THEATRE: IT WAS 15 YEARS AGO TODAY; The great Ned and Ken show

On 25 July 1984, the titanic tussle between the Labour-led Greater London Council and Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government took a dramatic turn. The Ratepayers' Iolanthe, based on the 1882 Gilbert and Sullivan operetta about disputes between the Lords and the Commons, opened at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The new adaptation was true to its title: the GLC had subsidised it to the tune of pounds 75,000.

At the time, the political dispute had boiled down to a battle of wills between the free-spending, high-profile GLC leader "Red" Ken Livingstone and the no-nonsense, high-profile Tory leader "Iron" Maggie. At stake was the future of the GLC itself.

The satirical production "began as an idea between [producer] Raymond Gubbay and the GLC," says director Ned Sherrin, who rejigged Iolanthe with Alastair Beaton. "In those days, the GLC used to fund rather adventurous art projects and Gubbay had done a straight HMS Pinafore the year before. The proposed abolition of the GLC focused it and gave us the opportunity to have Mrs T as the Fairy Queen."

Following G&S's original, S&B's version had the impostor Fairy Queen - having banished the real Queen to the Tower without anyone noticing - trying to manoeuvre Red Strephon, her half-human, half-fairy idealistic opponent, into a neutralised position on the Labour backbenches. Red Strephon's social Utopia would have rung a few bells, particularly with critics of the GLC's "loony Left" policies: "A gay adventure playground on every street corner, discos for the disabled and wardens to help black lesbian old ladies across the street" (FT).

Gay Brown and David Kernan turned in brilliant impersonations of the (real) political opponents. Brown "received affectionate boos at the end like the villain in a Victorian melodrama" (Guardian), and Livingstone, a conspicuous first-night attendee, recalls that Kernan got him perfectly: "Every mannerism, every gesture, every item of clothing." (Sherrin says, however, that "Ken was very upset about the safari suit, which he said he hadn't worn for 10 years.") The then- GLC leader found the experience "bizarre": "It was odd watching Kernan have sex with one of the actresses. I was sitting there with my mother while this actor playing me was humping away on stage."

Phyllis, Strephon's inamorata, was a Sloane Ranger whose inheritance - the Greater London Estate - also attracted the attention of the Chancellor (based on Nigel Lawson). Two Lords became Saatchi 1 and Saatchi 2.

The critics loved the satire and the style: "A triumph of wit and resourcefulness" (Observer); "Bouncing entertainment" (Telegraph). Livingstone wasn't expecting a "Marxist Iolanthe", and the critics were impressed by its balance. "It certainly transcends the local politics that inspired it" (FT). "Red Strephon comes in for as many digs as the Iron Queen (well, nearly)" (City Limits).

Inevitably, the Telegraph felt the "somewhat venomous attitude to Thatcher overdoes and spoils the cartoon". The New Statesman thought the show was saddled with "un-GLC-like anachronisms: a blonde and passive heroine ... a load of fairies ... and only one black performer in a cast of 28." None the less, Livingstone "enjoyed it immensely. And so did my mum, minus the sex."

After a month, The Ratepayers' Iolanthe transferred to the West End for a highly successful six weeks. In August 1985, with the GLC's battle against abolition lost, Sherrin and Beaton produced The Metropolitan Mikado. Set in 1996, it had Livingstone as a gender-bending "Boy Ken", Michael Heseltine as the "Prime Mikado", and a parody of Neil Kinnock. "Even though he had enjoyed Iolanthe, Kinnock didn't attend after he heard that he was being mocked," says Sherrin. Both shows were part of the GLC's final fling at the RFH in May 1986, along with another Sherrin/Beaton satire, Small Expectations.

Ken Livingstone has been MP for Brent East since 1987 and, despite New Labour's best efforts, is the popular choice for London Mayor. "I want to make it clear that I'm a stern, unbending Tory," says Sherrin. "But I was more in favour of having the GLC than not. In fact, if Ken stands for Mayor, I may well vote for him for the first time in my life." Living- stone may well repay him: he thinks there may be another outlet for Sherrin's satirical talents very soon.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all