Webchat with Armando Iannucci
Will there be a new series of The Thick of It now the coalition is in power? Is the Fourth Sector Pathfinder Initiative to blame for Cameron's 'Big Society'? And would he ever make fun of Mumsnet? Find out what answers political satirist Armando Iannucci had to your questions when he joined us in November 2010.
Armando has written and produced numerous television and radio comedy shows. 'The Thick of it' picked up 3 BAFTAS earlier this year and his screenplay for the film 'In The Loop' was nominated for an Oscar at this year's Academy Awards.
He is currently working on a new comedy series for American network HBO, set in the Vice President's office at the White House and his latest book, The Thick of It: The Missing DoSAC Files is just out.
Jooker: Will there be another series of The Thick of It now the Con-Dems are in? Please say yes!
Armando: Yes, Jooker, yes. Don't know when, but we're beginning to start storylining it now.
AnnOnimous: It is said that Margaret Thatcher loved Yes Minister, as it so accurately captured that profession. Do you know if Cameron, Clegg, Blair and so on also love The Thick of It? Or is it maybe just a wee bit too close to the bone.
Armando: Cameron has said it's one of his favourite shows. I'm genuinely in two minds about that. Nice to see we're noticed, but worrying that politicians didn't see how horrifically they come out if it. The other worrying this is, some politicians have come up to me and said, "You know, in real life, it's so much worse."
DownyEmerald: My claim to fame is that I was at school with one of the other Thick of It writers - Jesse Armstrong. Sadly, this is still not impressing people as much as I think it should! But, Armando - having loved Peter Capaldi since Local Hero, do you claim credit for casting him?
Armando: Actually my casting director Sarah Crowe said "you must meet Peter Capaldi" when she read the script. We hadn't written Malcolm as Scottish, but when Peter, a normally quiet gentle guy, starting roaring at me in the audition, I knew Malcolm Tucker had entered the building.
sickofsocalledexperts: I love Stewart, particularly the way in which underneath his touchy-feely talk he is actually an utter shit! And could we have a bit more from (Lord) Julius Nicholson. And is he based on John Birt? And if so, did John Birt famously have a thing for biscuits - realise you can't answer any of those questions for fear of legal action, but perhaps you could hint?
Armando: Stewart, you'll be pleased to hear, is now in Government, and will be making his presence felt very strongly, in a touchy-feely-bendy-breaky kind of way, throughout the next series. Julius is a blue-skies thinker, and, as with all the characters, he's inspired by one or two real-lifers, but based on no-one in particular. There are hundreds like him.
Hassled: Do you know that the government (or parliament? It isn't clear) has started a talk thread asking Mumsnetters their views on the winding down of the Health in Pregnancy Grant and the Child Trust Fund. What do you think of this latest evolution of the consultation culture -- consultation by chat? Can you see DoSAC trying this? Should the LibDems start a thread in Relationships ("I think I have shacked up with a monster WWYD?")
Armando: Have they now? I do hope this isn't part of the tendency over recent years to pretend things are happening by having 'consultation.' Blair once had a consolation over nuclear policy but declared at the outset 'it won't change the policy.' he was actually ordered by the courts to consult again, because the first chat wasn't wide enough. The most recent example, that Nick Clegg appeal to write to him and tell him what laws to repeal, has been kicked long and hard into the grass because too many people took him up on the offer.
sickofsocalledexperts: I love Yes Prime Minister as much as Thick of It. My theory is that in Yes Prime Minister days, Sir Humphrey is basically running the country. Now it's really the media, or how things will play in the media. Discuss.
Armando: Ah, the essay question! Certainly, the civil servant has been pushed to one side of the office, and replaced by the non-elected special advisor, or Spad as they're known. It's their obsession with how things will 'play' with the media - especially The Mail and Murdoch press - that subconsciously dictates how politicians prioritise their policies. We need to wait and see if this Government is as obsessed with media strategy as the last.
JustineMumsnet: Many think Stewart Pearson, the Tory communications ad-guru type character, is a thinlyveiled portrait of David Cameron's chief strategist, Steve Hilton (right down to the balding, dress down look). But actually he's the one most ideologically set on about the Big Society etc, according to those in the know. Do you think your portrayal is a bit unfair/two-dimensional?
Armando: It's never meant to be an impression. I'm told the real Steve Hilton is madder. I was also told people in the Tory Party tried to prevent him ever hearing about it, in case he suspected a mole. The sad truth is, we make a lot of stuff up, then politicians get in touch afterwards and say, "How on earth did you find that out? We thought we'd kept it quiet!"
MmeLindt: I bought the Alastair Campbell autobiography and struggled valiantly for a couple of days before deciding to use it as a doorstop. I found there were so many tiny details about politicians and their staff, many of whom I did not know. I think that politicians and their staff get lost in a bubble of their own importance, without realising that there are people out there who just don't know who they are and what they do. I wonder how many Brits would recognise their own MP in the street. Is this a problem or an advantage for the politicians?
