How Nick Clegg's aides tried to put him in The Thick of It

Insiders offered details to Armando Iannucci to ensure his cult series kept up with Coalition

If the Coalition cock-ups and ministerial meltdowns appear particularly well-informed when political satire The Thick Of It returns, then Nick Clegg may wish to interrogate his private office.

Aides to the Deputy Prime Minister have been only too keen to leak embarrassing details of life as the Government’s junior partners, the writers of the Bafta-winning series have revealed.

The fourth series of Armando Iannucci’s acclaimed comedy, which spawned Westminster’s post-Budget buzz-phrase “Omnishambles”, will air on BBC2 next month.

Real life is reflected with the Opposition now in government but forced to share office-space with their ambitious junior coalition partners, known as “The Inbetweeners”.

Malcolm Tucker, the fearsome former No 10 enforcer, is at bay. In a shock turn of events, Nicola Murray, the previous “Dosac” department minister, has become Leader of the Opposition after accidentally winning an election through a block vote mechanism no-one can quite understand. Murray, although no less inept, is now Tucker’s boss.

There are big changes in Whitehall, where Peter Mannion, the world-weary opposition MP with more than a touch of Kenneth Clarke, finally takes over the Social Affairs department. But he has to live with a “Lib Dem” junior minister, keen to make his mark, who publicly contradicts any policies Mannion dares to put forward.

Did the producers have a high-grade Coalition source? Sean Gray, series writer, said: “Armando got an email after a political awards. The person said ‘I’m working in Nick Clegg’s office until June. I’ll let you know what happened after that.’”

Gray did not disclose if the offer was followed-up. His co-writer Roger Drew added that a female member of David Cameron’s press office also approached the writers at a Westminster screening of Veep, the HBO political satire that the pair penned with Iannucci.

Adam Tandy, producer, said: “We don’t think anyone had a meeting but we keep our ear to the ground. We don’t have any deep sources - apart from Nick Clegg.” The writers employ a political adviser based at the BBC’s Millbank studios who helps them gauge the mood of the Coalition.

Nicola Murray’s elevation was sealed after Ed Miliband won Labour’s leadership election. She was initially going to be deputy leader. Gray said: “Nicola has somehow gone from being inept to becoming leader through strange mathematics. Ed winning made it feasible that Nicola could be leader.”

In a political world where Boris Johnson gets stuck on a zip-wire, Treasury Minister Chloe Smith is mauled on Newsnight and U-turns are forced over a pasty tax, the writers’ biggest problem is staying ahead of events.

Tandy said: “There are things we say we couldn’t put in the script because no-one would believe it. Then Jeremy Hunt did his bell-ringing (where the bell flew off). And he’s still got a job. We get very lucky sometimes.”

At one point the writers feared that a script leak had been turned into Whitehall policy. The opening episode finds Mannion announcing the “silicon playground” – school children design apps for free, with the profits offset against future university tuition fees.

“Next day Michael Gove announced exactly the same policy,” complained Gray. The Education Secretary backed a cheap computer circuit board, the Raspberry Pi, which he wants children to use in schools to develop their programming skills. Drew said: “We thought ‘the fucker’s nicked our material’. There’s been a leak and they’ve decided to use material from our show.”

A judicial inquiry, sucking in ministers and advisers, provides the backdrop for the new series, although the subject is not phone-hacking. The promise of a 5-year Coalition allowed the team to “reboot” the series. Tandy said: “We’ve embraced wholeheartedly the fact that no-one won the election. Peter Mannion has to share his office with an upstart schoolboy.”

Roger Allam, who plays Mannion, said: “The Coalition means there’s even more conflict and less possibility of anyone being happy. No-one’s in real power.”

Will Smith, a series writer who plays Mannion’s adviser Phil Smith, said: “The Lib Dems are keen to show they can work harder and can be as tough as the larger party. We were hearing that the Coalition parties were getting on with each other and the tensions were actually within each party. Luckily for us by the time we filmed the series it was starting to come apart a bit more.”

Smith admits: “When Francis Maude told people to fill up the jerry cans in their garage, that was rather like a scene we would have done. It was so ludicrous that this could actually happen.”

Who’s who?

Fergus Williams (Junior Minister, DOSAC, Coalition) , played by Geoffrey Streatfeild

Upwardly-mobile “Lib Dem” arriviste complains when his “network nation” policy is mangled by “Tory” boss Mannion. Ministerial inspiration could include Steve Webb and Jeremy Browne.

Helen Hatley (Special adviser to Leader of the Opposition), played by Rebecca Gethings

Controlling influence over Nicola Murray, thwarting Malcolm Tucker. “More of a carer than an adviser”. Ed Miliband’s private office has included Polly Billington, Lucy Powell and Ayesha Hazarika. (nb- past tense, they have now quit)

Stewart Pearson (Director of Communications, Government), played by Vincent Franklin

Blue-sky thinker whose “touchy-feely” policies are sidelined in Downing Street as Coalition faces daily crises. Bears close comparison to Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s departed policy guru.

Malcolm Tucker (Media advisor, Opposition), played by Peter Capaldi

Muted in opposition, berates Murray for not being hungry enough for power. “You’ve got be a Hutu, hacking your way through the fucking opposition.” Former Times political journalist Tom Baldwin is Ed Miliband’s strategy chief.

Peter Mannion MP (Minister of DOSAC, Coalition government), played by Roger Allam

Old-school, lazy Tory, behind the curve on technology who confuses “silicon playground” policy with “Fibre-optic Fagins”. Allam calls him “a Ken Clarke who has never held the big offices of State”.

Glenn Cullen (Fourth sector guru, Government), played by James Smith & Olly Reeder (Special advisor to leader of the Opposition), played by Chris Addison

The former Dosac advisers split up with Cullen “crossing the floor” to work with the Coalition while Reeder spars with Tucker in the Opposition leader’s office.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
News
peopleComedian launches stinging attack on PM
Life and Style
The collection displayed Versace’s softer side, with models wearing flowers and chiffon dresses in unusual colourings
fashionVersace haute couture review
Arts and Entertainment
'The Leaf'
artYes, it's a leaf, but a potentially very expensive one
News
Yoko Ono at the Royal Festival Hall for Double Fantasy Live
people'I wont let him destroy memory of John Lennon or The Beatles'
News
Could Greece leave the EU?
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'