Yes I've seen Jim Tavare... but he made no lasting impression

'Sid Bowfin' hits back at plagiarism claims

My name is Adrian Garratt. I am a professional performer / musician; I play the violin in a comedy classical music act under the name Sid Bowfin. A comedian has recently accused me of copying his entire stage image and the premise behind his act. This is my response to his accusations. Video references are listed at the end.

I have played the violin for over thirty years, professionally for the last fifteen years. During my professional career, I have always worn tails, the ‘uniform’ of the male classical musician. As entertainment and comedy have gradually come to feature more in my work, this ‘costume’ has become more important, to set up the expectation of a classical recital which I subvert with my other stage antics (audience banter and clowning). Others who have done this include Charlie Chaplin (1), Ted Ray (2), Henry Youngman (3), Victor Borge (4), and Aleksey Igudesman (5).

I have had a shaved head since 2001, when I chose this ‘hairstyle’ due to my thinning hair. During my time in Pluck, the theatre company I formed in 2002, I often wore a wig for comic effect, removing it during shows. This ‘wig removal’ is documented clearly six seconds into the clip ‘Video 2’ on www.pluck.me.uk (6) (filmed in 2004).

At the start of 2010 I left Pluck to pursue a solo career. I designed my own (admittedly very amateur) website using iWeb, the free software that is supplied with every Mac computer, using one of the template designs. I first saw the website I am accused of copying less than a week ago, when this accusation was made. It is clear this website is also designed with the same software, along with of course thousands of others (for example mundojazz.co.uk). Any similarities are a (very unfortunate) coincidence.

I have never seen either of the routines that I’m accused of copying. I do not have a ‘faulty mic routine’. In the clip that caused this controversy (7), I came on stage to discover that my head microphone wasn’t working. I improvised the next nine minutes, first trying to fix the headmic, and eventually taping a radio stand mic to my head, a solution I’d used only once before, again when I encountered a faulty mic. William Andrews has apparently done a visual gag that is similar to this; I had never heard of William Andrews until ‘Chortle’ mentioned him in their article of 26/6/11 (8). Norman Collier’s famous faulty mic routine also came about as a result of a genuine experience with a faulty mic in the 1970s (9).

I do not have a ‘dustpan and brush routine’ either. Similarly, this was improvised; a member of bar staff in the venue ‘joined in’ with me playing with the dustpan and brush he was using at the time, and I encouraged him onto stage because the audience laughed. This has only happened once. My only previous knowledge of a vacuum cleaner in classical music is The Grand Grand Overture by Malcolm Arnold, which uses three vacuum cleaners as part of its orchestration (10). In my research for this letter, I discovered that Igudesman and Joo use a vacuum cleaner in their clip (5) below, and that Hoffnung released his cartoon ‘The Hoffnung Vacuum Cleaner’ in 1964 (11).

Furthermore, any mis-timing of backing tracks in my set is accidental, and any comedy resulting is improvised. These backing track mistakes do not show that I’m not playing the violin, quite the contrary, as the backing track is just piano. I am never ‘hesitant’ to play the violin. I am simply doing other things (speaking, pulling silly faces, or clowning around in other ways) as many other musical comedians do (Juan in Mundo Jazz, or Steve Martin (12)).

In the last eighteen months, I have not won any awards. I do not advertise myself as an award winning comedian. I have not sanctioned anyone else to advertise me thus, and to my knowledge, nobody has. Any awards I have won are as part of Pluck.

I have seen the comedian in question perform only twice, the last time at least five years ago. I believe my act is very different in style and content to his. From what I remember, he is a stand up comedian, and his ‘character’ is deadpan and weary. He tells jokes, using his double bass as a prop. He rarely plays the bass, and the music is not technically demanding. In contrast, as Sid Bowfin I am a highly animated, manic violinist and clown. Crucially, approximately half of my set is my playing the violin to a professional level. I use piano backing tracks, and all the violin playing is done live (13). I don’t tell jokes. There is a lot of audience participation, improvising and finding material as the show develops, all of which means each performance is very different. I move constantly throughout my act, both around the stage and within the audience. There is very little set script and I take every opportunity to deviate from it (14).

What I’ve seen of his work certainly hasn’t left a lasting impression, and he is not on my list of ‘comedic influences’. Most definitely on that list would be Eddie Izzard, Frank Olivier, Rowan Atkinson, Lee Evans, Hugh Laurie, Mark Lemarr, and Steve Martin.

May I now address the comedian in question personally. Sir, I hope the facts, taken one by one and together, speak of my integrity, even to people who have no knowledge of who I am. I acknowledge that there are a number of surprising coincidences, and that taken together, they could be seen to point to a reality that is different from the truth. I contacted your agent Vivienne Clore on Friday 24th June in an attempt to resolve this issue in a professional and non personal manner, but have received no reply. I, therefore, want to make one clear public statement to as many people as possible about what has happened, why I am completely innocent, and why I believe what you have done is so very wrong.

You have defamed me over and over again during the last two weeks, on Twitter, Chortle, and Punchline. I ask you to think about your actions, and consider how you could put right the huge personal damage that you have instigated. Many of the facts I point out above are easily verifiable online, and I have been contactable throughout by email and by phone - my contact details have been clearly on my website all the time. It would have been very simple for you to have called or emailed me to discuss what you suspected. According to your Twitter feed you were in the UK until Friday 24th June, for at least two whole days after your first relevant tweet on Tuesday 21st. You did not substantiate your allegations, however, choosing instead to use your reputation and influence in the comedy world to publish a series of libelous materials on twitter and in the comedy press in such a way as to encourage your friends and colleagues to spread these lies to others. You were very successful; many of your friends, fans and colleagues not only spread the allegations, but also the anger and bile which you so clearly felt. Your wife (and Personal Manager) also emailed a theatre where I am due to perform claiming that I am clearly plagiarising your act, thus potentially jeopardising confirmed work and established contacts. All of this has resulted in falsehoods about me, my work, and my character reaching many thousands of people, in particular people that I may approach in the future in order to continue my career in the world of comedy and entertainment.

I acknowledge that it will be difficult for you to retract your accusations and make an apology, but I think it is the only reasonable way you can make amends for your actions. I don't want to enter into endless online dialogue so please give me a call if you would like to talk through things in person.

I would like to get on with my life and career, and for you to be able to get on with yours.

Video References:

(1) Charlie Chaplin & Buster Keaton (1952): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aPRW1VQxmTs

(2) Ted Ray (1935): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fN1vdjqeShk

(3) Henry Youngman (1966): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVGVJGX--o0

(4) Victor Borge: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZ4ZNbiO15M

(5) Alexsey Igudesman: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EUOlypVUgn0&feature=related

(6) Pluck video (2004): http://www.pluck.me.uk/video.html

(7) Sid Bowfin comedy club video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3O8iG81jk08&feature=player_embedded

(8) Chortle Article: http://www.chortle.co.uk/news/2011/06/26/13534/plagiarism_row_comic_threatens_to_sue

(9) Norman Collier microphone routine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYpQyJ_bTiw (Norman Collier)

(10) Malcolm Arnold’s ‘A Grand, Grand Overture (written 1956): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5343nfOnkk

(11) The Hoffnung Vacuum Cleaner (1964): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yczzmPzZiig&feature=related

(12) Steve Martin (1979): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l31MSpojWTA (Steve Martin)

(13) Sid Bowfin Czardas (2011): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V5FpKe5ogY&feature=player_embedded

(14) Sid Bowfin Kendal street show (2010): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6J5xXB-aY3w&feature=player_embedded

Published: 5 Jul 2011

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.