Miles Kington: How the BBC 'stole' an idea and made a documentary

Recently the BBC broadcast a series with Boris Johnson giving an overview on the history of Rome - the very idea that I wrote to them about five years ago
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There is a most curious trial going on at the moment in which the BBC is being sued by a man who claims the Beeb stole his idea for a major documentary. He says - but perhaps an extract from the hearing will make things clear. We join when the plaintiff, Mr Simon Ventura, takes the stand for cross-examination.

Counsel: Now, Mr Ventura, you seem to think that the BBC has copied an idea of yours?

Ventura: They most certainly have. And I can prove it.

Counsel: I think I ought to warn you that the BBC gets sackloads of letters every day accusing it of plagiarism.

Ventura: I am not surprised. The BBC is notorious for stealing people's ideas. There is hardly anyone in the British Isles who has not submitted an idea for a programme, had it rejected, and then seen the very same idea used on BBC TV the next year.

Counsel: Really? It has not happened to me.

Ventura: Have you ever submitted an idea to the BBC?

Counsel: No.

Ventura: You should try it. Rejection followed by plagiarism. Sure as eggs is eggs.

Counsel: So, what is the nature of your complaint?

Ventura: Recently the BBC broadcast a series in which Boris Johnson presented an overview of the history of Rome. Five years ago, I sent a detailed proposal to the BBC in which I suggested they should make a series on the history of Rome - and have it presented by Boris Johnson!

Counsel: How detailed was this proposal?

Ventura: There were two main details. One, that the programmes should be about Rome. Two, that Boris Johnson should present them.

Counsel: I see. Nothing more detailed than that?

Ventura: No. But if you saw the programmes in question, you would agree that Mr Johnson and his crew had not come up with many more details than that.

Counsel: Perhaps so ... Now, Mr Ventura, was this the only programme on ancient Rome that you suggested to the BBC?

Ventura: I am not sure ... There may have been others ...

Counsel: Do you recall writing to the BBC with a proposal for a History of Rome narrated by Magnus Magnusson?

Ventura: I may have done ...

Counsel: ... And another narrated by Simon Callow?

Ventura: Yes, possibly ...

Counsel: ... And also David Starkey, John Major, Joan Bakewell, George Galloway ...

Ventura: I do not think I ever suggested a History of Rome narrated by George Galloway.

Counsel: But you did write to the BBC suggesting a History of Rome, narrated by up to 500 different possible narrators?

Ventura: Yes, I did.

Counsel: In 500 different letters?

Ventura: Yes.

Counsel: Why did you not mention all the possible narrators in one letter?

Ventura: I did not want to confuse the BBC. They find it hard to consider more than one idea at a time.

Counsel: Mr Ventura, I put it to you, you wrote 500 letters on a possible History of Rome so if the BBC ever did effectuate a History of Rome narrated by any of your suggestions, you could claim it was based on your suggestion, and point to that individual letter.

Ventura: I still think Magnus Magnusson would have done it better. Or Terry Jones. He's very good on that informal history lark.

Counsel: Mr Ventura, I don't think you get the point. You have engaged in an elaborate conspiracy to trap the BBC on charges of plagiarism ...

Ventura: And I have written to the BBC suggesting this would make a very good programme idea! They are always being accused of plagiarism but have never turned it into a drama. The theft of unsolicited ideas wold make a very good script.

Counsel: And who have you suggested plays the part of yourself in this drama? Not Boris Johnson, I trust?

Ventura: No. I have suggested Charles Dance. Also David Suchet. Also Michael Gambon. Also Kevin Whately. Also...

The case continues...