IT'S the Holy Father of all kerfuffles. Lawyers for three of the biggest names in UK comedy are taking legal action against an evangelical Christian organisation for alleged unauthorised use of their catchphrases.
Solicitors for Little Britain stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams, along with Catherine Tate and a merchandising firm, pounced after famous phrases such as "Yeah but no but yeah" and "Am I bovvered?" appeared on posters nationwide.
The catchphrases were used by Christian Publishing and Outreach (CPO) to try to encourage more youngsters into church. But the posters have been withdrawn and the campaign axed after lawyers for the comedians claimed it was a breach of copyright.
CPO sells posters to around 20,000 churches throughout the UK, and the brightly coloured 'comedy' posters were being sold for 25 a set.
They featured the refrain of Little Britain character Vicky Pollard, "Yeah but no but yeah", as well as the "Yeah, I know" catchphrase from wheelchair-bound Andy Pipkin and his long-suffering pal Lou Todd.
Other posters featured Catherine Tate catchphrases such as her rebellious schoolgirl's "Am I bovvered?" and camp Derek Faye's "How very dare you!"
The posters each carry, in much smaller type, a quotation from the Bible. In the case of "Yeah but no but yeah", it states: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have."
CPO, which supplies posters and literature to many Church of Scotland ministers as well as a number of Scottish Baptist and evangelical churches, was advertising the posters on its website as "the ideal way to reach out to today's youth".
The firm said the catchphrase posters had been selling well but they have now been removed from their range.
A spokesman said: "We can confirm that we have been contacted by legal representatives from Little Britain. As such we will be making no further comment on this issue at this time."
He confirmed they had not asked permission to use the TV catchphrases in the posters.
The firm previously created headlines around the world when it launched a publicity campaign to coincide with the cinema release of the Hollywood adaptation of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, which was written by the late Christian author CS Lewis.
Melanie Rockcliffe of the Troika Agency, which acts for Little Britain stars Walliams and Lucas, said: "The boys' legal representatives have sent a letter to CPO regarding the unauthorised use of their material and we are awaiting a reply from them.
"This is the action we would take with a business of any kind that was using material copyrighted either to the BBC or to Matt and David."
Tate's spokeswoman Dawn Sedgwick confirmed that Tiger Aspect, her production company, would also be advising solicitors to contact CPO on her behalf.
Granada Ventures owns the merchandising rights for both Little Britain and The Catherine Tate Show. Spokeswoman Alice Burden confirmed they too would be considering taking legal action. "Granada treat our own intellectual property rights and those belonging to third parties we represent as our most important assets," she said.
"We take infringement of any such intellectual property rights extremely seriously and will take whatever action is required in order to prevent the sale of unauthorised products."
The firm has a zero-tolerance policy of "police, enforce and protect" over unauthorised use of copyrighted materials. The policy includes immediately stopping the alleged exploitation, obtaining binding undertakings there will be no repeat and seeking compensation.
A BBC spokeswoman confirmed that she was aware of the church posters but said the catchphrases were the intellectual property of the artists concerned.
Sussex-based CPO sells a number of Christian posters, flyers and tracts including a sports-based campaign which features the slogans: "If life's got you bunkered, let Jesus drive" and "Without God you're snookered" as well as the environmentally themed: "Global warming. The Son will return."
The organisation also sells posters and leaflets for children warning against the supposedly dangerous influence of celebrating "pagan" Halloween, featuring a grinning pumpkin lantern beside the slogan "It's just a bit of harmful fun".
CPO also distributes materials for the controversial Alpha Course, which critics have said uses "psychological manipulation" to encourage people into converting to a fundamentalist brand of Christianity. Alpha Course founder Nicky Gumbel caused outrage when he claimed that homosexuals suffered from "shameful lusts" and "needed to be healed".
Little Britain star Matt Lucas is openly gay and married his partner Kevin McGee in a civil partnership last year. The show has been a huge ratings success due to the popularity of characters such as Daffyd Thomas and Marjorie Dawes, and it has moved from radio to BBC3 to BBC2 and BBC1. American channel HBO is currently making its own version.
The Catherine Tate Show is so popular that former Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed to make a guest appearance.