Foul-mouthed jibe at Skegness lands 'Viz' in a mess

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The Independent Online

Media Correspondent

The anarchic adult comic Viz may be sued for the first time in its 16- year history - by Skegness council.

The men who created Johnny Fartpants and the Fat Slags have run into trouble over a spoof of the classic advert for Skegness depicting a jolly fisherman on the beach under the slogan: "Skegness Is So Bracing."

Viz's version depicts a beach covered in dog mess, dead fish, and broken glass alongside the legend: "Skegness Is Fucking Shit."

The advert appears in the 1996 Viz calendar and on the comic's Internet site dedicated to puncturing the pomposity of advertising agencies. "We assumed British Rail owned the copyright to the picture but we didn't think it infringed the copyright because the picture was very different," said Chris Donald, the editor of the Newcastle-based comic.

"Unfortunately, Skegness Borough Council has issued a warning against our publisher ... for technical breach of copyright. They haven't claimed defamation which is a shame because then we could have gone to court and argued that Skegness is shit."

The same Internet site features the "Bubbles" picture for Pears soap with a boy issuing bubbles from his bottom, allegedly by "Kenny Everett Millais, a member of the British Pre Raffle Ticket Movement".

A Skegness lawsuit would save Viz's reputation, according to Mr Donald. "People always ask, 'How often do you get sued?' and that bald man Ian Hislop [editor of Private Eye] said 'we got six law suits in one week'. But we've never had one and it's always been a bit disappointing telling people."

Alan Crawshaw, the Skegness town clerk, said the council's legal department had written to the comic: "We expressed our disquiet at the use of the poster," he said.

The Jolly Fisherman, dressed in a purple woolly and Sou'wester, is still the town's mascot; he first appeared in classic rail-travel advertisements from 1908, inviting holidaymakers to sample Skegness air. Almost 90 years on, anyone can buy a can of the "bracing" seaside breeze for 99p, and "a few million people" come to Skegness every year.

Tourism is worth pounds 200m to "Skeggy", Britain's fifth most popular holiday resort. The population of 17,000 can balloon to 120,000 in the summer, with another 10,000 arriving to spend Christmas by the sea.

Among the most committed champions of the resort is Bob Suich, head of tourism. "One of the reasons we're really upset by Viz is that Skegness has won all the awards for a clean coast this year," he said.

Ken Holland, Mayor of Skegness, also leapt to the town's defence, saying: "There are not many better places than Skegness, and I've travelled all over the world."