Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Calder on Air: From Mandy to Miranda

My Calder on Air column from last week's Liberal Democrat News.

The real Mandy?

Mandelson: The Real PM? (BBC4) promised the viewer glimpsed of the Demon King in his underwear, taking off all that make up with cold cream, but never delivered it.

Yes, much of the action took place behind the scenes, with the other big beasts in the next room or on the other end of the phone, which gave this profile the feel of a downbeat episode of The Thick of It, but Lord Mandelson was never caught out of character for a moment.

His bullying answer to a journalist’s question on bullying, his reassurance of Gordon Brown that the format of the leaders’ televised debates really suited him, even that notorious handing of a yoghurt pot to an underling... all these incidents showed him just as he wanted to be seen. Not for a moment did the camera catch Mandelson with his guard down. The Real PM? did not represent a stripping away of his mystique but a buffing and replenishment of it.

I have long thought that Lord Mandelson had it in him to become a minor national treasure when he left power. Think of his delightfully twinkling and catty performance in the BBC’s documentary on the forming of the Coalition, explaining that Nick Clegg may have found Gordon Brown “a little bit Gordonish”.

But in the last few days has come the news that Mandelson is to relaunch himself as the head of Global Counsel LLP, a consultancy offering “high-level strategic advice to European companies” – perhaps to people who cannot quite afford Tony Blair’s services.

And then you recall Mandelson’s Machiavellian genius and notice that The Real PM? was directed by a family friend and shown at the London Film Festival before it found its way on to BBC4.

As someone told the Financial Times when considering Lord Mandelson’s new career: “What is his calling card? He has been at the heart of government and knows how the EC works and how regulation works.”

Maybe The Real PM? was always intended to be a glossy version of that calling card if Labour lost the election?


When Harry Hill’s TV Burp (ITV) appeared in 2002 its success was thoroughly deserved. Here was a programme that could laugh at popular television without laughing at the people who watched it.

Of late, however, it has become rather pleased with itself. There are too many recurring features that aren’t that funny and too many jokes about bodily functions.

Perhaps the real problem with TV Burp is that it has become too popular. Harry Hill used to make a wonderfully improbable TV personality, but we have come to take him for granted. He is fast becoming the sort of person Harry Hill should be making fun of.


We are all believers in the Big Society these days, so the new series Ian Hislop’s Age of the Do-Gooders (BBC2 ) is timely. There are too many top hats and other gimmicks on show, suggesting that the producers are nervous about asking us to take Victorian philanthropy seriously. Which is a shame, because Hislop is introducing us to some remarkable and unjustly forgotten figures.

A huffy piece in the Guardian the other day complained that the series does not mention that state provision was brought in because of the limitations of philanthropy. That is true, but it is equally the case that for decades – think of the rise of community politics in the old Liberal Party – that thoughtful radicals have been aware of the limitations of the state.

And it was great to see the explosively Brummie Professor Carl Chinn, something of a star of regional TV in recent years, being given a national platform.


I met an old friend on the train home from work tonight. “Are you one of those people who watches Miranda (BBC2), laughs at it but feels somehow that they shouldn’t be?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied.


iain said...

Nor should we forget Beveridge's real anger when the 1945 Labour Government chose to nationalise the national insurance and ignore his advice that the Friendly Societies should continue with a key role

Anonymous said...

You said " He is fast becoming the sort of person Harry Hill should be making fun of."

The Impression Show (BBC, 10.15 Sunday) does just that to wonderfully comic effect!

It also has a wonderfully accurate Boris Johnson and Jeremy Clarkson.