Good Morning Lemmings and let me assure you, things were not supposed to turn out this way. No, things were supposed to be very different right now and rather than just sitting here blankly staring into space, desperately trying to work out just what in the hell I’m supposed to do with last night’s episode I was supposed to be kicking back and closing the book on 2013′s final QT with a real milk run of an episode. They promised me Swansea. They promised me Erik Pickles. They promised me a pulled punch of a season closer where the final question would involve something along the lines of “Does the panel agree that [insert political development of minor political import here] is akin to turkeys voting for Christmas” and the crowd would chortle approvingly. Sure, there’d be the inevitable Mandela question where everyone would solemnly agree that he was the best person in the whole entire world before moving swiftly on to matters of greater contention but I could deal with that. I even made a lovely nativity themed title pic and rejoiced at the opportunity of finally getting to use the Erik Pickles pshop that I’ve been sitting on for over a year. But no. It was all for nowt and here I am, feeling like I’ve accidentally turned up at the wrong office Christmas party and wondering where it all went wrong.
In fact, I know where it went wrong. It went wrong about midweek when the Question Time website informed me that Swansea had been kyboshed and the new venue was to be Johannesburg.
“Hmmm…” I thought to myself, “Johannesburg. Is that a Tory town or a Labour town? It’s not ringing any bells. It must be a new constituency because even taking into account the media’s collective loss of reason and proportionality over the passing of Nelson Mandela, they’re surely not talking about Johannesburg in South Africa are they?”. But they were. They were deadly serious.
Still, at least there was one glimmer of sunshine in this otherwise foreboding scene as the provisional panel included a man named Tokyo Sexwale – more or less an open invitation to waste around 300 words on cheap gags about sexy whales – but they wouldn’t even let me have that. They took away my Sexwale at the last-minute and replaced him with someone who has a boring name that I know just as little about. If I had known at the time just how difficult those 300 words would be to fill without sexy whales I would have probably just called it a day and sloped off to bed after the news. But I didn’t.
I didn’t because of some weird and unhealthy sense of duty, and that’s exactly how I’m feeling right now – weird and unhealthy – but what do you expect me to do with this? I know I bang on all the time about how Questionable Time is about the spectacle and not the politics (particularly when someone’s having a pop at me because I didn’t shower their pet panelist with unconditional praise) but you know what? The politics really help. They help because without that vital bit of context I’m just left with a bunch of strangers who may as well be talking about their favourite Pokemon. I mean seriously, I find it hard enough to cover the Northern Ireland episodes and those guys are just across the water. South Africa? Leaving aside Oscar Pistorius, I haven’t got the faintest idea of what’s been going on over there for – now, let me see – 23 bloody years.
With this in mind, please forgive me for a rather brief and superficial summary of the show.
1. Central Casting did a bang up job in providing both a Senile Colonel Kurtz (Botha) and a Cocksure Revolutionary Brother (Mngxitama) for the show. I would also like to thank Andile Mngxitama for providing me with the means to become Christmas Scrabble Champion 2013.
2. No one much likes the ANC. This may or may not be related to Lindiwe Zulu’s ‘I’m going to lamp you if you say anything bad about the ANC’ look.
3. I can’t quite work out if Lindiwe Mazibuko is South Africa’s equivalent of Jo Swinson or Baroness Warsi but she’s definitely one of the two.
4. South African audiences do a marginally better line in the Discontented Muttering stakes than their UK counterparts. It has slightly more of an edge to it.
5.They also care not for energy prices, MP’s pay or David Cameron coming out for Team Nigella.
6. The BBC are clearly held in some affection by the people of South Africa as one man came dressed in a suit that was made out of a BBC test card (see Fig. 1).
7. Peter Hain got tutted at one point but I have no idea why because I’d basically given up at that point and spanked about on Twitter instead.
8. And that’s seriously it.
You might gather from my tone that I’m a little vexed by all this and if I’m being honest then yes, I’m pretty ticked off. I’m ticked off because like Michael Portillo pointed out on This Week, this is not good journalism. It’s a circlejerk where each broadcasting company tries to outdo each other in their capacity to fawn over an idealised vision of what was essentially just a man. And that is what he was. Just a man. Granted, he was an inspirational man who was instrumental in righting a great wrong but he was nevertheless a man who – like every human on earth – was flawed and imperfect (rather than go into the nitty-gritty of this it’s probably just best that I point you in the direction of Simon Jenkin’s take on the matter). Now, I’m not accusing QT of being cheerleaders in this ongoing work of unquestioning hagiography and to a certain extent it was interesting to see QT transplanted to a different culture (not to mention the logistical difficulties in getting Dimbleby back to the UK after the funeral) but the very fact that they felt compelled to hold it in South Africa speaks of a collective act of folly by the media. The writing of history is serious business. It’s our feedback form, our debrief, the thing that shows us where we done goofed so we don’t done goof again but it doesn’t work if we haven’t got the guts to be honest and QT haven’t helped matters any by joining in this unquestioning cavalcade.
And that, dear Lemmings, is why everyone is getting coal for Christmas.
Right, I’m done. No scores this week but here’s what happens when you cut John Major’s brain in half and also a rather interesting photo from the archives (see Fig. 2). It’s of a young Peter Hain being lovingly carried to bed by his loyal team of police manservants. Lazy sod.
Next year Lemmings, next year…