Armando: I think it happens in politics generally. Politicians get presented every morning with a set of newspaper cuttings about them, and their department. No wonder they go through life worrying what we're all thinking about them, if all they read about is so close to them and what they do.
They assume we must read the same set of cuttings, whereas all we do is pick up a newspaper, look at the front, look at the back, burn some toast, flick through to the middle, sigh and put it down. In Westminster (and in Washington, I've recently discovered) everyone's circle of friends consists exclusively of other people involved in politics. So each development becomes a major talking point and focus for gossip. That's how the obsession starts to grow over how the media and the public are going to react to individual little bits of policy or political behaviour. Truth is, we don't.
forevervacuuming: On the 15th of May you wrote in the Independent about the the Tory/Lib Dem coalition that, "70% of something you don't like is still awful, but it's better than 100%." Given the announcements in the months since, do you still feel that it is any better than 100% Conservative?
Armando: I don't know. It's very hard to quantify the difference between Downright Depressing and Utterly Miserable. Anyone got a calculator?
mummymoods: Do you respect British politicians or do you think they're all in it for themselves? Would you ever consider standing yourself?
Armando: I think I've come to sympathise with them a lot more. We and the media place a ridiculous amount of pressure on them to behave perfectly, have all the answers and not get paid much. However, I've lost respect for all parties at the moment given how little they discussed cuts and NHS reform during the election. Unbelievable. Can't imagine being a politician; I'd be useless at towing the party line.
Euphemia: What do you think of the Scottish Government? Do you pay any attention to them, or are they too ridiculous?
Armando: Unfortunately, the Scottish Government are not for Viewers in England, who have their own Government. Not much coverage in London of what's going on in Edinburgh. I do have the option on Sky Digital of tuning to BBC Scotland for Reporting Scotland. Can't think why I haven't done so.
Eleison: Armando, do you feel a little bit responsible for the Big Society? Is Nicola Murray actually the brains behind the Big Society, with her Fourth Sector Pathfinder People initiative? "It's all about empowering ordinary people to do extraordinary things. The Fourth Sector is between the other three sectors, but it's also the periphery around them, so it's very much encompassing. It's incorporating, it's enveloping, within and without. We want to elect certain people as fourth sector pathfinders who are ordinary people doing extraordinary things within their community... but are not vigilantes." That is way clearer than Cameron's exposition of the Big Society. Please can you be more careful in future about life imitating art?
Armando: Worse still, in the very first episode of The Thick of It, the Minister and his team had 45 minutes in the back of a car to improvise a cheap policy to announce. They came up with pet ASBOs and National Spare Room Database, both of which became law two years later!
mindfulmama: Do you recall the ORC tour in the 1984, when we had to sniff coffee granules out of the jar because we were too poor to buy coffee and the journo in Cambridge thought your name was a pseudonym because you had a Scottish accent?! How important do you think your university experiences were?
Armando: But it's weird speaking to someone I obviously knew years ago and who's now operating under a pseudonym. University. Mm. I was pretty academically minded so you'd think I'd say now it's a good thing. But I also don't get too worried about it being the be-all and end-all for all kids. I think it's mad we've hooked the jobs market so closely to the university experience. Suddenly, learning becomes a market force rather than an aspect of your character. But what do I know?
AitchTwoOh: He was lovely at school. Bit geeky, mind, what with the debatey thing, but it's clearly paid off. Everyone I know who knows him or has known him in the past is very proud of his success. I'm wondering who was your favourite teacher and why? Sweaty? Weebob? Weed?
Armando: Hi, AitchTwoOh, good to hear from you. Yes, I admit, I was a bit of a geek. I took part in debating and was usually sick with nerves for weeks in advance. It's a strange consolation to read that Blair got nervous before Prime Minister's Questions. Gives me joy to know he was throwing up. Ronnie Renton taught me English and inspired me not to be scared of literature but to enjoy it. More power to the geeks.
everythingiseverything: I swear a lot. I worry my two-year-old will have some choice language I am unable to explain. Do you swear much?
Armando: I swear pretty rarely. Although, after months editing Thick of It, I do tend to have a sweary twitch. Swearing can be funny if used creatively, I'd say. But I wouldn't recommend it for two-year-olds.
hackneyman: As my wife is the wage earner, I find myself the main carer of a 15-month-old girl, also I am an older father and try my best to get our little girl to as many mum and toddler groups as possible. My conclusion is that dads are invisible at these things. Why do you think that is?
Armando: Ah, yes, I've gone through the, Dad At the Playground Being Ignored By The Mums routine many times. Don't know why that is. My only consolation is that clearly it's not just me. I've found that you have to double up the effort to go and make the first approach. Not to a mum standing on her own, that'll just look sinister, but to a group.
Longstocking2: Did you go on that Joan Collins-encrusted election night boatfest as a lapse into personal hubris or as research? You looked reassuringly horrified to be there. How many things do you have in common with Martin Scorcese? Is Malcolm your Travis Bickle?
