Ofcom permits 118 118 to keep using runners

Ofcom has ruled that The Number 118 118's campaign did indeed use a caricature of the 70s runner David Bedford, but has refused to ban the ad.

However, Bedford has subsequently announced that he is starting a private court action against The Number to recover damages.

The communications regulator was responding to an appeal by The Number, through its lawyers, Harbottle & Lewis, against an earlier decision by the Independent Television Commission that the ads portrayed Bedford, a former 10,000 metres world champion, famous for his distinctive running kit.

This kit, including red socks, sky-blue shorts with gold braiding and a vest with two hoops, was similar to that used in the WCRS ads. The two 118 118 runners also sport hairstyles and facial hair similar to Bedford's look in the 70s.

Ofcom found that although the ads do not portray or refer to Bedford, they include a caricature of him and not merely a generic representation of runners from the 70s.

The Number itself gave evidence to the Content Board that reference was made to Bedford, among other runners, at the time when the actors being cast.

However, Bedford's delay in not making a complaint about the ad until six months after the similarity was pointed out to him by The Sun in March 2003 marked against him. Ofcom found that this was a relatively long time and that by then The Number had committed itself to substantial expenditure, using the same ad creative.

Also, Ofcom decided that Bedford has not necessarily suffered financial harm from the ads and that by banning them The Number would be disproportionately damaged compared to the feelings of Bedford and therefore has allowed them to continue.

William Ostrom, the communications director at The Number, said: "The Number welcomes Ofcom's final decision to permit the runners to continue to advertise 118 118."

- Opinion, p23.