Posts Tagged 'Steve Coogan'

Questionable Time #35


questionable time 35 david dimbleby battlefield 3

Good morning Lemmings and welcome the hell back from what has been one of the strangest ‘summers’ I can remember. Strange how? Strange because we actually ended up winning things, a turn of events that struck me as deeply, deeply unpatriotic. Do not fear though for normal service has resumed. Wall-to-wall rain? Check. An economy that wants quietly taking out the back and shooting? Check. A political landscape where policies are actually announced through the medium of satire? Check, check, check. God, I love the smell of collective failure in the morning. So then Lemmings, what better way is there to celebrate this return to comfortable malaise than with a spot of Questionable Timing? None that I can think of. Go!

Danny Alexander may well be the Most Tragic Figure in the Most Tragic Party of a Tragic Coalition…

I got home early from work the other day, flicked on News 24 to kill time before Pointless and found myself watching Danny Alexander’s Q&A at the Lib Dem conference. I wasn’t really paying attention to what he was saying but what I did pick up was just how relaxed he looked. Usually, Alexander has this weird meerkat-on-sentry-duty gait about him and you can see him twitch at the slightest sound, just waiting for that inevitable moment when someone will have a go at him. Not last week though. Instead, he actually seemed comfortable in his own skin, reclining in his seat as the party faithful softballed some tepid criticism his way. It was nice – in a weird sort of way – as while I don’t have much love for the things he’s done, it just seems a little too easy to pick on the YTS kid who’s inexplicably been left in charge of the petty cash tin. Unfortunately for Danny the respite was short-lived. Fighting Season is here once more, the vultures are circling and if that haunted look in his eyes is anything to go by, he is more than aware that his number will come up repeatedly.

So it was that he spent the first half of the show wedged firmly between a rock and a hard place, desperately trying to fend off blows from the left whilst also ominously aware that Jacob Rees-Mogg had zero intention of keeping the right flank secure. “Oh Christ,” I could hear him think, “here we go again. Another year of getting my dinner money stolen. Another year of ‘kick-me’ signs stuck to my back”. So far, so tragic, right? Well yes and no because what happened next I actually found to be rather heartening. It was on the ‘plebs’ question: He started with the standard line that wasn’t it all such a rotten business but well done Mr Mitchell for apologising. Then, out of nowhere, he turned on Harriet Harman, bringing up the matter of her ‘ginger rodent’ comments, yet doing it with quite a bit of dignity. And that, dear Lemmings, is why Danny Alexander may be the Most Tragic Figure in the Most Tragic Party of a Tragic Coalition, but probably isn’t. On paper, it’s all there… We might well have asked Central Casting to supply us with a Treasury Minister from their Vulnerable and Easily Ridiculed Nerd portfolio. Yet somehow, he endures and can occasionally – like last night – surprise us with his capacity to carry the fight in the other direction. That, and Nick Clegg really is putting in a stellar performance in his quest to win the title of Most Tragic Figure in the Most Tragic Party of a Tragic Coalition. Now, that’s a contest I can really get behind.

I had a faint dread Harriet Harman being on…

I’ve got nothing particularly against Harriet Harman. Yes, she was an integral part of the toxic stew that New Labour eventually became but she was one of the more minor poisons and the fact that she winds up the Daily Mail so effectively means she must be doing something right. No, the reason for my faint dread was that she’s been on so many times before and I’ve never really managed to get a proper handle on her. I’ve already done the whole Minister of Nothing In Particular thing and the fact that I once had to spend several hundred words trying to make serviceable riff about her posture should be evidence enough that the well was becoming increasingly dry. So yes, I wasn’t looking forward to her being on. However, I am delighted to announce that about half way through the show something came to me that should just bail me out of this situation. Harriet Harman: She’s Labour’s supply teacher.