Armando: I remember being promised the Election Barge was going to be very serious, so, yes, finding myself standing next to Joan Collins wasn't a good start. She banged on how good David Cameron was for the family, and I thought, that's rich coming from the thrice-married star of The Stud and The Bitch.
beansprout: What three words would you use to describe the BBC boat you found yourself aboard on election night?
Armando: Groaning. Grounded. Grim
Snorbs: Any plans to do another series of Charm Offensive on Radio 4? Or at least to persuade the lazy swine on Radio 7 to broadcast the previous series?
Armando: Afraid not. I love doing Charm Offensive but, because it's topical, it has to be recorded the week Radio 4 has the slots and unfortunately the slots aren't coming up at the same time I'm free. We're looking at doing a new, non-topical show instead.
simonedeboudoir: Will you be making another The Thick Of It spin-off feature film?
Armando: Don't think I'll do another political spin-off film. The next one's now written, and it's more of a slapstick movie, but in a very contemporary setting. Basically, adults behaving terribly childishly. a bit like In The Loop, I suppose.
Guacamohohohole: Can you tell us more about your new HBO series? Is it going to be like the US version of The Thick of It?
Armando: I'm excited to be working for HBO. They've made some of my favourite comedy shows, especially The Larry Sanders Show. We're hoping Julia Louise-Dreyfus is going to play America's first female Vice President. She was once a powerful Senator, and now finds herself very close to power, without being that powerful herself. There'll be an element of The Thick of It tone, but hopefully something new as well. It definitely won't have hugs and jolly theme music though.
ConstanceFelicity: The Friday Night Armistice was absolutely brilliant, as is The Thick of It and In The Loop. However, I do think that comedy has dumbed down a little bit since late 80s/early 90s. It's as if alternative comedy has made comics and TV executives afraid of talking about current affairs, because alternative comedy wasn't really that funny. What do you think?
Armando: My experience has been that people have been saying comedy's not as sharp for the past 20 years. I think, yes, channels are now more concerned about ratings and playing a little safer, but I'm also quite excited that the internet is opening up new ways in which younger performers and writers can get their stuff out there. The worry, though, is that the channels play safe because they feel under less pressure to show this stuff.
Habbibu: Armando, why do you think there's no equivalent to the Daily Show on British TV? I guess the closest in terms of analysis is Bremner, Bird and Fortune - do you think something similar to the Daily Show would work here? Oh, and kudos for the John Radcliffe thing - I didn't know about it, and think it's great - having gone through two stressful pregnancies after complex losses, I'm well aware of the need for good specialist care (which thankfully I got in Dundee).
Armando: Thanks, Habbibu. Quite a few of you think there's not much satire these days. Don't know the answer why. Maybe it's our fault for getting so obsessed with celebs and reality. I still think Big Brother did untold damage to the quality of British TV/our brains/our society in general. In years to come, historians will bracket it with the Black Death.
Thanks also for the mention of The Silver Star unit. It's the only maternity specialist care unit of its kind outside London, taking in mums with difficult pregnancies from hundreds of miles around. It's important that the Government is held firmly to its promise that, despite the cuts, the NHS is protected. There have been worrying signs already that it's been quietly put under pressure to make 'savings' and I don't think that was anything anyone agreed to at the General Election.
Spacehoppa: Might I possibly ask what biscuit you are having with your coffee?
Armando: No biscuit. I came in such a flap from the train that I forgot to ask for biscuits. For the record, though, my favourite biscuit always was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, the Jammy Dodger.
yama: On a happiness scale of one to ten, how happy are you?
Armando: I'm assuming 1 is Terribly Miserable and 10 is Unbelievably Elated? I think I'm currently 7: Reasonably Up-Beat with a Smattering of Apprehension.
Badcoverversion: I'm going to be terribly mundane and ask for your favourites of 2010. What was your favourite film, TV programme, album, book, celebrity?
Armando: Film has to be Four Lions. Funny terrorists. TV would be Eastbound and Down, an HBO comedy about an out-of-condition baseball player. I have very, very medieval musical tastes. Best album would probably be John Eliot Gardner's sequence of Bach Cantatas. I've just read a terrific novel called The Financier by Theodore Dreiser. It's about an American stocks and shares guy brought down by debt. It was written in 1912. And for a celeb, it would have to be Andy Coulson.
NigellaTufnel: If you weren't doing a webchat on here, how would you make fun of Mumsnet? (I know this is a bit self-referential, but the way that that Mumsnet has entered the political landscape always struck me as a bit strange. Great, but strange.)
Armando: Of course, I would NEVER make fun of Mumsnet, but I can imagine a Minister feeling obliged to do the interview and spending a lot of time with his or her advisors trying to work out the best answer to "what's your favourite shop?" And then typing something stupid in answer to "why aren't speed cameras working?"
kreecherlivesupstairs: What do you make of the announcement that Prince Thing is to marry Kate doodah? Can't remember their names as I don't have any interest in them and a day off for the wedding wouldn't affect me.
Armando: Ah, bless! All I can say is that I pity the Prince after the wedding. He's going to come under enormous pressure from us and the media to get on with it and as soon as possible produce a mistress.