Posts Tagged 'Julian Fellowes'

Questionable Time #63


questionable time 63 david dimbleby aliens colonial marine

Good morning Lemmings and welcome to a very hasty Questionable Time – hasty because I’ve got a plane to catch in a couple of hours and I’ll be damned if yammering on about dork stuff is going to derail my carefully laid plans to access the ‘Sun’. Apparently it’s this giant ball of burning hydrogen that appears in the sky and bathes those below with life-giving rays. I’m personally sceptical but you know… In for a penny, in for a pound. Anyway, I’m yammering and we haven’t even got on to the dork stuff yet so let’s get this road on the show.

Once a Labour Home Sec, always a Labour Home Sec…

Remember Patricia Hewitt? She was that very headmistressy Labour Health Secretary who had a rare talent for winding up health professionals and putting front line noses out of joint, something I can attest to because I worked for the NHS during the back-end of her tenure and found my nose to be as out of kilter as everyone else’s. Hewitt’s problem (other than having to aggressively push through some rather unpopular changes) was that she wasn’t good with people and often came across as cold, jagged and brittle – not really the sort of look you’re after when you’re the head of Britain’s caring professions – and when the news came down that she would be replaced by Alan Johnson you could hear a sigh of relief ripple across the nation’s health centres: Finally we were getting someone who actually seemed vaguely human.

And very human he was. Sure, the policies didn’t change much but we could put up with them because the person asking us to get our knickers in a twist about ‘patient choice’ (which was essentially code for ‘creeping privatisation’) had a warmth and normality to him that never made it seem like he was talking down to us. Fast forward a couple of years and Johnson’s getting promoted to Home Secretary. ‘Hmmmm’ I thought. ‘Maybe, just maybe this is the guy who can get the Home Office to chill out and stop acting like a bunch of heavy-handed paranoid yahoos’. Wrong. WRONG!

No, as we saw last night, Johnson was just as susceptible as any other to that strange disease that’s afflicted every Labour Home Secretary since 2001 and in even worse news, it appears that the affliction never entirely leaves its host – it just lies dormant until someone says the word ‘terrorism’. So it was that we opened last night’s show with Johnson displaying all the symptoms of Homesecretitis – a fever for surveillance, cold sweats of intercept evidence, a clammy sheen of national security clinging to his brow – and it wasn’t until mid-show that the spasms finally passed and he finally reverted back to his normal state of being a generally decent, reasonable bloke (decent and reasonable enough to fight Anna Soubry’s corner on the matter of Friday Deaths in hospitals). But still, it was rather jarring because I really do rather admire Johnson and to watch him suddenly become engulfed in this whole Tough Guy/If You Knew What I Knew act is a little heartbreaking. It also looks very odd when those sentiments come from the lips of a man who displays more than a passing resemblance to David Bowie (see Fig. 1)

alan johnson david bowie

Fig. 1

Soubry’s gradually growing me…

…Mainly because there’s something endearingly amateurish about her. Now, by that I’m not saying that she is an amateur as she appears to have a proper job and everything but it’s the way she’s got a very visible feedback loop. For example, when she sticks her foot in it (which is quite often) she can’t disguise that ‘Oh crikey, I’ve really buggered this up!’ look that flashes across her face and I quite like that as it makes her appear relatively normal. As it happens, she managed not to stick her foot in anything last night but the feedback loop was still very visible: It said ‘Golly gosh gal, you’re really doing rather well at this!’ and again, it made her look like an actual person as opposed to a locked down hack who’s playing it by the numbers. So, while I am a little disappointed that she didn’t let her jauntiness run away with itself and get her into all sorts of trouble, I’ll let her off on the grounds of human authenticity. Next time though I’d like to hear at least one ill-considered and inflammatory statement pass her lips… You know, just to keep her grounded.

I’m not sure if I can cope with a sensible Kipper…

Alright, what’s going on here then? A Kipper who spends 80% of the show not being totally harebrained and only gets marginally wound up about the EU in the remaining 20%? Something’s wrong. The plan has gone awry. Farage promised me clowns but has instead sent a vaguely competent individual who is largely in control of their faculties. I want my money back.

