Thursday, 17 June 2010

Drawing the Line

Watched a fascinating programme on BBC3 with Sir David Frost looking at the history of TV satire in the UK and in the USA. It was clips, interspersed by interviews with the satirists themselves.

One of the interesting sections towards the end was on boundaries, and how the satirists draw a boundary between what was acceptable, and what went beyond boundaries of good taste, decency, etc. A very similar conclusion was reached - that there are indeed boundaries, but it is up to the satirist to know what they are comfortable with. It can be a fine line.

I know when I write my "News from Nowhere" that what I present in terms of politicians are caricatures, which may be drawn not only from the politician, but how the public perceives them, anything other politicians have said in similar circumstances, and like the Spitting Image puppets, my characters are larger than life, and crudely drawn - but I hope also memorable and funny. If someone is a lawyer, such as the Attorney-General, then lawyers jokes (such as jokes about golf) are obviously good old chestnuts which can be pressed into use (as they used to in "Band Waggon" on Radio, for those readers with long memories!). I've never had a complaint yet; in fact, some politicians positively delight in their spoofed alter-ego's appearances.

I can quite happily portray a politician (as I did with one) as always having a pint in his hand, but that while that suggests he enjoys a good booze up frequently, I take care not to suggest in any way that he is drunk or alcoholic, as that would be crossing several lines - drinking a lot is funny, being drunk all the time is not.

Moreover, alcoholism is too serious an issue to be mocked, as is child abuse, rape, violence, accidents and injuries. Private Eye can sometimes skim by and just touch on those, but I couldn't do it properly, so I take great care to avoid those matters.

Death, however, on occasion, if not tragic, always has a tangential relationship with humour - as with Fawlty Towers "The Kipper and the Corpse", or the ever-present grim reaper in One Foot in the Grave, so here can be occasions when I think it is appropriate for comic effect, although the following caused a good deal of upset from a legal friend who said that "Lady Crill would not be amused" if she read it. I'd be intrigued to know if she would; I rather suspect that after years of living with Sir Peter she might see the funny side. I would add that another younger lawyer of my own age (who was not Nick Le Cornu, in case you are guessing) found it very funny, so perhaps it is a generational thing:

We probably won't have whisky on the healthy menu, which would have disappointed the late Victor Tombs, a short squat man with frog-like spectacles who once was in the running for Bailiff of Malaisey. He'd been blackballed at the Unity Club, and the then Bailiff, Sir Peter Pompous, decided that it would be a good idea to get rid of him as Deputy Bailiff. So he heaped lots of complicated court cases on him, and then complained to the English Government that Victor wasn't pulling his weight (not that there was much of it), and should be removed from office. It was one of those cases when we needed the English lot to intervene in Island affairs, but we don't like to mention that kind of thing in case people get the wrong idea, and think it can happen any time things go wrong.
Anyhow, Sir Peter was able to dismiss Victor Tombs, who stood for the States on a campaign to get Sir Peter Pompous out, and got into the States, and as we all do with our promises, forgot all about it and became pompous himself. At Victor's funeral, in consideration of that, they played the song "I did it my way", although "I drunk it my way" might have been more appropriate.
Luckily - or perhaps it was providence - that meant that when Sir Peter Pompous retired to write his memoirs - published after his death with the title "Posthumous Insults of a Pompous Man" - our current incumbent Sir Robespierre could step into the post.

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