TV EYE

THE JOKE'S ON EU
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Michael Aitkens is worried about becoming the John Redwood of sitcoms - not a pleasant prospect. He has penned A Perfect State, a lively comedy about a fictional coastal town called Flatby, which becomes so fed-up with European fishing regulations it decides to declare independence from the UK and pull out of the EU.

This comic UDI is led by the landlady of the local pub and deputy mayor of Flatby, Laura (played with typical panache by Gwen Taylor). "It's standing up against all this daffy-duck legislation that is turning us into a suburb of Eurodisney," she fumes. "Our whole lives are being regulated and dominated by Brussels. There are vast armies of chubby little Hercule Poirots just waiting to come waddling over here and tell us how to wipe the very bottoms we're sitting on."

"I do believe in this," asserts Aitkens, who also wrote Waiting For God, "but I'm not sure about some of my fellow-travellers. I don't want to be politically aligned with John Redwood. Then I found that in my local pub - which I use as a sounding-board - everyone agrees with me but keeps shtum about it. It is now perfectly acceptable to speak out against centralisation, particularly against the central bank. The EU is a target you can't possibly miss because it is so relentless in its stupidity. It pretends that people in Norwich and Naples are the same. It's as if we said this country should be one school with the common-room in the Isle of Wight one week and John O'Groats the next. And we obey their regulations - they have four thousand inspectors measuring fish."

With words to gladden the hearts of every card-carrying Eurosceptic, he continues that it has struck a chord "because people are sick to death of the idiocies of the EU. You can't legislate against human nature, which is what they're trying to do. We're essentially parochial people around Europe. We might be one large land-mass, but if you run against home and hearth, you have to fail - like Communism had to fail. My series says in plain terms what everyone is feeling - `Excuse me, it's barking enough already over there, can we just stop the process?' "

Despite its humour, the series opens itself up to charges of xenophobia, which Aitkens cheerfully dismisses. "Geoffrey Perkins (the BBC's head of comedy) keeps asking, `Do you have to slag off the French every week?' We had to cut a scene about how the French managed to have snails declared as fish so they were entitled to fish-farming subsidies. We're all so PC these days, you can't have a go at anyone. But I couldn't give a damn. Describing the French as the non-vertebrates of Europe is just a laugh. If people say it's xenophobic, they've had a humour bypass. You hope your work offends; if it doesn't, nobody notices you."

With its concentration on the evils of Europe, A Perfect State is unusually topical for a sitcom - particularly in the run-up to the General Election. Only Drop the Dead Donkey,with its eleventh-hour insertions of news stories, is more up-to-the-minute. Sitcoms in general "have a fear of dating", Aitkens reckons, "and the time-lag between having the idea and getting it on the screen usually runs at a year, so it's hard to make it topical. Also, topicality is not part of the remit. They want something with a good shelf-life that they can repeat ad infinitum."

For all his good-natured ranting about Europe, Aitkens is well aware that A Perfect State is never going to bring down the government. "It's a sitcom, written for an 8.30pm Thursday comedy slot," he explains. "Let's not have delusions beyond our position. The EU angle is secondary to giving people a bit of entertainment and paying for my yacht in Barbados."

`A Perfect State' starts Thursday at 8.30pm on BBC1

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