Posts Tagged ‘The Long Johns’

Civil Servants Were Afraid Impressionist Bremner Would Bring Down John Major

January 7, 2020

Before the serious stuff, here’s a bit of fun news. Last Thursday’s I for 2nd January 2020 reported that Rory Bremner’s impressions of former prime minister John Major were so good, he would bring down the government. Bremner had been phoning up various rebellious backbench MPs as Major, and the head of the civil service at the time, Sir Robin Butler, was afraid he’d get hold of the budget. In the article ‘Bremner almost brought down John Major’, Adam Sherwin wrote

Whitehall’s top civil servant feared that Rory Bremner could brind down John Major’s government because the comic’s impersonation of the Prime Minister was so convincing.

Sir Robin Butler, then cabinet secretary, called Michael Grade, the chief executive at Channel 4, to express his concerns after the impressionist made a prank call to a rebellious backbench Tory MP.

Sir Robin feared that Bremner’s impression of Mr Major was so accurate that he would be able to trick then-chancellor Kenneth Clarke into leaking advance details of the Budget.

The could have been devastating to Mr Major, who was steering an administration with a fragile majority.

The prank calls, made in 1993, were intended for use in the comedian’s series, Rory Bremner, Who Else? But Sir Robin stepped in after Bremner fooled Sir Richard Body, one of the Eurosceptic Maastricht rebels who were known as “the bastards”.

Speaking to the Media Matters podcast, Lord Grade of Yarmouth revealed that Sir Robin told him: “We have a bit of a problem. Your Mr Rory Bremner. He’s very good at impersonating the Prime Minister. He’s been ringing MPs.

“We don’t have a problem with that. But the issue we have is that, he’s so good, he could ring the chancellor and get the Budget.”

Lord Grade said he told Sir Robin: “Oh, I get the point. Leave it with me.” Bremner’s team agreed not to air the call, which Sir Robin said was a “great relief”. Lord Grade, who faced controversy over prank calls made by Chris Morris for Brass Eye, later sent Sir Robin a tape of the call.

Bremner has confirmed ringing the MP. “We hadn’t got a script, we were just making it up. It went very well,” he said. “John Major said ‘well this is very funny but it could get quite serious’. So there was this hunt going on.”

Bremner also called Margaret Beckett pretending to be Gordon Brown in 2005, and discussed Cabinet appointments. Lawyers vetoed its broadcast.

Bremner’s series on Channel 4, Rory Bremner: Who Else? and later Bremner, Bird and Fortune with John Bird and John Fortune, who later had their own series, The Long Johns, were hilarious, but they were also very sharp, very serious satire. Amongst the impressions they made serious, factual points about the issues of the day, quoting real statistics. I can remember they were particularly sharp on attacking the government’s and papers’ vicious and misleading policies and statements over immigration. And they also tried to stop the Iraq invasion by sending that up and arguing against it.

The three also published a book during Tony Blair’s tenure of 10 Downing Street, You Are Here, attacking his policies of privatisation and the Public-Private Finance Initiative deals, which were grossly inefficient and which took power away from people and put it squarely in the hands of the corporate bosses, who donated so handsomely to Blair.

Now that the Blairites are trying to seize control of the Labour Party again, I’ll have to dig that book out to show how treacherous their claims and politics are. 

Vox Political on John Whittingdale’s Attack on the Beeb’s Independence

May 12, 2016

John Whittingdale, the Tory perv and walking security risk currently in charge of spearheading the government’s campaign to privatise the Beeb, has finally released his White Paper on the subject. Among his proposals are recommendations that the BBC Trust should be dissolved and replace with a unitary board. This would have members directly appointed by the government, though he tries to reassure critics that most of the board would still be appointed by the Beeb itself. He also wants a new mission statement to be launched by the Corporation, expressing its goals “to act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality, and distinctive media content and services that inform, educate and entertain.” He also wants it to be “required to give greater focus to under-served audiences, in particular those from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, and those in the nations and regions”.

