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Wasted talent

Just before Christmas, a TV production company asked whether I might be interested in appearing in a zappy new live and topical political series they were soon to launch on Channel 4.

29 January 2011

12:00 AM

29 January 2011

12:00 AM

‘We’ve got our main presenters,’ they explained. ‘What we need are interviewees to fill the guest slots. People with strong opinions on …well, what are your views on the EU, for example?’ So I told them my views on the EUSSR, while swearing quite a lot. This seemed to make them happy.

‘It’s called 10 O’Clock Live,’ they said. ‘You probably saw our pilot. The one-off special with Lauren Laverne, Charlie Brooker, David Mitchell and Jimmy Carr? It got pretty good ratings.’ No, I replied. That isn’t the sort of programme I’d watch in a million years. Lefty comedians making lefty jokes to a lefty audience about politics from a relentlessly lefty perspective? No, thanks.

‘But that’s exactly why we’re approaching you. To give it a bit of political balance,’ they said. ‘You mean, to come on as your token right-wing nutcase to be reviled and jeered at?’ I said. ‘Nooo,’ they said. ‘We want every point of view to be represented, we really do.’ ‘Yeah, right,’ I thought. But I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and wait for the first episode.

And guess what? 10 O’Clock Live (Channel 4, Thursday, live — so I’m reviewing last week’s show, not this week’s) is so relentlessly left-wing it’s like attending one of those Maoist re-education lectures the Chinese used to impose on captured British and American prisoners during the Korean war. Only without the levity, rapier wit and penetrating intellectual sophistication.

It’s also a tragic waste of talent. Laverne, formerly of Sunderland indie-punk band Kenickie, has enormous natural charm and a dreamily surreal manner not unakin to Luna Lovegood in Harry Potter. Ruthlessly savage, viciously funny, morbidly pessimistic social satirist Brooker is the Jonathan Swift de nos jours. Mitchell (of Peep Show) has a pedantic intelligence capable of mining wry, genuinely funny observational humour from almost every topic he broaches. Carr, able to deliver fantastically offensive one-liners with a deadpan timing that makes them sound entirely innocent, is the thinking man’s Frankie Boyle.

So how were their special skills deployed on 10 O’Clock Live? Laverne was shoehorned into a painful skit designed to show how — tee hee — totally shallow American news programmes are. Brooker used his Swiftian scabrousness to tell us that he believes Sarah Palin to be stupid and right-wing. Carr teased a natural one-liner into a lengthy routine about the chortlesome contrast between Tunisia’s recent role as a holiday destination and its current one as a riot-ravaged danger zone. Mitchell spoke with such passion and venomously lofty disdain about the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt’s plans for a dedicated local news TV channel that you’d almost imagine it were a subject that mattered.

On the programme’s launch day, the most widely reported news story was Baroness Warsi’s contentious claim that Islamophobia is now the topic of choice at all middle-class dinner parties. Amazingly, by some extraordinary oversight — which surely had nothing to do with moral cowardice and going for easy targets to please their amen corner of lefty-student types in the audience — this crack team of edgy, fearless satirists managed to ignore it completely. Instead they brought their righteous rage to bear on the iniquity of banker bonuses and the scandal of student education being no longer ‘free’.

To defend the government’s record on the latter, they had on the MP David Willetts. Politely he explained that it just wasn’t fair to expect low-earning taxpayers to shoulder the burden of paying for the educationally advantaged. Mitchell feared for the effects this might have both on poor people (who might now be frightened off going to university) and on non-vocational subjects such as the humanities. Willetts explained this shouldn’t be a problem because graduates would only start being charged for their degrees when they started earning above £21,000 (i.e., once the value of their degrees was becoming evident). This subtlety was beyond Mitchell who, in a subsequent round panel discussion with the three other presenters, made his point again. They all agreed with him because he’s David Mitchell, went to Cambridge and is left-wing, as all decent people are.

Perhaps one day I shall get a call sounding me out as to whether I still want to go on 10 O’Clock Live and be exposed as foolish, wrong and evil for believing that ‘Climate Change’ is not man-made, that the EU is greedy, corrupt and authoritarian, that people should be free to choose how to spend the money they have earned and that the Gentleman from Whitehall doesn’t know what is best for you. Just how suicidally stupid would I need to be to say ‘yes’?

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