Beyond our Ken

 In news

Can you remember when you heard it? Perhaps you can even recall exactly what you were doing at the time? I can. I was painting skirting boards. I stopped immediately. It’s what you do. Out of respect. We are conditioned to do it. It was a shock, that’s for sure. Will we ever get over it? Obviously, I’m referring to the last edition of Ken Bruce’s Pop Master quiz. What were you thinking…never mind.

Ken Bruce was the septuagenarian mid-morning Radio 2 DJ legend. He still is a legend of course, but he’s moved on to Greatest Hits Radio. Strange thing is, he’s taken the beloved Pop Master quiz and format with him. You’ve guessed it. So, after all those sad on-air farewells, an electronic light festival of crying emojis and painful eulogising from his damp-eyed ex-colleagues, if we track our Ken down, the quiz continues in its new radio home. And, at the exact same time slot: 10:30 a.m. How good is that! We can all once again ‘stop for Pop Master’, the world’s most popular music quiz. The world didn’t end on March 3, 2023. How so?

It seems clever Ken trademarked the show 25 years ago. The BBC will have to survive on crumbs from the table of Ten to The Top. Well… “Good luck with that” as Sponge Bob might say. To date, this replacement quiz is receiving a lukewarm reception from the eight million listeners that tuned in to Ken’s BBC show. Gary Davies – Vernon Kay’s current chair-warmer – is doing his best to push the new quiz but blancmanges and uphill struggles spring to mind. Only time will tell.

Poptastic protection

According to filing records the Pop Master format was trademarked in 1998 by Ken, Phillip ‘the collector’ Swern (who originally set the questions) and Colin Martin.

And the trademark covers,

  • Board games (one already exists)
  • Video games
  • Toys
  • Playthings (!)
  • Distribution
  • Production
  • Presentation
  • Software

You name it…it’s pretty much covered and protected in favour of the three who filed. What foresight. Not really, just a sensible net of ownership cast over their work and creation. They could see the possibility over two decades ago, their idea could have tangible value once it became a reality on national radio and a household name. Which is exactly what happened.

That’s the thing about intellectual property. IP rights work best when protected early. Back yourself. Ken and co. did.

And now the financial benefit may be reaped, with gusto. Phil Swern recently teased:

“We’re in discussions as we speak with a television network that is interested in Pop Master as a TV quiz. Watch this space.”

License to grill

Essentially, Pop Master is a brand. By registering it as a trade mark, Ken and his pals safeguarded their brand and have the right to take legal action if the BBC, for example, continued to use it without their permission or in the absence of a license to use Agreement. We may speculate there was some discussion about continued use under license, but the cost was unpalatable. We will probably never know.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) in the UK state you can register a trade mark so long as it’s unique and can include any or a combination of the following:

  • Words
  • Sounds
  • Logos
  • Colours

Pop Master as a brand name and format fitted the bill.

There is an unkind suggestion that the trade marking was a device to make it difficult for the BBC to remove Ken from his show. That seems unlikely given the passage of time from the filing of the mark and Ken’s genuine stature and skills as a DJ. What is true, is that Ken and his quiz are joined at the hip. Where he goes, it goes and probably vice versa. But isn’t that just good businesses planning and hard graft? Sweating your assets is the commercial world we live in. It’s just plain smart to know such assets don’t have to be physical.

One year out

Will Pop Master be on our TVs with a grinning Ken comparing the show? Will Ten to The Top survive? Will Greatest Hits Radio have 8 million listeners? Will Vernon Kay? Who knows. My money is on Ken correctly answering his bonus question and hitting a maximum 39 points. In fact, I think he already has. Seems he’s won himself a gold-plated, fur-lined, gem-encrusted DAB digital radio. He’ll probably pass on the signed photograph of himself.

A timely trademark beats a gold watch…every time.

Murray Fairclough
Development Underwriter
OPUS Underwriting Limited 
+44 (0) 780 145 9940
Researched by Ben Fairclough


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