Mike here points out what a mass of contradictions the Paper is, as well as its highly patronising tone to the great British public. Mike says

John Whittingdale must think we’re all too stupid to see the contradiction in terms he has written into his White Paper on the BBC.

He reckons the BBC needs a new mission statement: “”To act in the public interest, serving all audiences with impartial, high-quality, and distinctive media content and services that inform, educate and entertain.”

But he also wants to dissolve the BBC Trust, replacing it with a new unitary board including some members appointed by the government – so that’s impartiality out of the window before his new version of the Beeb even gets going.

Some might say the BBC is already biased towards the Tories – we only have to look at the protests against arch-Tory Laura Kuenssberg in her role as political editor at BBC News – but this would instill that bias at an institutional level.

Mike also points out that Whittingdale’s demands for it to give greater service to Blacks and ethnic minorities risk turning the Beeb into a service aimed primarily at catering for minority communities. In Mike’s view, this is better left to the commercial companies.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/05/12/an-impartial-bbc-not-if-tories-get-to-choose-who-runs-it/ Go and read it for more information.

Mike is absolutely right that even having some of the new unitary board appointed by the government would result in a loss of the Beeb’s independence. This has happened on the continent. Sarkozy in France used the government’s control over funding for the state broadcaster to get genuine well-respected French news anchors sacked for daring to criticise him. Berlusconi in Italy used the government’s control of the state broadcaster to pull a late night satirical programme, Rayot, from Ray, the name of the channel, off the air because it dared to spoof him. The writer, Sabina Guzzanti, who used to play Berlo himself in her sketches, later made a film about the affair, Viva Zapatero!
This takes its title from the name of the Spanish president, who ended his government’s power to appoint the head of the state broadcaster, thus making it independent of government control.

Now Whittingdale is trying to do the opposite, and thus join Sarkozy and Berlusconi in trying to make television and the media generally the mouthpiece for their official propaganda.

As for the Beeb catering more to BAME audiences, the Corporation has tried to do that through radio stations set up specifically to serve different ethnic minorities. One of these was the Asian Network, for which the Beeb has been running trailers a couple of weeks ago. I think there’s also another radio station for Blacks. I seem to recall there also being adverts for this station being run about 12 years ago. It was also specifically part of the remit of Channel 4, when that station was set up as a public service broadcaster. And Channel 4 did broadcast much material aimed at Black and Asian audiences. Apart from the Indian films on ‘All-India Goldies’, they also broadcast a history of the world, which was designed to put European history in its place as the history of just part of our planet, and give equal space to events elsewhere around the globe. There was a history of Africa, presented by Basil Davidson. Davidson’s White, but he’s an Afrocentric historian, who believes that the major cultural developments supposedly pioneered by ancient Greece and Rome were actually taken from Black African civilisations. It’s the same view as Martin Bernal in his immensely influential book, Black Athena. A couple of years later, the BBC also produced a series on African history, presented by a Black Muslim historian, Dr Ali Mazrui.

Between them the Beeb and Channel 4 have also nurtured much Black and Asian talent, like Lenny Henry, the Asian comedy show, Goodness Gracious Me, which first appeared on radio as The Secret Asians, Felix Dexter, Stephen K. Amos, who now has a weekly show about his own life growing up late night on Radio 4. Saturday tea-time on Channel 4 there was also a comedy programme set in a Black London barber shop, which was on just before the awesome Max Headroom. Many of the performers in these shows managed to make the crossover into more mainstream programming. Mira Syal has appeared in many different programmes over the years, including a soap with the Bog-Eyed Brummie Git, Jasper Carrot. Nina Wadia was in Chambers, a comedy set in a firm of lawyers, with one of the Long Johns. And Sanjeev Bhaskar has also gone to a variety of other shows, not least the Kumars at No. 42, which has spawned various versions across the world. The American version is called The Ortegas, and is about an Hispanic family. And Lenny Henry really needs no introduction.

