quite sure why he was surprised.

Performers should take an interest too.

Very often, they suggest making one-off programmes which stand no chance of ever being commissioned simply because they are one-off programmes.

The TV and radio year is divided into quarters – the four seasons – Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.

That should mean 13 weeks in each Quarter, but there is usually some event – Easter, Christmas, a sporting event or whatever – which interrupts the pattern of the 13 weeks, so the Quarters are very often made up of two 6-week stretches.

Obviously, if you keep transmitting a particular type of show in a particular slot, then you stand a better chance of growing the audience in that slot. Equally, if you transmit a series of shows, you stand a better chance of growing your audience.

With a new show, particularly in TV, commissioning 13 weekly episodes is too financially risky – the audience may not like it and, if they do not, you are screwed in that slot for 13 weeks. So commissioning initial 6-week runs is safer – 3 weeks is too short to establish an audience).

A run of 6 weeks is also a manageable length for the writer(s). In the UK, series tend to be written by individuals or duos. In the US, comedy series in particular tend to have longer runs partly because they have large writing teams (and also because of the US syndication system).

So British TV, in particular, is looking for 6-episode series. If the series turns into a major ratings-winner, it may get a 13-week run. But anyone approaching a TV production or broadcast company should be thinking in terms of 6 weeks.

Because the schedule is constructed around 6-week series within 13-week Quarters, it is very very difficult indeed to schedule one-off shows or two-episode shows. With a big star or a big piece of Event programming, you might think of scheduling a three-part series over a Bank Holiday weekend and sometimes you find 3-part dramas scheduled on three consecutive days as an ‘event’. But one-offs are not welcome.

One-offs are difficult to fit into the schedule and bloody difficult to promote unless they are a major event. With an ordinary one-off show, there is no build-up and, without a lot of build-up, promotion and awareness, there will be no audience. How are the audience going to know this show will suddenly exist at 10.30pm on a Thursday for one week only? And why should any broadcaster with loads of expensive new 6-part series and 13-part series spend time and money promoting a one-off show with no potential for building its audience in future weeks?

All generalities are sometimes wrong but usually right.

The other generality is that, if you have a series of shows comprising stand-alone episodes (ie it does not matter in which order they are transmitted), you record all six then decide to transmit the best show as the first episode to enthuse the audience. The third best show is transmitted as the second episode to hold the audience you have kept from the first episode. And the second best show is transmitted as the last episode, to get people interested in watching the next series. Sometimes producers swap those second and third best options. The worst show is usually transmitted around episode 4, hidden in the middle of the series, because the audience you have built should still, with luck, watch the following week.

All generalities are sometimes wrong but usually right.

TV (and radio) scheduling is an art.

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Filed under Radio, Television