Televison: The people's satirist

Harry Enfield turns his sights on the murky world of Westminster in two new comedies
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The Independent Culture
Political comedy, so we're told, is as dead as the Tories' chances of winning the next election. Which puts Harry Enfield in a rather tricky position. In the next fortnight he's got two new political comedies coming out: Norman Ormal, a spoof documentary for BBC1 about a despicably opportunistic politician; and St Albion Parish News, an ITV reworking of the Private Eye column in which "the Reverend" Tony Blair writes his parishoners an insufferably sanctimonious newsletter.

"I hope people aren't bored with politics - otherwise these programmes will be a turn-off," Enfield sighs. Fortunately, even with such a popular government, there is still a place for satire.

"New Labour shouldn't be allowed a free run," Enfield contends. "You've got to have a go at everyone - that's our job. Spitting Image was at its most powerful after the Tory landslide in 1983 because there was no other opposition. I can see Tony Blair being mortified - `For Christ's sake, give us a chance' - but that's tough. You've got to have a dig at them. It makes us feel we're getting our own back. Still, you've got put it in perspective; no satirist ever brought a government down - usually, they actually increase their majority. Even with Spitting Image, we were just going `nyer-nyer-nyer' in the playground."

So what sort of impression of politicians will we gain from Enfield's programmes? Not a favourable one, I fear. The Normal Ormal film is enlivened by a rogues' gallery of MPs (all played by Enfield): the lascivious womaniser Alan Swagg, the absurdly posh and out-of-touch Douglas Weird, the scatterbrained Dame Shirley Mess, the super-gossipy Julian Bitchily, the plain-speaking (ie rude) Yorkshireman, Sir Marcus Flatcapp, the wannabe racy Edwina Slagg, and the deadly dull Geoffrey Hush. Any similarity to real-life politicians is, of course, entirely coincidental.

During the course of the documentary, Ormal himself feeds his daughter dog food during a scare about its safety, sells arms to Saddam Hussein, institutes the Pool Tax, a swingeing levy on those without swimming pools, and masterminds a Tory poster campaign which depicts Tony Blair devouring a hamster above the slogan: "Labour Eats Household Pets". On the night of the 1997 general election, Ormal abandons the sinking Tory ship and scuttles over to New Labour. The documentary closes with him grooving along to "Things Can Only Get Better" and joshing with Peter Mandelson at the victory party.

Enfield reckons that although Ormal is an exaggeration, "he shows that a lot of these politicians are appallingly odd human beings. The reason they went into politics in the first place was more to do with their own warped personality than a desire to serve the nation. There is something very nerdy about wanting to be on committees and spout meaningless soundbites on College Green.

"Politicians are dysfunctional. I know MPs who have given up because they had felt strongly about doing something, then realised that the House of Commons was the last place they were going to be able to do it. They got bogged down in the bollocks and the backstabbing. Any feeling of nobility disappeared. The ones that stay are weirdos."

Enfield's political outings may be mildly provocative - in the past, two of his comic characters, Loadsamoney and Tory Boy, certainly created a stir - but his sketch show, Harry Enfield and Chums, is resolutely mainstream. He unashamedly admits to aiming for the Saturday night variety-show crowd. "I like to get the Generation Game audience, all different ages and classes," he says. "I want to be fairly uncontroversial. I'm not at the cutting edge. I've never been at the cutting edge and I don't want to be, because then I'd date terribly quickly."

There is no sign of that happening. With his long-term collaborator Paul Whitehouse, he is currently in pre-production for a Christmas special of Harry Enfield and Chums for BBC1. He confesses that the multi-award- winning success of Whitehouse's The Fast Show has altered the nature of their relationship. "Paul is very patient, but it is difficult for him. On The Fast Show, he's in complete control; with me, I'm telling him `you can't do that', and he has to button his lip. If I were him, I'd say, `excuse me, who got the Bafta? I think I know better than you'. But he's very good; he only says that to me 10 times a day."

Next year, Enfield is hoping to work with his other long-standing partner, Kathy Burke, on a feature-film version of Kevin and Perry, the hormonally supercharged teenagers from hell. "It will be an English Wayne's World - very stupid. It'll be the story of two boys and their cocks. You can see the trailers now - `There are 3.6 billion women in the world, but none of them want to shag Kevin and Perry'."

In the meantime, Enfield is always on the look-out for more political material. The other day he bumped into William Hague. "He is the nicest politician I've met," he says, with not a little amazement in his voice. "He can laugh at himself. When I joked about his baldness, he pointed at my receding hair and said, `you're catching up fast'. He seemed normal - which is annoying."

Enfield obviously enjoys a better relationship with Hague than with Peter Mandelson, whom he famously laid into at a "Cool Britannia" reception in 10 Downing Street. "I was rude," he concedes, "but I don't regret what I said to him. He can take it. But I don't think I'll be getting any more invitations to Number 10."

`Norman Ormal' is on BBC1 tomorrow at 9.55pm. `St Albion Parish News' starts on ITV on 15 Nov