I’m not saying the Beeb’s record in this is perfect. There is still much controversy about the lack of performers and directors from ethnic minorities in television. For example, a year or so ago a number of celebrities gave their support to a campaign for greater representation for Black and Asians on television. Those joining the campaign included Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Craig. I am merely trying to point out that the Beeb has made some effort in this direction.

Mike also points out that TV favourites like Strictly Come Dancing and Dr Who also have a very wide appeal, including minorities. Indeed they have. What struck me about the new Dr Who when it was revived by Russell T. Davies was the increased presence of Black and Asian characters. What made the news was Davies determination to include gay characters, like Captain Jack, but Davies was also very obviously keen to make the series more representative of British society. And so Rose Tyler’s boyfriend, Mickey, last seen fighting the Cybermen in a parallel dimension, was Black. As was another of the Doctor’s companions, a lady doctor. And the various future worlds and planets to which the Doctor has travelled have also been very multicultural. Or at least, they are if their inhabitants are humanoid. There are, for example, Black Timelords, while the besieged human mission attacked by the forces of darkness in the episodes ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’ included Blacks and Asians.

I got the distinct idea that it’s this type of representation – more Black and Asian faces on mainstream programmes – that anti-racist campaigners are keen to promote, rather than separate broadcasting ghettoes. A few years ago Private Eye ran a few pieces noting that the BBC Asian network was having trouble recruiting talent for precisely this reason. The aspiring British Asian stars and directors of tomorrow wanted to go into mainstream broadcasting, rather than confine themselves simply to their own communities. Of course, Whittingdale would like the Beeb to become mainly a broadcaster for minority interests, as it would leave the field free for the big corporations the Tories represent to move in on the mainstream audiences the Corporation has vacated. The Eye has also satirised that attitude in this fortnight’s addition, in which it has Murdoch’s papers whining about how the BBC is terribly unfair for producing genuinely popular programmes, and thus discriminating against all the rubbish produced by Murdoch’s and the other commercial broadcasters.

What Has the European Convention on Human Rights Ever Done for Us?

April 25, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has just posted up another brilliant TV skit, showing precisely what the European Convention on Human Rights actually has done for us. Starring Patrick Stewart, Adrian Scarborough and Sarah Solemani, this short, five minute sketch is about a Europhobic prime minister (Stewart), who asks rhetorically what the Conventions has ever done for us.And he is then told, at length, by his cabinet colleagues. They also point out that the Convention is part of the peace-keeping legal arrangements in Northern Ireland, and removing it would mean going through the whole, awkward and painful rigmarole all over again. He then says we shouldn’t be pushed around by the ‘frogs’ and ‘krauts’, and should write our own Bill of Rights and enforce it on them. They tell him that, indeed we have. It was done at the end of the Second World War. And in reply to his next question, they tell him that it’s ‘the European Convention on Human Rights’.

As the credits tell you, it’s based on the section ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. It’s the kind of razor-sharp political sketch that was the stock in trade of Bremner, Bird and Fortune, the latter two famous as the Long Johns. And before then it was part and parcel of the Beeb’s Yes, Minister.

Patrick Stewart is a keen supporter of human rights, and does belong to at least one human rights group, though don’t ask me which one. He has said in an interview that he joined after a group of actors were arrested for performing in a play their government judged was subversive. He realised then how precious the freedom was, which he as an actor took for granted.

This conspicuously tells you exactly what the European Convention of Human Rights does for us, and by implication why Cameron wishes to deprive us of it in favour of a much weaker British Bill of Rights. And if you’re wondering which one of the two is most probably correct, it’s probably the man, who played Captain Picard all those decades ago.

Mike’s got the sketch at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/04/25/confused-about-human-rights-theresa-may-heres-sir-patrick-stewart/

Go there to learn things Theresa May either doesn’t know, or doesn’t want you to.