You can't park your souped-up story here

Not for the first time, Richard Littlejohn got a bit confused and mixed up "ideas" with "format"

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The Independent Online

As a TV "prankster" (I hate that word) I get a lot of stick. Firstly, there is a general – and perhaps, in a number of cases, correct – view that hidden camera is the lowest rung of comedy. Judging by a lot of recent output, this could be the case. The problem is that hidden camera is seen by many as easy.

It tends to be a magnet for unfunny exhibitionists. Plagiarism is a huge part of this. Bad hidden-camera shows just steal ideas and then, when challenged, reel out the ignorant excuse that Richard Littlejohn, the odious Mail columnist, used against me a couple of months ago when I suggested that some of Richard Hammond's Secret Service (since shelved by the BBC) "borrowed" some of my ideas.

Not for the first time, Littlejohn got a bit confused and mixed up "ideas" with "format" by claiming that because Candid Camera had kicked off hidden camera, nothing subsequent was original.

This is like saying that because there have been previous shapeless lumps writing incendiary, populist columns that nothing Littlejohn says is original (and obviously that would be ridiculous). It's like saying that every sitcom is the same.

People often miss the point that great hidden camera is essentially improv – you enter a scene with, at best, one half of the script written. You have no idea what the other person is going to say and you have to make it work.

I'm saying all this because there are so many misconceptions about the genre. One is that people are always trying to play tricks on me. This is actually not the case and I have always claimed that, should they try, I'd spot it a mile off. But this was proved to be wholly inaccurate last week, in Cheltenham.

I had parked my car and popped into a café for a post-school run caffeine boost. When I returned, it was to find a penalty charge notice on my windscreen.

It would be safe to say that I was livid, as I had 45 minutes left on my ticket. I started to get my phone out, ready to document evidence of the traffic-warden error. Then I picked up the ticket to find the words "Never on my patch …" written in bold on the reverse. This was one of the catchphrases of my evil traffic warden in Trigger Happy who used to give motorists tickets for "parking" at red traffic lights (an idea stolen from Candid Camera obviously).

I realised that I had been fooled by a fake ticket and accepted the fact with grace. I tweeted about the incident and the perpetrator identified himself as being the occupant of an office right next to where I parked. Being a slow news day in Cheltenham, the story was soon picked up by the Gloucestershire Echo.

To my surprise it was then in The Sun the following day. Its "South-West of England Correspondent" got the whole thing wrong and wrote about an "oversized" ticket and entirely fabricated a quote from the perpetrator.

No big deal, but when I read a story on something I know about and it's so incorrect, it makes me wonder about the ones I don't know anything about. I bet that keeps Littlejohn awake.

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