Archive for December, 2013

Questionable Time #82

questionable time 82 david dimbleby nativity

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).

test card bloke

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.

peter haine carried by policemen

Fig. 2

Next year Lemmings, next year…


Questionable Time #81


Good morning Lemmings and how are we feeling this morning? Tired? Bleary eyed? Morally conflicted by being annoyed that QT was delayed and then realising that this annoyance was a direct result of Nelson Mandela’s death and that you must be A Very Bad Person for thinking such thoughts? Yes, I am familiar with this jarring emotional repertoire. Anyway, it’s going to be a mini-Questionable Time today as I struggled to stay awake last night and cannot claim to have taken the whole thing in. With this in mind let us power through with the greatest of haste.

Danny Alexander – I’m beginning to find the Alexander Process rather endearing and to the uninitiated it looks like this:

  1. Danny sits there looking like he’d rather be anywhere else on earth than the QT studio and grimly awaits the torrent of ill will that’s about to come his way.
  2. Whilst waiting for the sky to fall in, Danny does something right – like crack a joke that doesn’t fall flat on its face – and suddenly looks like he might actually grow to enjoy the experience of this whole ‘politics’ thing.
  3. Flushed with confidence, he then tries to do something else right – like cracking another joke – only to find that the crowd have fallen out of love with him again and the torrent of ill will has merely been delayed.
  4. A look of resigned defeat takes hold of his face and the cycle begins again.

Poor Danny. Still, if it’s any consolation I had so much fun pshopping him as a hunky male model last time that I’ve decided this is now his ‘thing’ and he will be male modellified in all future encounters (see Fig. 1).

 danny alexander fit again

Fig. 1

Rachel Reeves: I’m still having trouble working out where the very serious and diligent looking politician ends and the actual person begins. Don’t get me wrong, she’s pretty good at not putting her foot in it and you do get the sense that she does – at least in some very abstract sort of way – care, but none of this can quite cover up the fact that her performances are just a little, well, dull. My prescription? Show us a bit of human frailty. Get something wrong. Make an outrageous statement every now and then. Yes I know this runs counter to every fibre of your being but it’s going to be damn tricky shaking off the ‘Boring-Snoring‘ charge if you continue to display all the warmth of an Excel spreadsheet.

David Davis: Last night saw one of those very rare moments where David Davis is largely in agreement with his own party and manages to confine the use of that I’ve Killed Before look to scaring the bejesus out of the opposition. It also scares the bejesus out of me but in a very good way.

Mary Beard: I like Mary. She’s a good egg with a massive brain who’s more than capable of fighting her own corner yet her past performances have always had this faint tinge of caution to them – like she’s thinking really hard about how to answer a question without unduly upsetting anyone. Thankfully this wasn’t the case last night and what we saw was a great piece of Question Timing that struck the balance between comprehension and conviction just right. Everything flowed naturally, you got the sense that she was talking from the heart and there was no hint of some internal governor trying to restrain her delivery. In short, she was bloody brilliant.

Nick Ferrari: My initial plan was to go town on Ferrari for being the sort of lowest-common denominator blowhard that really grinds my gears but I had a change of heart half way through. Why? Well for one, he made for a really good sparring partner with Mary Beard and it was this pairing that made the show, but more importantly he absolutely melted my heart with the way he gushed effusively about Tom Daley coming out. I really hadn’t expected that but it looked 100% genuine and made me feel all warm inside (although that might have been down to the extra tinny I consumed in an effort to stay awake). So no monstering for Mr Ferrari today, just a doffed cap and an uncharacteristically high mark.


Alexander: 5/10


Reeves: 4/10


Davis: 6/10


Beard: 8/10


Ferrari: 6/10


The Crowd: 6/10


And thus is the tragedy of this show: It was great – aside from the rather wooden efforts of Reeves and Alexander, people had proper debates where they not only got beyond the superficial but also, shock horror, appeared to be listening to each other – yet I’d wager that only a handful of people managed to stay up long enough to watch it. Oh great, see what I’ve just done there? I’ve made myself feel like A Very Bad Person again.

Right, that’s me done. Sorry for calling it in this week but I really am rather knackered and I suspect that there won’t exactly be a queue of expectant Lemmings waiting at the door today. Anyway, see you next time for the last pre-Crimbo episode and should you be in the market for left-field Xmas presents then may I point you in the direction of this rather lovely Catch-22 t-shirt I made…

Next week Lemmings, next week…

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December 2013

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