Tag Archives: The Avengers

Edward Snowden, Jihadi John, a farting Mr Methane & legless Eric Morecambe

Edward Snowden in Moscow yesterday

Edward Snowden in Moscow yesterday interviewed via Skype

Yesterday, at the Observer Ideas Festival in London, Edward Snowden was on a dodgy Skype link from Moscow.

After Jihadi John and that old Taliban bloke the name of whom everyone has now forgotten, he must be one of the most wanted (by some) men in the world. Last week, I also saw actress Linda Thorson reminisce at the Cinema Museum in London about her days on cult TV series The Avengers.

So should I blog about Edward Snowden or Linda Thorson or what my chum Mr Methane did in Manchester last Thursday?

A tough call?

Not at all.

The outstanding Mr Methane with some of his fans

The glamour world of Mr Methane with some fans

My chum Mr Methane has been farting around the world most of his career. He is the world’s only professionally-performing flautist – a farter to you and me. He became a cult in Sweden, Japan and elsewhere. He is also quite liked in France.

In November 1994, he was a guest on the French TV show Nulle Part Ailleurs (1990–2001) at the request of host Antoine de Caunes who had seen Mr M featured earlier that year on a celebrated French documentary series called Oeil Du Cyclone.

This consequently led to numerous appearances on the British Channel 4 series Eurotrash, which Antoine presented.

At the weekend, Mr Methane told me this: an insight into the glamorous daily life of an international flatulist:

Last Wednesday, I got a call from Antoine’s current Canal Plus TV show in France – Le Grand Journal – to ask where I was on Thursday as they were doing a Nulle Part Ailleurs celebratory show on Friday and they wanted to send a cameraman over to the UK to film a short message from me – with a fart scene at the end of course.

Mr Methane in a train at Crumpsall station, now on Manchester Metrolink

Mr Methane in his former guise in a train at Crumpsall station

As luck would have it, I was due to be in Manchester for a works reunion of former and current British Rail staff. (Yes, Mr M used to work for BR.) So Le Grand Journal booked a meeting room at the SAS Radisson hotel, Manchester Airport, flew a cameraman in from Paris, I diverted to the airport and we shot the scenes there.

I missed the British Rail reunion because, after the filming, I took David the cameraman to the Manchester United stadium tour at Old Trafford and, by the time I had made sure he could get on the tour and navigate his way back to the airport OK, it was a little late for the reunion.

So I went to the Dickies store in the Lowry Mall near Media City and bought some shirts and a jacket. The jacket was reduced to a fiver: an unbelievably good deal.

Dickie’s Store in Manchester

Dickie’s highly esteemed Store in Manchester

Maybe I should have gone and done some more hedonistic showbiz stuff – hookers and cocaine or somesuch – but that’s not really my thing. An unbelievable bargain from the Dickies store in the Lowry Mall is definitely more my thing. But, if that hadn’t done it for me, then I might have nipped over to the Blue Peter Garden near the Media City MetroLink tram stop and had a selfie with the statue of Petra the dog.

Talking of celebrity statues, a 32 year old bloke was arrested in Morecambe today for sawing Eric Morecambe’s leg off.

Me and Eric Morecambe on the seafront in happier days (Photo by M-E-U-F)

Me and Eric on the seafront in happier days (Photograph by M-E-U-F)

The local council has now removed the statue. I am not sure how they will repair it and whether the original sculptor Graham Ibbeson, will be involved. It is a real shame, as it is a great sculpture. He really nailed that one. It is a much better likeness than his Les Dawson statue near Lytham St Annes pier, which somehow isn’t quite right – or at least that’s what me and Charlie Chuck thought when we went to look at it on the way home from Ken Webster’s wedding reception at the HorseShoe Bar in Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

I’ve been back there a few times since on my own and for some reason he just hasn’t nailed Les like he’s nailed Eric, its fascinating as I can’t quite put my finger on why.

Eric’s statue took him six years and Les was six months so maybe that’s the reason but you can’t believe everything you read in the press. His Laurel & Hardy statue in Ulverston is very a good likeness.

The clip of Mr Methane on Le Grand Journal is online. Afterwards, they sent him an e-mail: “Just to let you know that the show went well last night.  You stole the thunder.”

Mr Methane congratulates the French

Mr M congratulates the show from the depth of his heart

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Television

How thinking up a good TV format can make you a millionaire or screw you with a horrendous court case

Last weekend I posted a blog about Mr Methane phoning me from Manchester Airport on his way home from recording a TV show in Denmark. It turned out he wasn’t on his way home. He is still away on his professional travels – farting around the world, some might call it – but he has given me more details of the Danish show he appeared in.

He was brought on stage as Mr Methane and farted in the face of a man whom he had to make laugh within 60 seconds. Mr Methane tells me:

“The show comes out in Denmark in the autumn and is called My Man Can: the ladies bet on what their man will be able to achieve and he has fuck-all idea what’s going on because he is in a glass cylinder listening to Take That or some other shite music that’s being piped in. It’s a bit like a modern day Mr & Mrs with a slightly different twist so Derek Batey doesn’t see them in court.”