Medhi’s back on form…

I had a pop as Hasan last time for being grumpy (to which he kindly responded by declaring Questionable Time to be “mildly amusing if lengthy”… Fair play Medhi, fair play) but he gets a free pass this week because the terrorism question re-kindled all that passion that made him such a good read back when we were up to our necks in the stuff. It wasn’t just me either: The crowd were very taken with him and that made for a virtuous circle where they geed each other up and gave Johnson/Soubry a right good rollicking. So well done Medhi and if you wish to subsequently describe Questionable Time as “blisteringly funny and of entirely appropriate length”, that would be just fine with me.

And Fellowes?

Not a lot to say except that he harvested all the low hanging fruit and his sentences always sound like they’re teetering drunkenly at the top of a staircase, just waiting to topple over. It’s because he taaaaalks like thiiiiiiiiis.

Tl;dr (And no rhymes because I’m the bloody departure lounge)

Johnson: 5/10

Soubry: 6/10

James: 5/10

Hasan: 8/10

Fellowes: 6/10

The Crowd: 7/10

Hmmmmm, not a bad episode all told. Right, I’ve got to skiddadle for the boarding gate so sorry if it’s been a little slap-dash but normal service will resume in a week’s time.

Additional Note of Minor Import:

It recently occurred to me that I’ve been generating an awful lot of non-QT graphics type stuff and that it hasn’t had a proper home. Rather than watching it traipse forlornly around Twitter and Facebook I’ve finally got round to setting up another site in order to provide it with a modicum of dignity. If you’d like to check it out, you can find it here. On top of that, should you wish to buy the rather fetching Nick Cotton themed greetings card I knocked up, you can do so here.

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Questionable Time #7


 

Good morning Lemmings and welcome baquestionable time 7 david dimbleby berretck to Questionable Time which this week takes place in the wake of one natures most wonderous spectacles: The Great Tory European Death Pact. This happens to a be personal favourite of mine that tends to occur every five years or so and is usually precipitated by some sort of sustained chuntering from the backbenches. Upon hearing this call, the party then descends into a giant, ill-tempered mob before somehow managing to beach themselves en masse to the dismay of onlookers and the detriment of the species. Scientists are yet to establish why it is that an otherwise thriving collective takes it upon itself to engage in such an orgy of self-destruction but it happens with alarming regularity and the event itself is not without a certain macabre beauty. Say what you want about the Tories but they certainly know how to give themselves a damn good flensing.

So yes, this was the backdrop for last night’s episode and a very right-of-centre affair it was too, what with it taking place in Winchester and the attendance of Messrs. Farage and Fellows. However, the question on my mind was “Who on earth is the Blue Team going to put up and how in Criminy are they going to explain away this mess?”. As things turned out it was Iain Duncan Smith who drew the short straw and even if it wasn’t by design, he pulled off quite an effective rescue effort that merits further investigation.

Whenever I see IDS, I’m always struck by how innocent he appears (see Fig. 1) and this has proved to be both his greatest asset and most dangerous liability. It tends to work like this: IDS observes something that he sees as ‘Bad’ and swiftly concludes that he needs to do something ‘Good’ in order to cancel it out. There the analysis ends in the mind of IDS because in his view the world is a fundamentally simple place and with the application of Good, Bad can be all but eradicated. However, life isn’t like that and as his stint as party leader proved in spades, reality has a nasty habit of muddying otherwise pristine waters. Back then, IDS identified the fact that the party was in disarray (Bad), but also figured out that if he displayed a certain amount of iron-willed leadership (Good), they would quickly come to their senses, fall back into line and the day would be carried. However, it didn’t work like that and the reason it didn’t work was that things are never that simple. For one, the Tories are a seditious bunch and a strong hand on the tiller alone is not enough to keep them from following their baser instincts. No, they need to be manipulated, blackmailed, and cajoled in all manner of imaginative ways and these are things that don’t come naturally to IDS. Secondly, his well-meaning yet ultimately soggy definition of ‘strong leadership’ isn’t shared by a party who exist entirely on a diet of orphans soul’s and before long, his tenure descended into farce.

