Bad sports?

BBC accused of ripping off Olympics comedy

The writers of a hit Australian sitcom have accused the BBC of ripping off their ideas.

John Clarke and Ross Stevenson say BBC Four’s new comedy Twenty Twelve, about the logistical build-up to the London Olympics, bears ‘marked similarities’ to their show The Games.

The mockumentary – which starred Kath And Kim’s Gina Riley, among others – was one of the top-rated comedies ever shown on the ABC, and ran for 26 episodes from 1998.

Clarke and Stevenson say they even pitched a British version of their show to Twenty Twelve’s producer Jon Plowman five years ago, when he was head of comedy at the BBC, and handed over DVDs to writer John Morton – whose previous credits include the Chris Lynham mockumentary People Like Us.

So they were surprised to see the BBC show, starring Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Hynes and Olivia Coleman, going ahead ‘without our participation or permission’.

The new six-part series, narrated by David Tennant, starts on Monday and even features a cameo from London 2012 organiser Sebastian Coe.

Writing on the ABC website, Clarke and Stevenson said: ‘In 2006, shortly after London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games… we spoke with producer Rick McKenna who had experience in overseas markets with Kath And Kim. Rick McKenna travelled to London and met with BBC comedy head Jon Plowman.

‘At a later date Jon Plowman introduced Rick McKenna to writer John Morton with the prospect that perhaps we might consider [him] as one of the writers on the project. John Morton was lent DVDs of The Games. At the time he acknowledged he had never previously seen nor heard of the show and was impressed and keenly interested.

‘After many phone conferences, meetings and almost four years of email exchanges, Mr Morton and Mr Plowman have now apparently made a satirical series for the BBC about the organising committee of the London Olympics without our participation or permission.

‘In other words, it seems that in 2008/9 Morton had already had the idea he'd never heard of and was so excited by, and he was interested in obtaining episodes of The Games only so he could check out how someone had created his original idea in Australia, 12 years previously. We have suggested that once Mr Morton finds out that repressed memory is not an Olympic event, perhaps he could return the DVDs.’

However, the BBC denies anything untoward took place.

In a statement to Chortle, the corporation said: ‘Twenty Twelve is an original and distinctive comedy series looking at London as it counts down the last 1,000 days before the 2012 Games begin. It is written by John Morton who created People Like Us and Broken News for the BBC.  Its comedy is delivered through a distinctively British sense of humour.  

‘We have investigated the complaints made in relation to The Games and have found no evidence to support the allegations of copying. No use has been made of any material deriving from The Games and we are confident that the allegations are without foundation.’

In a promotional interview to promote Twenty Twelve, Plowman said: ‘When London got the Olympics it seemed like a fantastic opportunity for comedy and therefore something that should be done. So we asked John to have a go at this subject and he’s gone at it in a rather brilliant, nuanced way.’

Here is a clip from Twenty Twelve:

And here is a clip from The Games:

Published: 12 Mar 2011

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