Big Breakfast's Mr Big wants Big Brother back

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The Independent Online

It is the kind of scenario that the television show Big Brother was invented for - two people fighting to the end with all the guile they can muster to net a fortune. But in this finalé, the contestants are not sealed inside an east London house and subjected to 10 weeks of voyeurism. They are the men who put them there.

It is the kind of scenario that the television show Big Brother was invented for - two people fighting to the end with all the guile they can muster to net a fortune. But in this finalé, the contestants are not sealed inside an east London house and subjected to 10 weeks of voyeurism. They are the men who put them there.

Two media tycoons yesterday vowed to continue their 18-month legal dogfight over a claim that Big Brother - the Channel 4 show that is attracting 4.5 million viewers in Britain every night - is stolen property.

The allegation has been made by the publicity-shy British television millionaire Charlie Parsons, the man responsible for dreaming up The Big Breakfast and bringing Chris Evans to the nation's screens. Mr Parsons, 42, was last night preparing to go to the highest court in the Netherlands to have the plug pulled on the Channel 4 programme.

His opponent is the Dutch King of Television, the millionaire John de Mol whose company, Endemol Entertainment BV, has made more than £120m from selling the rights to Big Brother to 21 countries.

Mr Parsons claims that Big Brother is based on a format he invented 12 years ago and is a carbon copy of Survive!, a docu-drama featuring contestants stranded on a desert island, which is enjoying massive ratings success in the United States. He says an employee at Planet 24, the production company he set up with his partner, the Labour peer Lord Alli, and Bob Geldof, sold the format for Survive! to Endemol then joined the Dutch company.

An associate of Mr Parsons said yesterday: "He firmly believes that his idea has been plagiarised by Endemol and turned into Big Brother - the two shows are exactly the same, apart from location."

The Amsterdam district court heard a demand two months ago from Mr Parsons for all profits - past and future - from Big Brother, and for its removal from air in all countries, including Britain. But first blood went to Mr de Mol when a judge ruled that "in essence" Endemol had not infringed the copyright of the owners of Survive! because Big Brother had been developed separately.

An appeal against the ruling by Mr Parsons, who sold Planet 24 with his partners for £20m last year to make an estimated £5m, is scheduled to be heard at the Dutch equivalent of the High Court next month. Mr Parsons said: "I am not doing this for the money. It is a matter of principle for the sake of all people with original ideas."

He claims that 12 key elements in his Survive! format, which features 16 people stranded on a tropical island dotted with concealed cameras, have been used in Big Brother. The inspiration for Survive! came, he claims, from working for TV-am in 1988 on an item with four strangers dispatched to a desert island. Survive!, called Survivor in the US, has 28 million viewers there, compared with 17 million for the US version of Big Brother.

Gary Carter, international business manager for Mr Parsons at Planet 24, sold Endemol a 12-month option on Survive! in 1996. Mr Carter, who had worked on the format, then joined the Dutch television company. Work on Project X, the programme that eventually became Big Brother, began a year later at Endemol's headquarters in the city of Hilversum. It was a massive success with Dutch audiences.

Mr Parsons and his associates say "there are too many elements that are similar for it to be a coincidence".

But Mr De Mol, whose company has a turnover of £300m, has taken a robust stance. The 45-year-old magnate, who like his British adversary shies away from publicity, insists he dreamt up Big Brother during a late-night drinking session with colleagues. A spokeswoman for Mr de Mol said: "The courts have already agreed with us that Big Brother and Survive! are separate ideas.

"There is no personal animosity between him and Mr Parsons. These sort of arguments often happen, but I'm afraid Mr Parsons will be ultimately disappointed - Big Brother is ours."

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