Review: Should the dishonourable member step down?

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The Independent Culture
Has Alan B'Stard outlived any useful purpose? Yorkshire TV gave him his first outing when the Prime Minister was still a woman who sounded like a man, rather than a man who sounds like woman. His most recent sighting was in 1992. The party is stil l in power, but it is characterised not so much by the militant creed of self-help as by something more slippery and less easily targeted. Just how do you satirise uselessness?

He also has to fight the fact that the uncaring government he lampoons is now way beyond a joke. Rik Mayall's pinstriped, pop-eyed grotesque once appropriately occupied the Spitting Image slot on Sunday night, where it was impossible to spot the seam between living and latex. In A B'stard Exposed (BBC1) he was relocated to a studio interview with Brian Walden, another refugee from the independent network. An uneasy truce ensued between the tug of verisimilitude, oddly personified by Walden, and Mayall'sinstinct to loosen the knot that grounds him and, blasted by helium, soar off into the fantastical ether where the likes of Bottom made their home.

This was a rare, probably unique case of an interview in which Walden, caricatured as a pygmy in Spitting Image, actually looked like one. Since he has always set himself the task of upstaging his guests, you wonder what was in it for him here. The scri ptwriters, Howard Marks and Laurence Gran, fed him the occasional half-decent line, but his main role was as a stooge. At one point B'Stard lectured him on being out of touch with the people in his Channel Islands bolthole, which he can't have enjoyed. As the credits ran at the end, B'Stard discreetly handed him a buff envelope: presumably Walden's real-life remuneration was just as diligently negotiated.

The better lines landed in Mayall's half of the script, but he had to sift through the worse ones to get to them. Only rarely did his thrusts score a palpable hit: "If it wasn't for the free parking space, I don't think I'd bother," said B'Stard of his job in Westminster, and just for a moment the idea didn't sound entirely improbable. Nor did many gags trade on the standardised vocabulary of political exchange, preferring to float free of the conventions of the television interview. "Of course I don't have to pay lip service," he said in a rare exception. "I have supermodels and film stars queueing up to service my lips."

The joke about B'Stard, and the thing that makes him slightly plausible, is that at least he says what people suspect the rest of the Tory party believes. He'd legalise drugs and porn so that he could rake in the VAT and abolish income tax - except for the low paid who vote labour anyway. He dismissed Wales, where he had just won a by-election (thanks to a fatal eve-of-poll coal mine accident involving his two rivals - ho ho ho) as "a Godforsaken hellhole where you can't get a drink or a shag on a Sunday". It would be nice to see him say that to the Pontypool front row.

The agenda of the interview was to blame the megalomaniac B'Stard for all the national ills that are laid at the door of Francis Urquhart in House of Cards and To Play the King. He is Urquhart rewritten for the readers of Viz. It's probably asking too much to expect anything but blunt instruments from the creators of Birds of a Feather.

"The Big Break" (C4) was a melancholy film for Short Stories about the social group who'd lose their welfare in a trice under a B'Stard administration. The three out-of-work actors seen here preparing for a showcase for agents had only the sadness of their predicament in common.

After the show, a gangly Oxford graduate called Julian wasn't approached by an agent, but said that the main thing was that he had enjoyed himself. But he wasn't acting very well when he said it.

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