We’ve abandoned our tradition of blowing raspberries unto powerby Rory Bremner / September 18, 2014 / Leave a comment
Some time in the late 1970s, so the story goes, the BBC’s legendary Head of Light Entertainment, Bill Cotton, was travelling in a lift at Television Centre when he was buttonholed by a young producer. “Why haven’t we got any satire at the BBC?” the man demanded. “Of course we’ve got satire,” Cotton replied. “We’ve got Mike Yarwood.”
How we laughed. As young whippersnappers, starting out at the BBC nearly a decade later, we scoffed at the idea that master-impressionist Yarwood’s mainstream, family-friendly show could be construed as satire. Why, Labour Chancellor Denis Healey even made an appearance in one show, playing the piano while Yarwood, in drag, played the part of Healey’s sister. George Osborne, eat your heart out. If you have one.
And yet, 30 years on, the idea of politicians like Healey, Ted Heath, Harold Wilson and Enoch Powell (yes! Enoch Powell!) being lampooned, however gently, week in, week out, on prime-time television, seems to belong to a golden age of political satire, with the talented Yarwood up there with that other fearless impressionist, Lenny Bruce.
By contrast, for the entire duration of this parliament, for the first time I can remember, we’ve had no regular mimicry of the people running the country. Possibly, as I’ll argue later, because (a) we’re not sure who they are anyway, and (b) we’re not sure they’re actually running the country either. In the 1970s, we had Yarwood. In the 1980s, Spitting Image, spearheaded by Steve Nallon’s glorious and grotesque Margaret Thatcher (“What about the vegetables?” “Oh, they’ll have the same as me.”) From 1992 to 2010, I was fortunate enough, along with John Bird and the late and much missed John Fortune, to be given free rein by Channel 4 to ridicule governments and policies alike. But today? Nothing. Nix. Nada.
So what happened? Who killed satire? Well, in true Agatha Christie…