The play had a successful run at the Fringe last yearJohannes Hjorth

A group of newly-graduated Cambridge students have faced a legal threat from the publishing company, Hachettefollowing their plans to parody Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer.

Robert Eyers, a law graduate from Pembroke College, had plans for a humorous take on the series, a firm favourite with children, entitled Five Go Off On One! Eyers has stated that the show was never “anything other than affectionate to Blyton - we avoided all the easy jokes, sidestepping obsessions with ginger beer, George wanting to be a boy, Dick/Fanny jokes, and even assertions of racism.”

However, the publishing house got in touch with the group following the publication of the performance’s details in the programme for this year’s Fringe.

In a letter of caution, Hachette’s legal director Maggie Mogford claimed that the use of ‘Five Go’ was a trademark infringement, and that its use would be “likely to mislead customers into believing your production...is endorsed by [the publication company.]”

Speaking to Chortlea news website which covers comedy, a spokesperson for Hachette defended the company’s sense of humour, saying that “We have no intention of preventing the performance of genuine parody and have demonstrated with our own Famous Five parodies [such as Five on Brexit Island] that we can take a joke.”

It became apparent, however, that the request for a change of title was no laughing matter. Eyers, who told Chortle that “we had decided to give in rather than argue this point,” altered the name of the performance to ‘The Reasonably Well-Known Five: An Unofficial, Unlicensed, and Unrestrained Parody.’ A follow up letter from Hachette expressed a continued concern about the use of the term ‘Five’ and stated that it believed ‘Reasonably Well-Known’ to be an allusion to the original ‘Famous.'

Eyers told Varsity that, following a successful run in both Cambridge and Edinburgh last year, he had contacted Hachette back in March to alert them of his intention to reprise them, but they did not provide a response until June, leaving him under pressure to comply. He had not, at the time of sending the email, anticipated a three-month wait for a reply. Eyers described the experience of having to make a crunch decision on the title - changed to Four Go Off On One!: A Jolly Good Romp Through Childhood – just hours before the posters had to go to print as “infuriating.”

Speaking to Chortle, he said: “They’d timed this perfectly (presumably accidentally) so that we pretty much had to give in, or just ignore them and risk playing this out in court. Fringe shows cost far too much as it is, so that wasn’t really an option.”

Speaking to The Timesa partner in intellectual property at the law firm Bristows echoed this sentiment, dismissing Hachette’s claim as ‘weak’: “This looks like one of those disputes where the complainant knows the respondent is under commercial pressure.”

A second intellectual property lawyer, James Mitchell, of JP Mitchell, dubbed the letter as “flimsy” and stated that he didn’t believe there to be enough overlap with The Famous Five and Five Go Off On One to “warrant a claim.”

The alleged trademark infringement relies on the title Famous Five being original property of Enid Blyton, when the name (along with The Secret Seven) had in fact been used previously by Charles Hamilton, under the pseudonym Frank Richards, when writing stories about Billy Bunter and Greyfriars School.

Eyers hinted that there may have been commercial influences at play in the sending of the letter: “I can’t help but think that Hachette would have let this go, were they not currently putting a lot of marketing effort behind their own series of Famous Five parodies.”

Speaking to Varsity about the events which have taken place, Eyers argued that he was careful to make it abundantly clear that the production was a parody and did not intend to simply adapt material: “I volunteered not to use the phrases ‘Enid Blyton’ nor ‘Famous Five’ in the show's marketing nor the show itself, as those are Hachette's registered trademarks. These voluntary concessions, before being asked to change anything, should have made it clear to Hachette that I was taking the intellectual property implications of our parody seriously.”

He also said that he had previously offered to change the names of some characters – for example, Julian became John, in order to distance the production from the original material.

Addressing the comments made by lawyers on the matter, Eyers acknowledged that there had been agreement “that a trademark on the phrase ‘Famous Five’ does not entitle a claim over ‘Five Go Off on One!’” and that he believed “[he] was taking the matter more seriously than Hachette were.”

During this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Four Go Off On One!: A Jolly Good Romp Through Childhood can be seen at 4:30pm daily at the Gilded Balloon

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