Questionable Time: I'm a little gutted that Nigel Farage is finally growing up...

Last night's Question Time featured Nigel Farage and Mary Beard

Oh Nigel, how far we have come, you and I...

When I first laid eyes on you I have to admit that I wasn't impressed. I don't remember the exact circumstances but the chances are that you have been conjuring up wild stories of how the EU had made spherical bricks mandatory or maybe laying out some vision of a perfect society based entirely on gammon and Rotarians. Whatever. All I knew was that most of the things you said were vaguely populist and definitely bonkers, neither of which particularly buttered my parsnips. However, all that was before I started writing Questionable Time and once I was actually forced to watch you week in, week out, I began to see things differently. That's when I discovered The Magic of Nigel Farage.

It hinges on this: For three solid years, you could predict with unerring accuracy how Nigel Farage would fare on QT. Initially, he would look nervous and shifty - like he knew he was gate crashing the party and it was only a matter of time before the host cottoned on - but this state of affairs would only last so long. By midway you'd see this look coming over his face, a look that said 'You know what? Bollocks to this. I'm going for it' and then suddenly, the game would change. Caution? To the wind! Reason? To hell with it! I'm going to make some faintly ludicrous statements and there's nothing you can do about it! That wasn't the magic though. The magic was that wonderful moment where the crowd would start clapping and you could hear his brain scream 'OMG! I'M ACTUALLY GETTTING AWAY WITH THIS!'.

However, that's still not quite the full story as there was a third component to any given Farage outing and that was The Tragic Coda. It's pretty simple really: After getting all hopped up on the dizzying scent of approval, he'd always overplay his hand and that rush of applause that had sustained him would trickle off to one solitary and quite, quite mad member of the audience clapping very, very loudly. This is the moment when you could see it kick in, the fatal realisation that 'Oh god, I've totally buggered this up!'. To me, that was the icing on the cake as every episode had this wonderfully self-contained story arc that played out with the regularity of clockwork: Nigel the Underdog followed by Nigel the Victorious followed by Nigel the Defeated.

These days though? I dunno, something's changed. For one, UKIP are actually making hay so there is the faint worry in the back of my head that he might come good on his gammon based society but more importantly, he seems aware of when he's over-egging the pudding now. Ok, so that bit when he and an audience member got over excited about the French not taking part on the Falklands War could have qualified as a 'Bollocks to it' moment, but it occurred right at the end of the show and left no space left for the full Tragic Coda. Well dammit Nigel, I need that Tragic Coda. That was the bond that kept us together but it appears that you have turned your back on our arrangement and become infatuated with the grubby trappings of electoral viability. My heart? It is broken.

On any given night Flint vs. Shapps should be a good draw...

...Except that it wasn't and to be honest, this was a pretty shonky episode that even Dimbers' rather fetching frog tie couldn't save. Alright, so the news is in the New Year's doldrums and the only real going concern – Cameron's Europe speech – got spiked by hostages in Algeria but I was expecting a little more from Shapps and Flint, a pair who positively ooze that Step-Siblings Who Don't Get On vibe. Alas, on this occasion it was wet playtimes all round as Caroline Flint defaulted to her 'MUST. DEFEND. EVERYTHING. NEW. LABOUR. EVER. DID.' position whilst Shapps gave us the usual runaround of having an answer for everything whilst somehow addressing nothing ('Hey guys... This is all really important and stuff, but stuff I've stuffed should stuff it right back into stuff). Shapps by a nose, but without honours.

At least Mary Beard gave it a fair crack...

So she's all a bit 'Who's got the keys to the Volvo!?'/'I don't suppose you could you tape me the latest Ladysmith Black Mambazo LP?'/'No, I'm sure the farmer's market is this way!' but in the final reckoning, Mary Beard was last night's saving grace. Someone needed to keep the new and worryingly stable Farage in check, someone needed to respond to questions with a modicum of thought and someone needed to tell us whether horse meat is actually up to snuff. That person was Mary Beard. Well done. Have some points.

I have no idea who Roland Rudd is...

The funny thing about PR people is how little you can find out about them. So far as I can gather, Roland Rudd's one of these figures who repeatedly crops up in the background (he's reputedly one of the 'Four Wise Men' who Tony Blair consulted on his way out), apparently pulls loads of strings and then disappears to do whatever shadowy PR people do. Am any the wiser after watching last night's episode? Am I hell. All I can really tell you is that he has a very good posture and that his attempt to crack a joke about the purity of burgers got him nowhere. Oh well... You can lead a horse to water...

Read more of Jack Hurley's work at Questionable Time.

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