Silent festival boss speaks...

Paul Merton's 'unfair' claims rebutted

The director of a major silent film festival has hit back after a barrage of criticism from Paul Merton.

The Have I Got News For You star accused the organisers of Bristol Silents and Slapstick festival of gross incompetence after being dumped from presenting the annual gala performance.

But now festival boss Chris Daniels says Merton’s blistering attack was ‘overwhelmingly misleading and unfair’.

The silent film buff says it came as a bolt from the blue when he was ditched from the festival’s gala after five years in favour of Michael Palin, apparently because he wasn’t a big enough draw.

As we reported yesterday, Merton has since published a catalogue of gripes on his website, saying he was advertised at shows he never agreed to do, was forced to host sessions on subjects he was not well-versed in after the festival failed to book the expected expert, and had been airbrushed from the festival’s website.

Daniels said today: ‘It’s been an enormous blow to me, and the many others involved with Bristol’s latest Slapstick festival, to find ourselves being forced to respond to a storm arising from a press release on Paul Merton’s website that is overwhelmingly misleading and unfair.

‘This year’s Slapstick Festival has been our busiest, best-supported and most successful yet and we had hoped to be celebrating its success now, rather than dealing with unfair and unfounded criticisms. But Paul’s claims, and his personal attacks on me, cannot go unanswered.’

He said that Merton had not been ‘sacked’, but was offered to do almost anything he wanted at this year’s event – except the gala – and there was no suggestion that he was not a crowd-puller

However, Daniels says Merton’s agent spurned the offer of alternative shows and emailed back ‘withdrawing from any future involvement with the Slapstick Festival’.

Daniels added: ‘It is true that there was once a printing error on an item of festival artwork but this was picked up in plenty of time for the error to be corrected before it went public. It is also true that one advertised speaker had to pull out at short notice but a very good substitute was found and the event was a huge success. It is not true, however, that Paul’s previous events have been slighted on our website. If he visits the “past events” section, he will see, as ever, that he is mentioned many times and always in complimentary terms.

‘One of the saddest aspects of all this is how it is overshadowing Slapstick’s achievement in building new audiences for a film genre Paul genuinely loves. On a tiny budget, with limited time and helpers, we’ve built a programme and festival that commands international respect.’

Published: 28 Jan 2010

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