I used to love Belgium, the nation about which General De Gaulle once snorted, "Two provinces don't make a country." So many of my passions – Tintin, Jacques Brel, frites with mayonnaise – come from there. Last week, however, my love for the Flems and Walloons was severely tested.
It started with the shocking news that Plastic Bertrand, one of the stalwarts of the "name five famous Belgians" game, did not actually sing on his fabulous one-hit wonder "ça plane pour moi". At first, "Bertrand" (real name Roger Jouret) denied a claim by one Lou Deprijck (real name Lou Deprijck) that it was his voice on all four of Plastic's first four albums. (Four... who knew?)
On 28 July, however, Bertrand caved in and admitted that it was not his voice. He claimed he had been "forced" to accept Deprijck's voice as a replacement for his own. Sadly, he did not relate whether this force involved firearms or the threatened confiscation of his supplies of mayonnaise. More importantly, does Plastic Bertrand now register as the world's only no-hit wonder?
If this had been the only news of Belgian art crime last week, I could have forgiven them. Things got a little more personal the following day. I got a weird email from somebody asking me whether I'd checked out Tragger Hippy TV on Belgian TV? Thinking this was a joke, I hit the link. I spent the next 10 minutes in absolute shock. The programme is not merely a rip-off of Trigger Happy TV (there have been plenty of those in the UK), but the sketches are identical – shot for shot, often in the same locations.
Unbelievably, it seems that a production company has gone about remaking my show as slavishly identical as Gus Van Sant's curious homage to Hitchcock's Psycho (not that I'm equating myself with Hitchcock), without asking for permission or licensing. The show was apparently even called Trigger Happy before a German production company of the same name complained and they changed it to the very different Tragger Hippy.
There is part of me that is obviously flattered that someone would go to such lengths to reproduce my work. The problem is that "reproduce" is just a polite word for "steal". The show is so precisely similar that it would have been cheaper for them to pay for me to learn Flemish and then dub the original for them. For a moment I suspected Keith Chegwin. I quickly checked his Twitter site just in case he'd made a sudden move to Belgium, but he appears to be still unhappily ensconced in Blighty.
I highlighted my discovery on Twitter. The general consensus was that this was Belgian revenge for the documentary I made recently on Tintin. This was a fair point. Having dyed my hair orange and run around Brussels stealing dogs, I probably did owe the Belgians an apology. But this was surely going too far.
Then, however, clips started to come in of a Frenchman called Remi Gaillard who has also been stealing a lot of my original ideas and recreating them to popular internet acclaim. He even had a go at my favourite Trigger Happy sketch ever – the snail crossing the road. Some of Gaillard's sketches are original and very funny, so I have slightly less beef with him. But is seems that our Continental cousins are slightly lacking in original comedy output.
The answer, of course, is to hit back and I have done so with a vengeance. This week sees the release of my first CD: The Complete Bracques Jel. It's full of heartfelt torch-songs about life, love, windmills and pommes frites. It's not my actual voice on it – I forced a man called Roger Jouret to do it. I think you'll like it.
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