BBC denies plagiarism claims over Twenty Twelve

Australian screenwriters claim the new BBC mockumentary is too close to home

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The BBC has denied claims made by two Australian TV writers that new BBC4 mockumentary series Twenty Twelve, starring Hugh Bonneville and Jessica Hynes, stole ideas from their own show The Games.

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Writers John Clarke and Ross Stevenson penned the popular 26-episode Australian comedy series, which starred Kath and Kim duo Jane Turner and Gina Riley, about the organising committee preparing for the Sydney Olympics.

And they claim six-part BBC series Twenty Twelve, which follows an imaginary logistics team in the run-up to the London Olympics, is based on their ideas.

According to Clarke and Stevenson, Rick McKenna, producer of The Games, travelled to London to pitch the concept of a 2012 show to BBC comedy head Jon Plowman in 2006, shortly after London was awarded the Olympic Games.

They say McKenna subsequently met with John Morton – writer of another BBC spoof fly-on-the-wall series, People like Us – to discuss a possible collaboration with the Australian writers on a series about the 2012 Games.

In a statement posted on the website of Australian broadcaster ABC, 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.”

The BBC now faces the prospect of legal action, after the Australian complainants hired London-based intellectual property lawyers to handle the case. A BBC spokeswoman admitted corporation bosses had met with McKenna but strenuously denied claims of plagiarism, saying the show had a very different sensibility to the Australian series.

“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,” said the BBC spokesperson. “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.

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“We don’t dispute that we had contact with Mr McKenna but we maintain that Twenty Twelve is an entirely original series. After a thorough legal assessment we are confident that there is no basis to [the] allegations.”