When I was at school, supply teachers could be broken into three distinct categories. First, there were the Damaged Goods. These were the ones who maybe couldn’t cut it in a permanent position or who had possibly been so thoroughly beasted by successive generations of savage little creatures that they now exhibited all the primary symptoms of Educational PTSD. I liked those ones, or to be more precise, I liked the hour of anarchy that their lessons inevitably descended into. Harriet Harman is not one of those supply teachers.

The second category is the Not A Toss Givers. These guys (and they usually were guys) tended to be towards the end of their careers and were simply wearily biding their time until their pensions kicked in. I remember one bloke who you used to cover for geography who would throw out some text books before putting headphones on and listening to the cricket for the entire lesson. I was as ambivalent towards the Not A Toss Givers, just as they were to us. We didn’t want to be there, they didn’t want to be there but we had all reached a mutual and silent accord that a truce would prevail throughout. Again, Harriet Harman is not one of these supply teachers.

No Harriet Harman belongs to the last group, the Steady Awayers. These were the teachers who still possessed a vague measure of competence, willingness and gumption yet were far enough removed from the long-term consequences of their actions that they would let the little things ride. Again, it was an unwritten contract: We won’t give you a hard time and will jump through most of the hoops providing you do the same. Essentially, they are the Good Step-Parents of the educational sector.

Back to Harriet: Harman is a Steady Awayer because while she always seems to be filling in (Caretaker Leader, Deputy Leader, Go-To Talking Head in Generic Crisis Situations), she’s still very much permanent, a bit like a price tag you forget to remove. The thing about long-term consequences, that’s also there as well. As I mentioned before, Harman was part of the New Labour pantheon when they were up to no good and was in Cabinet for some of their more cockeyed calls, yet the mud doesn’t stick to her in the way it does to others as she never seemed to be in the posts that actually mattered.

So that’s why Harriet Harman is like a supply teacher but the more important question is ‘how did she do?’. Not bad, all said. Her relentless pressing of the inequality line was effective whilst the pantomime cringes she deployed during Gingergate were enough to contain any serious damage. And for someone who remains so bloody hard to pin down, that’s not bad going.

I was totally ready to go to town on Jacob Rees-Mogg, but…

I was so stoked when they announced Moggingtons was going to be on. I mean c’mon, just look at the guy. How low can fruit hang? The weird thing is though that I just can’t seem to build a decent head of steam up about him. Why? Because I’m not sure that he’s actually real. No, what I think is going on is that a rift has opened up in the space-time continuum between the present day and the early thirties through which Jacob Rees-Mogg has fallen. How else can you explain the appearance of a relatively young man who looks like he turned up to the studio in a Junkers Ju52 after having just ticked off the League of Nations for being a bunch of cry-baby do-gooders?

Not only that, but I find it hard to get personal about him because he’s more of a symbol than a sentient entity: He’s the human incarnation of the Tory party’s immense capacity to propagate eternal stasis. So with these two factors so readily present I just can’t bring myself to do a proper hatchet job on him as it would be like accusing the rain of being overly wet. He is right on one thing though: The universal assumption that he may be the sort of guy to use the word ‘pleb’ does have something to do with his “vooooooooice”.

Kirsters and Coogers walk a fine line.

Here’s a first: An official Questionable Time retraction. Earlier in the week I got a little giddy that Kirstie Allsopp was on because I’ve had a pretty darn good photoshop of her kicking about for ages and I took to Twitter to make my delight known. Within said tweet (see Fig. 1) was a fallacious assumption that Kirstie’s non-appearance when she was slated to be on was because she cancelled. As you can see, this was clearly not the case so egg and bacon all over my face. Please call Phil Spencer and tell him not to break my legs.

kirsty allsopp tweet

Fig. 1

Anyhoo, red-faced grovellings aside I’m still very much split on Allsopp as she skirts dangerously on the border between the sororal and the matronly. You see, I like it when she does the outspoken thing and starts shouting “bollocks” on live television and she clearly believes in what she’s saying. However, I think she’s just a little too removed from the lives of most people to really have a trustworthy compass and this means she often sounds like she’s casually telling off vast swathes of the population when she probably only means to gently chide them. Still, not a bad run and her call to ‘kick the banks’ (“Kick ’em hard!”) had a wonderfully jaunty-yet-threatening ring to it. Now here’s that photoshop (see Fig. 2).

