Surreality TV: the secret other life of George Osborne
A new web-TV comedy with a serious side is a hit – but its subject may not be laughing
Meet George, a bumbling Chancellor who struggles with street-dance lessons and diets in a doomed bid to be more popular than Boris. That is how the UK's purse-keeper is portrayed in a new comedy that uses social media to spread a serious message.
The Real George Osborne, a Thick Of It-style series of 14 short, online episodes promises to be a satirical thorn in the Chancellor's side. Produced to broadcast standard and starring Rufus Jones, who played Terry Jones in the BBC's Holy Flying Circus drama about Monty Python, the series was commissioned by the World Development Movement.
Viewers are asked to sign up for a campaign to get Osborne to "do the right thing" and back an EU directive which will clamp down on food speculation by banks, which is driving up costs and fuelling poverty in poorer countries.
In return, they can view a series of comic episodes in which "Osborne" and his adviser cook up a series of ill-advised PR stunts designed to increase the Chancellor's profile so that he can replace Boris Johnson in Tory affections and depose David Cameron.
The first episode, "The Osborne Identity", opens in the Chancellor's office where he is playing with a toy train. He then tosses around a rugby ball as his weary press advisor expresses a desire to make her boss "more popular than Boris", who she says looks like "a polar bear on wheels". Mr Osborne ignores the advice and leaves for a street-dance class. "If a hardcore bit of body-popping can't woo Worcester woman then nothing will," he says.
The scene sets the tone as Mr Osborne goes on to battle with his diet while learning about the commodities market and launches GO CAM, a live online surgery where he asks viewers for advice, undermining his appearance by sneezing and leaving snot on his tie.
In all clips, the advisor says his best strategy for being taken more seriously would be to address world hunger.
The campaign looks like being a success. By last night more than 1,000 people had messaged the Chancellor from the 10,000 who watched the episodes on YouTube, a significantly higher conversion rate than achieved by traditional campaigning. It is unclear if the real George Osborne saw the spoofs.
The series was devised by Hoot Comedy, formed by James Rawlings, a Bafta-nominated screenwriter, and Ben Thompson, a Royal Television Society-nominated producer, who have worked on BBC and Channel 4 shows.
Deborah Doane, director of the World Development Movement, hopes the Osborne series will have a similar effect. She said: "Lobbying and research alone are not sufficient to bring about change. Mobilising public support on this issue is vital, and using social media is key way to reach a wider audience.
"We hope that this campaign, with genuinely funny content and such an exciting star at its centre, will bring this important issue to people in a way that is compelling and interesting – and not 'preachy'. We hope George Osborne will like it too, and be convinced to 'do the right thing'."
The WDM will screen three new three-minute Real George Osborne episodes each week over the next month. The campaigners claim that food speculation has added nearly £200 onto the average food bill for every UK household over the past year.
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