Monty Python and the ticket touts

After tickets for Monty Python's comeback gigs sold out before you could say 'ni', many went on sale again – at a vastly inflated cost. How do the touts get away with it?

Even if you were up with the lark – or, indeed, the dead parrot – on Monday morning with your laptop at the ready, the chances are that you still missed out on tickets for Monty Python's long-awaited comedy reunion, which went on sale at 10am.

According to promoters of the event at the O2 Arena, the first batch of tickets sold out in 43.5 seconds of frantic page-refreshing from buyers bombarding the websites of the official retailers, O2 and Ticketmaster. Four extra nights previously unannounced (but clearly pre-planned) were added, but these also sold out rapidly.

It's an all-too-familiar experience for fans, who soon spotted tickets appearing for "resale" at heavily marked-up prices on marketplace sites including Seatwave, viagogo and Get Me In!

"It's extraordinarily frustrating. I'm an obsessive Monty Python fan and when am I ever going to see them again without paying a small fortune to one of these rip-off merchants?" says Jo Selwood from Oxford, 34, who spent Monday morning failing to secure tickets, and wrote to The Independent's letters editor to share her frustration.

According to O2 and Ticketmaster, buyers were limited to four tickets per cardholder to the event, but yesterday lunchtime more than 1,800 tickets were available on Seatwave and a further 1,100 were available via Get Me In! Many of these were at four or five times their original value, while one enterprising vendor was offering a pair of VIP tickets for £4,999. Originally they would have cost £495 each, while £32.50 tickets were on sale for £125 to £200.

Seatwave was unavailable for comment yesterday, but a spokesman for viagogo pointed out that just because a third party is selling on a resale site a ticket for a certain price, "it doesn't mean it will sell at that price". Get Me In! made a similar point.

Of course, "touted" tickets aren't new. Earlier this year, one tout was reported to be offering tickets to see Helen Mirren in the hit play The Audience outside the Gielgud Theatre for £500 a pair – five times their official cost. However, the problem is more severe online, where last month, under the guise of David Brent, Ricky Gervais tweeted that digital touts were "fucking disgusting" after tickets to two of his gigs sold out in less than a minute, only to appear with a hefty mark-up elsewhere.

Richard Davies, a London web designer who created @Twickets, a Twitter account to encourage music fans to exchange unwanted tickets for sold-out shows at face value, says, "This is nothing new. It's just that these so-called ticket resales have become so blatant.

"It's morally so wrong and the argument that reselling tickets is part of an open market is just a smokescreen for an unacceptable practice."

Davies adds that it is "odd" that so many Monty Python tickets had appeared on Get Me In! – which is owned by Ticketmaster – so quickly. This rings especially true in a world where major music acts and comedians make most of their money from live shows rather than from record or DVD sales.

Ticketmaster denies that tickets from its allocations are funnelled to Get Me In! and industry insiders told The Independent they'd be shocked if it were true. A spokesman for Get Me In! is quick to defend reselling: "Fans sometimes need to resell tickets to events and Get Me In! offers a safe and secure marketplace for this to take place. Much like other online marketplaces, the listing, pricing and dispatch of tickets are all done by the seller."

The MP Sharon Hodgson, who has tried to introduce a Bill to battle ticket touts, is calling for more extreme action, though: "Yet again, we're seeing fans lose out as touts cash in on the back of the talent of others… it's time for ministers to act to ensure the secondary market works in the interest of fans, and not just a handful of major touts."

However, Jonathan Brown, the secretary of the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers (Star), is more nuanced. He admits that touting is the "single biggest issue" facing theatre land but says that the "market isn't likely to change any time soon".

"We battled against the secondary ticket-resale market when it launched several years ago, but the market has changed since then. The public wanted a resale market, and this is exactly what they got."

Mr Brown does call on buyers to stick to agents and retailers who are members of Star, though, who are prevented from reselling tickets at a profit. For Ms Selwood, though, that rules out Seatwave, viagogo and Get Me In! as a way of getting in to see her comedy heroes.

However, she does have a simpler solution to the problem: "Government, and more importantly the venues, should do more. Why not make it mandatory to present the card the ticket was purchased on when you arrive for a gig or concert? With all the modern technology available I don't see how it's that difficult to stop these rip-off merchants."

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