Be Afraid, Minister, Be Very Afraid; the Thick of It BBC4

Article excerpt

Byline: PETE CLARK

The Thick of It

BBC4

ONCE upon a time, there was a much-loved television series called Yes, Minister. Unusually - for we are not a race that finds the business of government amusing or fascinating - Yes, Minister concerned itself with politics, specifically the relationship between a minister called Jim Hacker (played by Paul Eddington) and the senior civil servant who ruled his every waking hour, Sir Humphrey (Nigel Hawthorne).

Hacker was in a permanent state of befuddlement, caught like a lost rabbit in the headlights of Humphrey's allencompassing knowledge of the political highway code.

That relationship harked back even further in the history of English merriment to the immortal partnership of Jeeves and Wooster, wherein the former made repeated but utterly futile attempts to act independently of the latter, before submitting to the inevitable need for rescue and guidance.

Times change and have a most marked effect on character. The Thick of It introduces us with a brutal lack of fuss to a man for our political times who goes by the name of Malcolm Tucker. As magnificently played by Peter Capaldi - who brings to the part the quality of a venomous lizard living among the rocks of civilisation - Tucker gives us a peek of his credentials early on by describing the person he has been talking about down the phone as being "as useless as a marzipan dildo".

Tucker is the Prime Minister's enforcer, a cross between Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson. When first discovered, he is lurking in the office of a minister he is about to fire, although the word "fire" is somehow entirely inadequate to describe the mental evisceration that the poor man endures in a few short minutes.

He is shorn of his title, dignity, purpose, meaning and his "purchase in the sarcasm world", before being ordered to report immediately for the "usual soapy tit w**k farewell at Number 10", which is not the traditional way to describe a resignation speech.

The Thick of It has been created by Armando Iannucci, and, as I have already indicated, it is notable for a particularly-forceful way with language.

Whereas Jim and Sir Humphrey fenced elegantly, Malcolm prefers the use of a short stabbing sword, so that everyone might see and quake at the amount of blood on the walls. Not being privy to the life that goes on behind the closed doors of the political establishment, I can only hazard the guess that the tone of his repartee - if repartee it can be when there is usually no possible comeback - rings true. …