Friday, November 19, 2010

Calder on Air: Lembit in the jungle

My column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

"Celebs" and Comedy

The frustrating thing about Lembit Opik is that deep down – very deep down – you sense there is a serious politician trying to get out. I remember a meeting of the Federal Policy Committee where he came in halfway through a discussion on defence and illuminated it by drawing it by drawing on his family’s experience of foreign occupation.
But moments like that have been rarer of late. It is not often I can claim to have been prophetic, but two years ago, in the wake of his defeat by Ros Scott in the election for party president, I wrote on my blog Liberal England:

Lembit has tested to destruction the proposition that there is no such thing as bad publicity. He now needs to take himself more seriously in order to persuade others to take him more seriously. He has a Westminster seat to retain and will no doubt return to the Lib Dem front bench soon.
Otherwise... As I write this, Neil and Christine Hamilton, as if in dreadful warning to him, are appearing on Hole in the Wall.
Well, he wasn’t asked to return to the front bench, didn’t hold his seat and failed to heed my warning. And today he is in the jungle.

Or as Lembit put it in a thumping non sequitur in the opening show of this year’s I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here (ITV1): “I used to be a Member of Parliament. I’m not any more. That’s why I’m here.”

There is something deeply unlovely about I’m a Celebrity... True, none of the contestants are forced to be there, but already Gillian McKeith is emerging as the least popular girl in the school, forced to undergo an ordeal every evening by a vengeful public while that strange Geordie quadruped Antndec capers around like a giggling little boy allowed to be part of the school bully’s entourage.

Lembit’s hopes he will emerge from the jungle as the natural choice to be Liberal Democrat candidate in the next London Mayoral election. I don’t quite get the logic – is he expecting to be up against Wagner and Felicity Kendall? – but there is a precedent of a sort.

Except that Brian Paddick went off to the jungle only after being the party’s last Mayoral candidate. Perhaps that was wise. if London’s voters had seen his inability to deal with David Van Day and the double-decker first, they would have had less confidence in his ability to run Transport for London.


The Armstrong and Miller sketch with the RAF pilots who talk street is popular for two reasons. It is linguistically clever, marrying two forms of speech you would think are incompatible. And, by juxtaposing wartime sacrifice and our modern sense of entitlement, it points an unfashionable but valid moral.

Beyond that it is hard to remember which sketches are from Armstong and Miller and which from Mitchell and Webb. In fact I may not have got that right. It could equally be Mitchell and Miller and Armstrong and Webb.

The difference, if I have got this right, is that Mitchell and Webb are the better actors, while Armstrong and Miller too often rely on the university revue tactic of putting on a hat and doing a funny accent.

If you want original comedy at the moment look to The Trip (BBC2), where Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon are developing the edgy, semi-fictionalised partnership they began in the film A Cock and Bull Story.

This time they are on a tour of restaurants across the North of England, indulging in impression duels and sparring for superiority. With Coogan and Brydon playing exaggerated versions of themselves, we are in Extras country.

But your uncertainty over how The Trip will develop keeps you watching, whereas the appeal and limitation of shows like Webb and Miller and Mitchell and Armstrong is that they are the same every week.


Ian Matthews said...

Hmm. Not sure that's true about Armstrong/Miller and Mitchell/Webb.

As a long time Mitchell and Webb fan, I found myself drawn to the apparently more mainstream Armstrong and Miller. There is a darkness, a despair of modern life in what they do. Think of sketches such as the 'Barbie Affair', Ben Miller's superb turn playing out tragedies during a house viewing or car test drive, the guy on honeymoon on his in the last series and their sublime Flanders and Swan parody (upon which Stephanie Flanders gave her seal of approval). In a way, Armstrong plays the comic foil to the more moving straight man of Ben Miller which is a unique twist.

Anonymous said...

Let's hear it for Miranda.