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The Big Libel Gig – Palace Theatre

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Sunday 14th March 2010

The Big Libel Gig at the Palace Theatre brought together united thinkers from the worlds of comedy, science and politics, addressing the unjust libels laws in the UK.

The event was created and hosted by Robin Ince in support of Dr Simon Singh’s libel case against the British Chiropractor Association. The BCA, ‘unhappy’ with comments made by Simon, used current laws to put together a libel case against him. At this point, due to the huge sums of money involved in defending yourself in the UK, up to 14 times higher than the rest of the EU, most people would just back down against a more powerful and richer organisation. Simon Singh had other ideas and decided to defend himself, even if it meant winning, yet losing out financially. Why be silent, when you think, or more likely, know you are right?

Arrived in Leicester Square and walked towards The Palace Theatre. It seemed as though the huge crowd outside was queuing for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but it was Sunday and it was their day off. Once inside, I noticed David Baddiel on my left, whilst a friend pointed out that Jonathon Ross was standing right in front of me. For years, I’ve been called ‘Baddiel’ due to a tiny resemblance, via a goatee and glasses, so I guess that’s why I didn’t spot Ross.

We took to our seats in the fourth row, just in time for Robin Ince to commence proceedings. He described the background to the ‘unfair’ case brought about by the BCA and how everyone could help make a change to current UK libel laws. This was explained further by Observer Journalist Nick Cohen, who was up first on stage. It was a pretty educational start to the night. Now time for Marcus Brigstocke to provide the first of many laughs at the event, with a fantastic routine on the London Bus Ad Campaigns.

It was clear by now, that we were all in for a very long night, but it’s doubtful anyone really cared. Dr Simon Singh illustrated his current predicament and the impact it has had on his family, as this libel case has been ongoing for the best part of 2 years. Then he played an intelligent reworking of Katie Melua’s Nine Billion Bicycles. A former member of the Astronomy Club, Katie met up with Simon, and offered to amend the inaccuracies in her hit song, to one that science were more likely to approve of. Superb.

Shappi Khorsandi continued to entertain the audience, before it was time for the politicians to have their say. Up first was the Lib Dem Dr Evan Harris MP, an active supporter of investment in science and changes to UK libel laws. Whilst a number of high-profile MP’s are in favour of Libel Reform and have signed the Parliamentary Early Day Motion 423, there are still far too many who refuse to do so. The baton was passed on to the Conservative Peter Bottomley MP, followed by Labour Paul Farelly MP interviewing Dr Peter Wilmshurst. It was very clear by now, that Simon’s case was not unique. Peter was also being sued for libel in a more bizarre and ludicrous case, with a hefty financial burden that would destroy many.

Back to the comedy. Tim Minchin’s clever musical rendition of ‘Storm’ was hilarious, followed by an enlightening science lesson by Professor Brian Cox. Ariane Sherine, the creator of the Atheist Bus Campaign, continued as Tim Minchin and the audience joined in with ‘Sing-A-Long-A-Simon-Singh-Song’. Simon’s hair clearly the main victim of the song.

An entertaining routine by Richard Wiseman, with a clever use of illusion and magic, began with the audience asked to choose a card from the 5 options. The couple next to me were so proud and shocked to have chosen the same card, only to be astonished seconds later that their chosen card wasn’t even one of the 5 cards that reappeared. The laughter continued with Ed Byrne’s witty routine on Right-Wing Christian Groups.

Time for comedy to be put to one side. You could hear a pin drop as Ben Goldacre spoke. He discussed the situation in South Africa, with the apparent disregard and admission to the severity of the HIV Aids virus. Concluding with his libel case brought about by a European entrepreneur, who didn’t take to kindly to Ben Goldacre’s examination of the science behind his money-making operation in the world’s poorest continent.

It was left to Dara O’Briain to wrap up the show with clever mixture of science and comedy, probably helped by the fact his wife is a doctor. Throughout all the routines, the BCA’s actions were shown to be pretty misguided. For instance, as Dara pointed out “how many infants actually complain about backache?”. An excellent routine to end a wonderful night.

It was a memorable evening and a big thank you must go out to Robin Ince and the other ‘performers’ for their humourous and enlightening take on what is an essentially a serious issue. It’s important for everyone to sign the petition on the Libel Reform website and for MPs to sign EDM 423. It’s just a shame that my current MP, David Burrows, does not feel the need to sign it.

UPDATE: Wow, a day after my blog entry and the BCA drops the case against Simon. Glad I could help! Hopefully Simon can fully recover his costs and then pass them on the Big Libel Gig’s audience who may now sue him to recover their booking fees! In any case, the fight for Libel Reform continues.

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