kirsty allsopp tennents super

Fig. 2

On to Steve Coogan and again, I’m terribly conflicted because it’s all or nothing with him. Remember when he was on the phone hacking episode earlier this year? He was so evidently pissed off that he forgot himself and was absolutely great as a consequence. This time though, not as great. Shorn of an issue to really get his teeth into you could really see him wrestling with that self-awareness and self-doubt that constantly stalks him. What’s even more of a pity is that the stuff he was on about was good. I really liked the fact that he made an issue of how he should pay more tax and he was right to probe some of the more uncomfortable aspects of the Rochdale case but he could never quite seem to generate the confidence to really run with those ideas. Overall, I find that pretty heartbreaking as I’ve got huge amounts of respect for Coogan as a comedian and there is great potential for him to excel on QT. All it needs is for him to have a little more faith in what he’s saying. Or to come in character as Alan Partridge. Steve, please come in character as Alan Partridge.

Brighton confuses me…

The Frau Ribs and I had a brief break in Brighton over the summer and – much like the time before – I came away suffering from cognitive dissonance. You see, I love the idea of Brighton. I love the idea of a city by the sea full of great record and book shops and I love the idea of a place being so wilfully contrary. The problem is that I don’t understand the logistics of Brighton. How can an economy be sustained by neo-twee cup cake boutiques and bespoke yurt manufactories alone? Why does the population need so many spurious sounding therapists? How? Why? These riddles remain unresolved. Anyhoo, how did they do? Pretty good, in a scatty sort of way. For example, there was great level headedness from one young lady on how cutting resources makes social workers’ jobs much more difficult followed by pure bat-shit insanity from the gentleman who shrieked “LIFE NOT 4 YEARS!”. That pretty much nails my definition of ‘scatty’.

Tl;dr

Alexander: 5/10

Twitchy

Harman: 6/10

Switchy

Rees-Mogg: 5/10

Richy

Allsopp: 6/10

Kitschy

Coogan: 5/10

Glitchy

The Crowd: 6/10

Itchy?

So there we have it, first blood in what is likely to be a violent and brutish parliamentary season. Man, it’s good to be back.

Next week Lemmings, next week…

Questionable Time #17


questionable time 17 david dimbleby alan partridge

Good morning Lemmings and – assuming you haven’t all frozen to death – welcome back for what was quite the humdinger of a Question Time last night. Now, there are plenty of reasons as to why this was an especially zesty show but lets start with the obvious: The highly engaging spectacle of two very capable yet somewhat compromised panelists taking a big stick and applying it to the chops of the Daily Mail. I am of course talking about Dark Master of the News Cycle Alistair Campbell and the knowingly imperfect Steve Coogan. The beauty of this coupling lies not only in the fact that both men are masters of the invective who have every reason to despise the Mail but also because they themselves are in absolutely no way paragons of virtue who can claim that their integrity is beyond reproach.

Let’s start with Campbell: Now, here’s a man whose one goal while in power was to bend the media to his will and largely succeeded in doing so by dint of being the physical embodiment of terror itself. Seriously, every time I look at Campbell I think of that scene in Apocalypse Now when Willard gets on the boat for the first time and the Chief, alarmed by this turn of events, clocks him in an instant:

My orders say I’m not supposed to know where I’m taking this boat, so I don’t! But one look at you, and I know it’s gonna be hot.”

Yup, that’s Campbell all over: A man who’s been fighting a dirty, nasty and vicious war for so long that he’s actually become the war itself. A man who knows where the bodies are buried because he buried them there. In short, he’s no angel when it comes to media ethics.