iain duncan smith teddy bear

Fig. 1

However, when looked at from a different angle, this innate naivety can also work in his favour and last night was one of those occasions. It started, predictably enough, when he got the first crack on the referendum question and his brow began to scrunch up as his mind wrestled with the problem in front him. Here’s what I reckon was going on in his head:

  1. I know Europe is Bad and I would very much like a referendum on it. That would be Good.
  2. However, I also think that the culture of Layaboutism is Bad (in fact probably Worse) and I need to do some Good on that.
  3. The government think a European referendum would be Bad and that it would be Good if didn’t have one.
  4. If the government think I’m Bad for wanting to do a Good thing, they won’t let me do Good to sort out the Worse
  5. So I have to do a Bad thing in order that they let me do some Good for the Worse?
  6. Arrrrrrgh! My Head! Someone turn down the volume in here!

Given the fact that IDS simply doesn’t have much of a capacity for disguising his intent it soon became apparent (mainly from the way his face seemed to writhe) that this matter had clearly tormented him and that his brain was doing somersaults trying to square the circle. The beauty of this display from the point of view of the Blue Team was that it took them out of the picture entirely and instead it became about IDS’s apparent grief. Sure, it didn’t really help them make much of a case for why they shouldn’t have a referendum (a task that was left mainly to Jullian Fellowes to sort out), but it was a slightly more beneficent outcome than could have otherwise been hoped for.

All of which was fortuitous as across the table from IDS sat my all-time favourite cult leader and bastion of irrationality, Nigel Farage, a man who must surely be thinking that at long last, his boat has come in. I like to imagine him buried deep within his Farage Lair, cackling maniacally at the news feeds and rubbing his hands with glee as Europe slips further into the abyss and tonight really was his chance to capitalise on the misery of his foes. “Great!” I thought, “Farage is going to be super crazy tonight! We may even get to see some foam in the corner of his mouth!”, but I was soon to be disappointed. In actual fact, what we saw was despite a few isolated cases of lunacy near the end (largely to do with locking everyone up), repeated use of the phrase “the political class” and a fairly good gag about Theresa May stealing his lines, he played it all rather straight and that was something I found to be quite frightening. You see, I love UKIP when they’re just a nebulous cluster of fruitcakes who fret about the fluoridation of water and Farage is at his best when he’s barely relevant. However, witnessing him make hay whilst appearing vaguely sane and knowing that UKIP are probably in line for a membership surge just puts the jibblies on me, especially when the audience seem to go along with it. So come on Nigel, let’s ditch all this fairly reasonable behaviour and get back to doing what you’re good at which is ranting absurdities in an amusingly harmless manner. After all, you wouldn’t want to end up being a part of the ‘political class’ would you?

So they were the main event of the episode and everyone else seemed to be only incidentally involved. Jo Swinson continued to prove that she’s a quite a tough cookie who negotiated a fair few ambushes in a very ‘head down, press on’ sort of way while Labour’s Gloria De Piero heroically demonstrated how little resonance the politics of the M62 have with the good folk of Winchester (who seem to be mainly composed of True Blue Yeomanry with a smattering of Financially Comfortable Hippies). All of which leads us to Julian Fellowes, a man who seemed to be quite a hit with the audience but was less of a hit with me, mainly on account of the fact that his head appears to be made of wet clay. That bothers me.

Tl;dr

IDS: 6/10

Tormented

Farage: 5/10

Fermented

Swinson: 6/10

Vented

De Piero: 4/10

Fragmented

Fellowes: 5/10

Gented?

So there we have it: A not especially exciting but quite interesting episode where the panelists sounded like they were freestyling over a dub record thanks to Winchester Cathedral’s reverberatory qualities. Now, just before I go let me assure you that the brevity of this week’s report has absolutely nothing to do with today’s UK release of Battlefield 3. Ok, it has absolutely everything to do with the UK release of Battlefield 3 and I’d love to stop and chat about it but I’ve got a kill/death ratio to establish. Oscar Mike.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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