Recently b3ta board member ccc and a couple of friends contacted their local newspaper in sleepy Tunbridge Wells. All had a similar tale to tell, stories of a mysterious, monkey-like caped crusader who quietly intervened when innocent bystanders were being hassled by unruly youths, picked up litter and assisted old ladies across the street. The legend quickly grew, until the town was swept up by the mystery. Who was the masked man? Where did he come from? Pretty soon the story was picked up by the national tabloids, and reached an International audience just as quickly. The only problem? Our superhero never actually existed.
We spoke to ccc, and asked him why he did it.
What papers has it been in?
The Times, The Sun, The Telegraph, The Daily Express, The Daily Star, Le Figero (in France), as well as the local papers. On TV it's reached Meridian, Sky and Have I Got News For You. BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio Wales have mentioned it. The story has been reported by Reuters and featured on sites as far afield as Australia and New Zealand. We've also been approached by the makers of Richard & Judy, BBC South East news and Loaded magazine.
Why did you start? Aren't local papers exciting enough as it is?
The whole point of local papers is to give that delicious "local angle" - which is a beautiful thing. Every week articles about how the local badger community will be affected by the Gulf war fill me with much glee. Tunbridge Wells is a lovely little area and the thought of a superhero dashing around to return shopping trolleys, change peoples' tyres and hand back purses was just so enticing an idea that it just had to be done.
Originally two ropey letters and an email started all this off. It's a shame that the idea of someone actually doing good deeds made such an impact - and, quite often, a cynical one at that. Talk of Monkey Man (or "O" or whatever he's called) being a PR stunt for a local business just seemed to tarnish it all. If Mother Theresa had dressed up as Hong Kong Phooey would she have been similarly questioned?
Anyway, in answer to your question. Yes.
Or is that no?
Do you feel guilty about plying gullible reporters with false stories?
Nope. If the international press can be that gullible about this, then it does beg the question what else gets printed based on such unreliable information? We never set out to make them all look chumps. They just kept coming back asking for more, and they were duly fed.
This story has been reported around the World. What's your favourite reaction been?
All time favourite was when I was chatting to some friends, and one person's wife said "ohhh, so it's all a hoax? My kids absolutely loved that story. Well, I'm not going to tell them the truth." Aaaahhhh.
There is such a genuine buzz around Tunbridge Wells now. Just sitting at a bar and overhearing conversations - "who is he?" "he wears a brown mask" etc etc - it's been a nice diversion from the usual horrific stuff that tends to make the papers.
Have you ever felt like the situation is getting completely out of hand?
I do now, yes. Associated Press are wanting to have "a chat" and the word "global" was mentioned. But, ho-hum.
Your story has gone ballistic extremely quickly. Why do you think this particular tale has struck such a chord?
As I say, I just think that there has been so much terrible news over the past - well - years, that it's been nice to see that there are good people out there. There are millions and millions of monkeymen out there who, just because they don't wear a brown cape, don't get reported. I'd like to see more of that. I think there's a whole new way of thinking that sex doesn't necessarily sell - kittens are the new sex. I say get rid of page 3 and replace it with a badger.
The whole concept has been so implausible, yet-tantalisingly possible with so many questions left in the air. I suppose it's human nature to want to know that much more.
Are you now tempted at all to play out the superhero role for real?
No. I'm far too much of a chump. But I hope that it is all taken in the spirit it was intended.
If you had a question for Monkeyman himself, what would you ask?
"Where did I leave my keys?"
What are your plans for future media manipulation?
I intend to reach number one in the charts posing as one half of an Albanian duo (plus dwarf).
Interview organised and carried out by Rob 'Max Clifford' Manuel and Fraser 'Woodward & Bernstein' Lewry.