A British athlete is taking directory inquiries service 118 118 to court, claiming the joggers in their adverts are modelled on his distinctive 1970s look.
30 years on: the runner claims his image has been used
Solicitors for record-breaking runner David Bedford - now 53 and race director of the London marathon - said their client's image had been used without his permission.
The quirky characters appear in TV and poster ads with long straggly hair, droopy moustaches, short shorts, skimpy vests and red socks - an ensemble Mr Bedford claims can only be based on him, circa 1973.
But the company behind 118 118, The Numbers, said it loosely based the runners on American runner Steve Prefontaine, who died in a car crash in 1975.
The dispute is expected to reach the High Court later this year.
Mr Bedford's solicitors have written to The Number to say their client is entitled to compensation because his image has been used in their campaign.
They are understood to be claiming that the company falsely represented Mr Bedford as endorsing the telephone service.
The former runner said the adverts' characters even wear the distinctive red socks that were unique to him on the 1970s circuit.
But The Number has denied Mr Bedford - who broke the 10,000 metres world record in 1973 - was the inspiration for the advertising campaign.
Photos of Prefontaine helped create image, claims The Number
A spokesman said: "He claims that our advertising is based on him and his image when he was a runner in the 1970s, and he wants compensation for that."
The company said their advertising agency had come up with the concept, based on a generic 70-style runner.
"His allegations are ridiculous," said the spokesman.
"We looked at pictures of Steve Prefontaine but the runners are not
particularly modelled on him. The agency used him to say `this is the kind of
thing we want'."
"During the Seventies all the runners had moustaches and long hair,
even the footballers did," he added.
The adverts, some of which show the pair of runners pointing at people
shouting "got your number", have been a runaway success, giving The Number
around 50% of the UK market for directory inquiries.
The service was launched in March before BT's 192 service was replaced by 14
Mr Bedford has previously been reported as saying that he wanted to sue, but
that his lawyer had told him he had no case because he had no control over the
He recently said: "If you see the way I looked in 1973, when I broke the
world record, the representation couldn't be more exact."