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Sunny Afternoon writer recalls ‘cancerous feud’ with Kinks star Ray Davies

Joe Penhall with Mamma Mia! writer Catherine Johnson and author and lyricist Jenifer Toksvig at a panel at London Writers' Week. Photo: Em Fitzgerald Joe Penhall with Mamma Mia! writer Catherine Johnson and author and lyricist Jenifer Toksvig at a panel at London Writers' Week. Photo: Em Fitzgerald
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Sunny Afternoon writer Joe Penhall has revealed how his relationship with Kinks frontman Ray Davies “rotted into a cancerous feud”, with the singer at one point accusing him of plagiarism.

Penhall, who wrote the book for the West End musical based on the Kinks’ back catalogue, said he and Davies had initially shared a “bromance” when working together on the show prior to its 2014 opening at the Hampstead Theatre.

However, he claimed that the singer eventually started to become too involved in the writing process of the production, and wanted a writing credit because the show was based on his life.

Since the success of the musical, which is running at the Harold Pinter Theatre and won four Olivier Awards in 2015, the pair have restored their relationship.

However, Penhall recalled: “As time went on and the show became more investable and [it became] more serious that it was going to work and go on stage, his ideas started to encroach a lot more.”

He said Davies would “subtly change something I had written so it sounded more like something he would have written”.

“He would say, ‘You shouldn’t phrase it like that, you should phrase it like this’. I was like, ‘I respect you, that is a good turn of phrase’. Then I realised it was from his book and he had written that,” Penhall revealed.

The writer said this had resulted in Davies being able to pick out lines from the script and accuse him of plagiarism. He said the Kinks singer also wanted a writing credit.

“The justification was it was his autobiography, so he was the author. I said Charlie Chaplin did not get a credit when Richard Attenborough made the film about Chaplin. That did not wash,“ Penhall added.

He continued: “It was a collaborative process that eventually rotted into this cancerous feud that was really only cured by success. It was a very strange process.”

Penhall was speaking on a panel about musical theatre book writing at London Writers’ Week.

Davies declined to comment.

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