Political drama in Britain usually portrays politicians as ridiculous or egotistical. My new radio series takes a different viewby Jonathan Myerson / September 30, 2007 / Leave a comment
I chose the new prime minister. I chose his head of office and his director of communications. I even chose his new civil servants, the new doorman at No 10 and—in for a penny—I chose his wife.
All, alas, for a radio drama: this Friday, Radio 4 will begin broadcasting the first part of our series, Number 10. Each episode aims to throw light on some aspect of British politics. Far more than in the Commons chamber, it’s inside the pillared rooms of Downing Street that the real governance of Britain unfolds. Each of our storylines explores a policy area—whether immigration, carbon reduction, cannabis legalisation, or tussles with the palace—and shows how nothing is as simple as it seems.
I suggest that it will be the first ever British broadcast drama series to take contemporary politics seriously. There have been thrillerish one-offs (A Very British Coup), silly sideways glances (Mrs Pritchard), wrong-end-of-the-telescope glimpses (Party Animals) and no end of comic series.
Like many others, I worship at the shrine of Yes, Minister and its distaff offspring, The Thick of It. Yet I wonder why we constantly favour these satiric views? Ever since the days of Hogarth and Fielding, British politicians have constantly been depicted as on-the-make and egotistical, rarely stooping to do anything public-spirited. No British drama has ever spent simply 60 minutes watching a prime minister and his staff as they try to execute a policy.
They’ve done this for the man in Washington, where—love it or loathe it—they’re happy to make a hero out of their president. Once elected, the US office-holder takes on a saintliness. We just don’t do that in Britain. Every Blair drama has presented him as feckless or grinning or even imbecilic. Our desire to squeeze all politicians into the Jim Hacker mould means that serious debate rarely gets an outing in political drama.
Yet British prime ministers are made for drama. Whereas the US president is invulnerable (little blue dresses apart), for at least four years, the British PM is constantly jostled by his rivals in cabinet, heckled by disgruntled backbenchers and cross-questioned by the press. The US president never faces anything like it.
It’s this need to be ready for everything which makes the work of the British PM so fascinating—especially for a dramatist. Our PM is not hidden inside a White House or swept away in Air Force One; he…