Armando Iannucci
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Joined: 25 Apr 2006

PostPosted: Sun Oct 24, 2010 10:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

'Now is not the time for a crap opposition'
Armando Iannucci, creator of The Thick of It, is Britain's greatest political satirist in recent years. So, when is he going to sink his teeth into the coalition?
Stuart Jeffries
The Guardian,
23 October 2010

One grisly night in April, Armando Iannucci found himself in Spin Alley. "That was the night I realised my true worth as a human being," he says. Spin Alley is the term Iannucci coined during the election campaign to describe a backstage area where journalists would gather after each leaders' debate. Political spokespeople would desperately try to convince them that their guy had won.

"It was like a cattle auction or a slave market. There were different pens the fresh meat would get shoved into. The Huw Edwards pen. The Kay Burley pen. The Five Live pen. So I was shoved into one of these pens and put in front of a live camera. Two seconds before I was going to speak, I was yanked back out and replaced by Alastair Campbell. He was obviously a bigger catch than me.

"As he replaced me, he muttered: 'If it isn't the bloke who's been making a living out of me for the past 10 years.' I felt like a trainee tap dancer. I had found my market value."

Campbell's jibe, though, was a typical New Labour half-truth. Armando Iannucci, 46, perhaps Britain's greatest recent political satirist, the man responsible for some of the most well-observed, biting comedy of our time (The Day Today, I'm Alan Partridge, In the Loop) and for catalysing some of our greatest comedy talents, has only been making a living out of Campbell for five years. The Thick of It, the satirical sitcom he created as a Yes Minister for a new millennium, starring Peter Capaldi as foul-mouthed Campbell simulacrum Malcolm Tucker, hit our screens in May 2005.

That said, Iannucci hasn't finished making a living out of Tony Blair's PR bruiser, even though Campbell's beloved New Labour is dead, buried and Ed Miliband affects to dance on its grave. Faber next month publishes a Thick of It spinoff book entitled The Missing DoSAC Files, written by Iannucci and the show's other writers Jesse Armstrong, Ian Martin, Simon Blackwell and Tony Roche. DoSAC stands for the Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship. Now the coalition is cutting government savagely the acronym is proving alarmingly prescient.

The book's conceit is that secret DoSAC files have been found at Euston station. Among embarrassing personnel files and risible policy drafts is Malcolm Tucker's invaluable guide to dealing with journalists, which contains more truth than Campbell could ever manage.

"The bottom line in a live TV interview is always," counsels Tucker, "do not look like Michael Fucking Howard." It was Howard, you'll remember, who by failing to answer a question that Jeremy Paxman asked 12 times made himself into a case study of how not to deal with the media.

Tucker's swearing here is as exotic as it ever was on telly, particularly when his Campbellian scheming goes, as Tucker puts it, manboobs up. Iannucci, though engaging and thoughtful, is an ultimately disappointing interviewee because, unlike his creation, he doesn't give good cuss. "I don't actually swear that much or when I do I don't do it very exotically," he says regretfully.

This is the man who broke off from a postgraduate thesis on Milton's religious poetry to enter the world of comedy and who now lives in Buckinghamshire with his wife, a speech therapist whom he met while studying English at Oxford, and their three children.

He is more cerebral than his creation, perhaps temperamentally more effete. Last year, he even collaborated on an operetta like as Tucker would have put it a mimsy, bleating public schoolboy who lives with cats and an Aga. As a result of such temperamental failings, Iannucci needed help with The Thick of It to ensure that when Tucker gets angry he gets, in his words, apo-fucking-pleptically angry. He took on Martin as swearing consultant and Roche, whose unreliable biography in the book says he "studied swearing under David Mamet at NYFU".

Is this book the last of The Thick of It? Or will Iannucci create a new sitcom, The Thin of It, to satirise the axe-wielding new government? Iannucci says he is considering his options. "We haven't started writing the new series. I want to see what the underlying atmosphere is." But he already has some ideas for what the new series will be like. He envisages Peter Mannion, whom we met as the shadow DoSAC secretary, replacing previous incumbent Nicola Murray (the marvellous Rebecca Front). "But there's a twist. Mannion becomes minister but there will be someone from the other party in the coalition in his office, so a lot of the comedy will come from that tension between duplicated ministers."

He has another idea for the series. "We have to cast someone who is utterly thrilled to be in power, amazed to find themselves in government, but who has death in their eyes when it comes to enforcing the cuts." This sounds as though he's please God, make it so poised to make Nick Clegg the butt of his next satirical series.

But will Iannucci really dare to be as ruthlessly satirical about the coalition as he was about New Labour? After all, Iannucci voted Liberal Democrat in May. Just before the election, he argued: "They represent the best chance in a lifetime to make lasting and fair changes to how the UK is governed." Does he still feel that way now that Clegg is Cameron's ankle bracelet? "I waver on this. My Lib Dem support goes back to 2003 when Charles Kennedy led them to oppose the war in Iraq. That was a hard and impressive thing for him to do at the time."

Iannucci does admit to queasiness about the Lib Dems consorting with the Tories. "So much is happening that has not been voted for or scrutinised properly by the opposition. We're facing the most radical overhaul of the NHS and it wasn't even mentioned in the manifesto, nor was the notion of fixed terms that could only be overturned by a 55% parliamentary majority. What we've lacked since the election now is a proper opposition to forensically examine what the Tories are doing.