Coogan by contrast is less straight forward and harder to peg down. Anyone who is a fan of his work (and I am) can’t help but feel a certain affection for him but he doesn’t always make it easy for us to like him – the whole Courtney Love thing being the example that sticks out in my mind. This always leaves me feeling slightly bemused when I see him as I really can’t fathom out as to whether he’s just a misunderstood soul who’s been given a raw deal in the press or whether he genuinely is a bit of a dickhead (a debate made no easier by the excellent yet frighteningly post-modern The Trip… My jury is still out).

Still, what cannot be doubted is that both of theses guys know how to handle themselves in a debate and were positively relishing the chance to stick the boot in to the Mail. Now, had the person fighting the corner for Britain’s Premier Hate Rag been the likes of Melanie Phillips, Jeremy Clarkson or Richard Littlejohn then this would have been a massacre: All these guys take is a cursory winding up and boom! Here comes the crazy! However, none of the above were present last night and instead we got QT veteran Ann Leslie. This turned out to be a very canny pick for the following reasons:

  1. She’s actually a proper journalists rather than a lurching tangle of jerking knees.
  2. She is tough as old boots.
  3. I never know whether she’s drunk or not.

All of the above conspire to make her a much harder target than some of her flightier colleagues and the result was a show full of crowd pleasing set pieces from Coogan and entertaining spats between Campbell and Leslie – both of whom clearly despised each other. In terms of who won, well lets just say that the Daily Mail doesn’t seem to be the periodical of choice for this particular crowd but Leslie does deserve some credit for looking like she couldn’t give a toss either way. I suspect that gin may have played a part in this.

The other big news on last night’s show was how well Philip Hammond did given that he was surrounded by some pretty big beasts. I say this because Hammond isn’t exactly the most charismatic of politicians and I reckoned it likely that Alistair Campbell was going to blow his head off using some satanic powers he acquired in trade for his soul (see Fig. 1). As it happens, Hammond managed to hold his own rather well and came out relatively unscathed in what should have been a fairly torrid week for the Blue Team. Ok, so he wasn’t exactly thrilling to watch and his attempts at humour were a little on the crap side but considering the amount of trouble he could have got into on the NHS question I think he did all right. However, the thing that really wins him points for me is his role in what has become a rather rare thing in QT: A Spontaneous Outburst of Collective Agreement. This occurred on the Syria question and Hammond won his spurs by doing something I’ve not seen from a Defence Secretary for years: He admitted that there really isn’t a whole lot we can do about Syria. Having spent the last decade listening to Defence Secretaries telling us that we can bomb this or shock ‘n’ awe that I was really pleased to hear the opposite sentiment for once. If that wasn’t enough to give me a warm fuzzy glow then imagine my surprise when the entire panel echoed that sentiment including Alistair Campbell, chief cheerleader of the Iraq calamity. I nearly fell off the sofa.

phillip-hammond-alistair-campbell-skulled

Fig. 1

So yes, Philip Hammond is still an unremittingly dull man who’s going to look terrible in body armour (I can’t wait for his first ‘In Theatre’ photo-op) but he seems pretty level-headed and that will do for me right now. And as for Shirley Williams? Well same-old, same-old really: The human personification of some of the 20th Century’s better ideas wrapped in the language of the Crimean War (it’s all “holding the line”, “powder kegs” and other such ironclad pronouncements). It also seems like she’s caused something of a sartorial stir with women of a certain age as I got a fair few search queries along the lines of ‘where did Shirley Williams get that jacket from?’ last night. Apologies to all those who were bitterly disappointed when they ended up here. I can photoshop the crap out public figures but fashion procurement is not this blog’s strong point.

Tl;dr

Hammond: Did well

7/10

Campbell: Gave ’em hell

7/10

Williams: Excel(led)

7/10

Coogan: “Ruddy hell, it’s Soft Cell!”

7/10

Leslie: Was a bit of a bombshell

7/10

The Crowd: Were perfectly acceptable clientele

7/10

Well would you look at that? Sevens all round. That’s it from me this week as I’m off to mentally steel myself for the prospect of the Ken Clarke/Prezzer face-off next week. You know when male Elephant Seals fight over a mate? Yeah, it’s going to be like that.

Next week Lemmings, next week…


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