Whitehall farce: As The Thick Of It returns to lampoon the Coalition, its creators insist the real thing is dafter than any script
13:59 GMT, 28 September 2012
Fact and fiction are so closely entwined in TV political satire The Thick Of It, they are almost indistinguishable. And proof of it arrived earlier this year when Ed Miliband criticised the Coalition’s ‘omnishambles’ budget.
Omnishambles, you see, is a made-up word, created by the writers on the popular BBC2 show.
‘Sometimes real life echoes what we do so much that I can only think that they see our show and decide to act on it,’ says actress Rebecca Front, who plays hapless MP Nicola Murray, with a sigh.
The cast: The Thick Of It stars James Smith as Glenn, Chris Addison as Ollie, Rebecca Front as Nicola, Peter Calpadi as Malcolm and Joanna Scanlan as Terri
It has been three long years since the last series of The Thick Of It. After a film which used some of the same characters, In The Loop, the show’s writing team has been busy producing a US version called Veep, aired here on Sky Atlantic.
But the lure of the new Coalition Government and an unlikely Opposition leader in the form of Ed Miliband meant the writers were itching to make a new series.
And when it comes to looking at their crystal ball, it appears the team have lost none of their powers.
The first episode of the new show began with the two Coalition parties squabbling about how to launch what sounds like a ridiculously cynical idea – encouraging school children to design their own computer programmes with the promise of money off their tuition fees.
A day after the cast had filmed it, the real Education Secretary, Michael Gove, endorsed an almost identical scheme, called the Raspberry Pi. ‘We wondered whether they had spies,’ says Will Smith, who is one of the show’s main writers and also plays an inept political advisor. ‘It felt like they’d stolen our material.’
Life imitating art: Ed Miliband used the word 'omnishambles', which was made-up by the writers on the popular BBC2 show, to criticise the Coalitions budget
When they first started on this series earlier this year, the real Coalition appeared to be getting on swimmingly ‘we were being told that the tensions were more within their own parties,’ says writer Roger Drew.
'But they knew that would never last and it hasn’t. ‘People were always going to not get on with each other.'
In the most recent episodes, Nicola has inexplicably been made leader of the opposition, something that has made the usually foul-mouthed former No 10 spin doctor Malcolm Tucker – played to great acclaim by Peter Capaldi – curse even more creatively.
‘There was a complex voting procedure, a Soviet-style bloc vote and somehow Nicola ended up in power,’ muses Rebecca.
‘It’s plausible – look at what happened to Miliband.’ [He became Labour leader thanks mainly to the union vote.] As well as being avid followers of politics, the writing team depend on their script consultant, BBC political reporter Kate Conway, for information. They have also been approached by political insiders.
‘At a Veep screening someone came up to us and said, “I work in David Cameron’s press office” and left it hanging there and walked away,’ adds Roger.
‘Another person approached us and said, “I’m in Nick Clegg’s office until June and then I’ll give you all the dirt”. And Derek Draper [a former advisor to the Labour party] once wrote to us asking “how do you know all this stuff”
They admit there are some things that have happened in the real world of politics they wouldn’t have dared make up: the U-turn on the pasty tax, Jeremy Hunt’s bell breaking as he rang in the launch of the Olympics, and Boris Johnson getting stuck on a zip wire.
Even with all that comedic richness to mine, the show’s creator, Armando Iannucci, has hinted this may be the last series of The Thick Of It, as he wants to cast his eye on a new satire about Silicon Valley. If it is, it’ll go out with a bang – thanks to a Leveson-style inquiry that all the characters get dragged into.
‘The inquiry is awful,’ says Rebecca. ‘It makes you wonder why anyone would go into politics.’
The Thick Of It, tonight, 9.45pm, BBC2.