"I really do think the opposition for the last 30 years has been quite crap and now is not a time for a crap opposition. Ed Miliband and his team should be absolutely ruthless in unearthing the flaws in government logic.

"The cuts aren't about economics any longer they're about ideology. And the ideology is that a big state is bad and state interference is bad." So the US Tea Party agenda has been smuggled into British politics? "Absolutely, and nobody so far is fighting against it. Take quangos. The ones they're keeping are the ones that benefit business, while cutting the arty-farty ones that cost very little and arguably earn money."

Among the quangos to be cut is the UK Film Council. "I do have an interest in it because it partly financed my last film. But I do think it's silly to abolish it. Who's going to decide whether to fund the next rom-com? A civil servant? Theresa May? In a few years, they'll probably quietly establish something called the National Film Funding Committee and it won't be very different from what they abolished."

The Iannucci film that the Film Council bankrolled was In the Loop, a Bafta-winning, Oscar-nominated triumph. Iraq not only changed Iannucci's voting preferences; it gave him the film's storyline.

"It was about two countries [the UK and the US] and how they end up agreeing to a war that everybody else thinks makes no sense whatsoever." Alastair Campbell called it "boring", which most likely indicates how much it hit its target.

Iannucci says he has no interest in a sequel. "In the Loop was a one-off. I want to do something completely different a slapstick comedy in the tradition of early Woody Allen."

That film, which he has co-written with Will Smith and Roger Drew, will be called Out of the Window. The project, not yet filmed, has overcome hilarious misrepresentation. "This is how the internet works," says Iannucci. "The BBC put out a story on its website saying that I was writing a film with Will and Roger. Absolutely true. It added that Will was also working on a biopic about Charles Dickens. Again true." Smith and Drew, incidentally, are two of Iannucci's longtime writing collaborators. "Then the story came out on some website in the States that I was directing a biopic with Will Smith, the American movie star rather than the British comedy writer, as Dickens."

So what is Out of the Window really about? "It's the story of a guy who works in a glass-fronted office building and one day he scratches his armpit. Somebody films it, puts it on YouTube with a soundtrack of monkey noises. It ruins his life. So this guy spends the rest of the film trying to track down the bastard who made him known the world over as Scratchy Monkey."

But that's not the only film he's working on. "I've been editing the Alan Partridge picture too." Iannucci will tell me little about this long-sought after film, in which Steve Coogan reprises the role of the egotistical monster of a Norwich DJ that he and Iannucci created on Radio 4 nearly 20 years ago and brought to BBC2 a few years later. He scotches the rumours that the drama takes Partridge to the US, where he becomes as intolerably successful as those real life Alan Partridges, Simon Cowell and Piers Morgan.

"Taking Alan to the US wouldn't have been a good idea. Alan's thing is that he's delusional in imagining his future is brighter than it ever will be. He keeps expecting that, because Keith Chegwin and Tony Blackburn have been brought back to national consciousness with reality TV, that he is destined to return too. But he hasn't had that call."

Iannucci is also working on an HBO comedy series about the office of the US vice-president. He yearns to have the HBO imprimatur on his work. "For me HBO means The Larry Sanders Show, which was such a profound influence on The Thick of It, and Curb Your Enthusiasm." He says he's awaiting approval to make a pilot. "I've been interested in vice-presidents ever since I thought about Dick Cheney. In the runup to war in Iraq, Blair and his team thought they could man-mark the Americans and so control them. Blair would mark Bush, Straw would mark Colin Powell. Geoff Hoon was going to mark Rumsfeld. It was a crazy idea, but they also forgot about the vice-president Dick Cheney, who happened to be the guy who was driving the whole war thing alone.

"So the office of vice-president is really interesting. It can be an office where the incumbent is scheming against the president or, as in Cheney's case, doing the president's job.

"In my series the vice-president was a powerful senator, but who now has nothing like that power." Why that drama rather than tackling the Obama presidency? "In my view Obama is tragic not comic. I do comedy."

Is all this recent creative work Iannucci leveraging his British small-screen success into opportunities to explore more ambitious material on bigger canvases? "If only," giggles Iannucci. "The truth is that everything I have done for the last eight years has been displacement activity for the half-written comic novel I should be finishing. I keep getting calls from my publishers asking politely if there's anything for them to see yet. I can't finish it."

That is, surely, a little pathetic: after all, even his nemesis, Alastair Campbell has found time to finish his novel. It probably isn't very good, but at least Campbell's achieved closure in a way Iannucci has not.

It's time for photos. I ask Iannucci to sign my copy of The DoSAC Files. I look to see what he's written. "Hell-fuck-o! Armando Iannucci." I'm slightly disappointed. It's a good try, but he still could do with some creative swearing help. Ideally from a graduate of NYFU.

The comedy cuts Iannucci tweets

I think the cuts were fair. It's about time bedbound homeless people were taken down a peg or two.

Prince Andrew to be "halved" by 2015.

BBC to be cut back to be just BB and merged with the Boys' Brigade.

Department of Work and Pensions to be scrapped and replaced by increased funding to Dignitas.

Do you get the impression these cuts are being worked out on the back of a pack of Nicorettes?
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PostPosted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 6:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Armando Iannucci - Richard Bacon - 2010-11-11
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 15, 2012 11:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

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Joined: 11 Feb 2007
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i've not seen it yet, but theres a new series of in the thick of it! first episode on iplayer now
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