The controversial counterintuitive piece I was going to write concerned Ben Elton’s new sitcom The Wright Way (BBC1, Tuesday). You may have noticed it has been panned by all the critics, but the main focus has been on Elton’s shift from darling of the Eighties alternative comedy left to bourgeois sell-out. So what I was going to do was note that, whatever you think of Elton, he doesn’t half know how to capture the zeitgeist, and that this beautifully acted send-up of Elf n Safety gone mad starring the great David Haig is a bourgeois gem to rank with My Family and Outnumbered.
But then I made the mistake of watching it. I lasted all of five minutes. Not a cynically calculated five minutes designed to enable me to write the phrase ‘The Wright Way is so bad that I could only watch five minutes’ but a totally sincere five minutes (or possibly less) of such agonised writhing and head-burying-beneath-the-duvet that I knew with every fibre of my being that were I not to switch the iPad off that very second I would surely die.
Here is the impression I formed before that happy moment: Ben Elton has NOT changed. He may be a lot richer since the days he wore a shiny suit and made everyone laugh by saying ‘Thatch’ a lot but his adolescent politics remain entirely unaffected by reality.
You might have hoped, for example, that having done so much to create the pop cultural image of Margaret Thatcher as a hate figure beyond redemption he had since realised on mature reflection that the Blair revolution he helped foment did at least as much damage to Britain as ever the Woman Who Made Him Rich And Famous did.
But no. Commissioning Ben Elton to criticise Elf n Safety gone mad, you realise, is a bit like Stalin commissioning Konstantin Simonov to do a warts and all send-up of the failings of communism. Yes, Elton sort of senses that it’s fertile territory for a popular sitcom, probably because he’s heard lots of people say so in the moneyed circles in which he now moves. But it’s a comic seam he’s quite incapable of mining because, in his heart, he just doesn’t get what the problem is. What, after all, could there be not to like about more people being employed by the noble, caring state to ensure that workers are healthier and safer than at any time in history, comrade?
So again and again — yes, I’ve only seen five minutes, but how wrong am I? — he pulls his punches. For example, in order to show that the David Haig character is not such a bad fellow (despite the fact — ELTON SUBTLETY ALERT — that he reads the Daily Mail), he gives him a lesbian daughter with whom he gets on, even when she has her actual lesbian girlfriend to stay and she uses his bathroom!!!
I guess that must mean I’m nice too, because I know some lesbians — at least three of them, one of whom is a relative — and never once have I got my right-wing mates to pursue them with flaming torches and pitchforks in a hate-filled mob, screaming ‘Lesbo! Lezzer!’, unlike how most typical evil, selfish, homophobic Thatcherite types do. Do you think, in future, I should have that at the top of my column: ‘Some of James Delingpole’s best friends are lesbians’? ‘…And he wants world peace too,’ I could add, just so people know where I stand.
Tell you what did impress me, though: Rupert Murdoch: Battle With Britain (BBC2, Sunday). Not unlike Martin Durkin’s Thatcher: Death of a Revolutionary the other week it took a line on its subject so surprising and unusual that you kept having to pinch yourself.
Rupert Murdoch, ran the programme’s daring thesis, was not, after all, a man who had dumbed down Britain, corrupted our political system, and eaten all our babies smeared with Vegemite and washed down with Foster’s lager. He was, in fact, an incredibly brave and far-sighted revolutionary hero who had risked all to give consumers what they want, despite relentless, largely unjustified harassment by the reactionary, liberal-left-dominated establishment, notably the BBC and the Guardian.
The fact that it was commissioned by the BBC (good on yer, Janice Hadlow!) and presented by a Guardian journalist (Steve Hewlett) made it all the more remarkable. Hewlett made a very good hash of actually seeming to believe his own message, even to the point of deliciously skewering some of Murdoch’s right-on critics, such as ex-Sunday Times man Harold Evans.
Evans, as has become his wont, was sounding off about what a disgrace it was that a fine institution like the Sunday Times had been put in the hands of the digger. At which point, Hewlett quoted the letter Evans had written at the time to Gordon Brunton of the Thomson Organisation. The one where, having taken soundings within the Sunday Times, Evans had agreed that a Murdoch takeover was by far the best available option, after his own consortium bid had failed.