James Rampton on comedy

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The Independent Online
He may have once been touted as the spokesman for the alternative generation, the man in the vanguard of a whole "Thatch out!" comedy movement. But now Ben Elton (below) is as traditionalist as they come. He has said that his sitcom, The Thin Blue Line, currently being repeated on BBC1, is structured along the lines of Dad's Army, and you can see what he's getting at in the timeless gags shared out among the ensemble cast. Inspector Fowler (Rowan Atkinson) is the slightly laughable commander in the mould of Captain Mainwaring, PC Goody (James Dreyfus) is the incompetent youngster resembling Private Pike, and DI Grim (David Haig) is the antagonistic rival in the style of ARP Warden Hodges. You couldn't get more classic role-models for a sitcom.

The same goes for his new novel, Popcorn; it is as conservative (very much with a small "c") as they come. In its contention that screen violence can have an effect on real-life criminals, he is challenging the standard liberal argument that films such as Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction exert no influence on individuals. Institutions as unlikely as the Daily Mail and Mary Whitehouse have rallied to Elton's cause. If you can't face ploughing through several hundred pages of prose to get the message, however, you can take the easy option of seeing the play.

Popcorn is at the Nottingham Playhouse (0115 941 9419) from Thur 12 Sept