It does sound a bit like that to me too and I also thought Derek Batey created the TV gameshow Mr and Mrs but, in fact, it was created by the legendary Canadian TV quiz show uber-creater Roy Ward Dickson

TV formats are big business. I remember the ATV series Blockbusters hosted by Bob Holness (the request “Give me a pee, Bob” was oft-quoted by fans).

It was based on a US format and, in the UK, was networked on ITV from 1983 to 1993. In one period, I think in the late 1980s, it ran every day around teatime Monday to Friday. From memory (and I may be wrong on details) at that time the format creators were getting £5,000 per show and the show was transmitted for six months every year – I think they transmitted for three months, then had three months off air, then transmitted for another three months and so on.

That is serious money in the late 1980s. To save you the calculation, 26 x 6 x £5,000 = £780,000 per year for a format thought up several years before; and the format was also running on US TV and in several other countries around the world and, for all I know, could still be running in several countries around the world 25 years later.

That is why format ownership and copyright is so important. If you have an idea, it can maintain your millionaire status 25 years down the line. Ripping-off formats is an extraordinary phenomenon. You would think, given the amount of money involved, that there would be some workable law against it, but there isn’t. One factor, of course, is that you cannot copyright an idea; you can only copyright a format and there lies the rub that will probably stop you and me becoming millionaires.

My Man Can, for example, is most definitely not a rip-off of Mr and Mrs. The format of My Man Can is that “four women gamble with the abilities their partners possess – and put the men’s courage and skills to the test. She sits at a gambling table and bets her rivals that her man can accomplish certain tasks. He waits helplessly in a soundproof cubicle, waiting to hear the task his wife has accepted on his behalf. Each of the women is given 100 gambling chips which she uses to bet on her partner’s performance in each round of the game.”

The most definitive horror story I know about formats is the scandalous failure of Hughie Green to get the courts’ protection over the format to his Opportunity Knocks talent show.

Green first started Opportunity Knocks as a radio show in 1949. As a TV series, it ran from 1956 to 1978 and was later revived with Bob Monkhouse and Les Dawson presenting 1987-1990.

Hughie Green invented a thing called “the clap-o-meter” which measured the decibel volume of clapping by the studio audience after an act had performed. But the acts were voted-on by viewers and Green’s several catch-phrases included “Tonight, Opportunity Knocks for…” and “Don’t forget to vote-vote-vote. Cos your vote counts.”

The way I remember the copyright problem is that, one day in the 1980s, Hughie Green got a letter from the Inland Revenue asking why, on his tax return, he had not declared his royalties from the New Zealand version of Opportunity Knocks in 1975 and 1978. This was the first time he knew there was a New Zealand version.

It turned out the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation had transmitted a TV talent show series which not only ran along the same lines as Hughie Green’s show but which was actually titled Opportunity Knocks, had a clap-o-meter to measure audience clapping and used the catchphrases “Tonight, Opportunity Knocks for…” and “Don’t forget to vote-vote-vote. Cos your vote counts.”

Not surprisingly, in 1989, Green sued the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation for copyright infringement. He lost. He appealed. He lost. My memory is that it ultimately reached the House of Lords in London, sitting as the highest court of appeal in the Commonwealth. He lost. Because all the courts decided that a largely unscripted show which was different every week (which is what a talent show is) with “a loose format defined by catchphrases and accessories” (such as the clap-o-meter) was not copyrightable and “there were no formal scripts and no ‘format bible’ to express the unique elements that made up the show”.

In 2005, Simon Fuller sued Simon Cowell claiming that Cowell’s The X-Factor was a rip-off of Fuller’s own Pop Idol. The case was quickly adjourned and settled out of court within a month. Copyright disputes are not something you want to take to court.

Once upon two times, I interviewed separately the former friends Brian Clemens (main creative force behind The Avengers TV series) and Terry Nation (who created the Daleks for Doctor Who). BBC TV had transmitted a series called Survivors 1975-1977 which Terry Nation had created. Or so he said. Brian Clemens claimed he had told Terry Nation the detailed idea for Survivors several years before and Nation had ripped him off. It destroyed their friendship.

As I say, I interviewed both separately.

I can tell you that both of them absolutely, totally believed they were in the right.

Brian Clemens absolutely 100% believed he had told Terry Nation the format and had been intentionally ripped-off.

Terry Nation absolutely 100% believed that Survivors was his idea.

They fought a case in the High Court in London and, eventually, both abandoned the case because of the astronomically-mounting costs. Neither could afford to fight the case.

There’s a lesson in legal systems here.

Basically, even if you are fairly wealthy, you cannot afford to defend your own copyright. If you are fighting as individuals, the legal fees will crucify you. If  you are foolish enough to fight any large company, they have more money to stretch out legal cases longer with better lawyers than you. They will win. In the case of Hughie Green, even if you are rich and famous, you may be no different from a man who is wearing a blindfold and who, when he takes it off, finds someone is farting in his face.

When BBC TV remade Survivors in 2008, it was said to be “not a remake of the original BBC television series” but “loosely based on the novel of the same name that Nation wrote following the first season of the original series.”

Guess why.


Filed under Comedy, Legal system, Radio, Television, Theatre