Angry, John Cleese may sue
John Cleese says he may sue an Australian theatre company for its “shameless rip-off” of Fawlty Towers. The Australian company has been running their unofficial show at the Edinburgh Fringe for the last nine years, and currently has a residency at a London hotel, where tickets cost up to £59. Another version is to open at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival next week.
The actor and former Monty Python member said on Twitter that the Faulty Towers Dining Experience did not seek permission to use the show’s title, themes or characters. He claimed he had not received royalties from the show, which reportedly makes almost A$2m ($1.4m; £1m) a year.
‘I had absolutely no idea this was going on until about a year ago,’ Cleese told Australia’s Fairfax newspapers. ‘If they’ve been going for 20 years without paying us a penny, they could well owe us a very significant amount. They didn’t ask our permission.’ But the production company behind the tribute show said Cleese had known of its existence for years. The British actor tweeted that he was unaware of Faulty Towers’ “astonishing financial success”. “Seems they thought that by not asking, and by changing the ‘w’ to a ‘u’, they’d be in the clear! Hilarious,” he wrote.
The dinner experience and-performance show has been staged in Sydney, London and other destinations around the world for two decades. Production company Imagination Workshop said it had made “nothing like” the revenues reported by Fairfax newspapers in Australia. Cleese responded ‘he was happy with community theatres running shows based on the characters he created with Connie Booth, but added: ‘We didn’t know it was happening on this scale… this is entirely different. These people are shamelessly ripping off Connie Booth and myself .’
Contacted by BBC Television, Production company Imagination Workshop said it had made “nothing like” the revenues reported by Fairfax newspapers in Australia. “We are staggered by John Cleese’s vitriol towards us and our tribute show,” it said in a statement to the BBC. “We are not an unauthorised rip-off show – anyone who knows the law in this area will understand that we do not require authorisation to use the concept of Fawlty Towers.
After one Twitter user branded the situation “f shocking”, Cleese replied: “That’s the phrasing I’m hoping to use in court.”
Further tweets from John Cleese: I’ve just read that I should have contacted them ! Sorry ! I’d assumed it would be the other way round…
Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.