Nobody unzips his fly with quite the dramatic élan of Rik Mayall. It was part of The Young Ones 25 years ago, and the routine has improved with age. There are several brilliant unzippings during Mayall's bravura performance as Alan B'Stard in the West End Production of Marks' and Gran's The New Statesman, the last of which is followed by a high-energy sex scene, complete with flailing limbs, gurning facial expressions and comical gasps of climax.
It is traditional West End farce, updated for our times. B'Stard is about to become Prime Minister, and the babe (tight skirt, high heels) will be his deputy. Blair has been kidnapped and has had an ear cut off, Brown has been left naked and smeared with Marmite by Lysette Anthony, the rest of the Cabinet have been dismissed as too wet, too annoying or two-faced. There have been gags about Mandelson's gayness, Clarke's ears, the size of Cherie Blair's bottom. Instead of the mother-in-law walking in when Rik is on the job, it is (tight skirt, high heels) Condoleezza Rice.
This is not mere farce, in other words, but satire, part of the great showbiz profit centre built on the simple premise that everyone likes laughing at politicians. The pioneer of this kind of drama, Alastair Beaton, will have his latest effort screened on Channel 4 next week. It is called The Trial of Tony Blair, and is said to be darker than TV's other political laughter-fests based on the misfortunes of David Blunkett or John Prescott. It will, on the other hand, be less sombre than David Hare's play Stuff Happens.
Could we be in a golden age of satire? What a depressing thought. With contemporary politics inspiring plays in the West End, dramas on TV, stand-up comedy from Rory Bremner and Mark Thomas, a superior sitcom The Thick of It, no one could accuse writers and producers of not taking the Blair government seriously - at least as the subject of ratings-friendly comedy.
But what is striking about almost all this output - Peter Morgan's The Deal was an exception - is that the view of political leaders is identical and largely based on cliché. Blair is opportunistic, Prescott inarticulate and stupid, Campbell a bully, Mandelson smarmy, Darling a dalek - on and on it goes. These stereotypes represent more than mere lazy writing and second-hand observation; they are an expression of an easy, cynical assumption, which the audience is invited to share, that every politician is contemptible, is less moral and more greedy than, say, a writer, a comedian or a director.
The unthinking reduction of what happens in Westminster to the level of a West End farce harms the political process more than its targets. In a culture where politicians are joke figures, any initiative is greeted with a sceptical sneer. No hint of seriousness, nor the slightest whiff of integrity, is allowed to attach itself to a man or woman in public life; they are all, in the well-word words of saloon-bar pundit, "as bad as each other".
Anyone daring to suggest that sitting in Parliament, making difficult decisions that affect real people, might just possibly be more challenging, and indeed honourable, than standing on the sidelines making jokes, is likely to be treated with incredulous scorn.
There is something heartless and nasty about the new satire. Even during the jolly entertainment that is The New Statesman, B'Stard unzips to penetrate the severed head of a car-bomb victim. How the audience loved it, united by a sense of smug superiority over those elected to govern the country.
A lesson for a lippy Limey
If ever there were a clash of civilisations, it occurred when Professor Felipe Fernandez-Armando of London University met Officer Kevin Leonpacher of Atlanta police. Felipe was crossing the road at the wrong place, Kevin addressed him roughly. Felipe asked for an ID. Kevin, sensing trouble, kicked his legs away, slammed him face down on the street, cuffed him and called in reinforcements.
There was a language problem here. The professor believed in words; the cop saw them as an affront to his authority. When told he was going to be arrested, Felipe kept talking. "In the culture where I come from, this wouldn't mean the conversation was over," he says plaintively. Unfortunately, in the culture where Kevin comes from, a lippy Limey deserved to be taught a lesson about power and authority. So he spent eight hours in the slammer.
* It is the time of year when, across the country, wounded pheasants are to be found flopping about in the undergrowth after another jolly weekend's shooting. Many of us in Norfolk have taken to training the birds we feed all winter never to take off - even the most blood-crazed "gun" would hesitate before blundering on to private property to shoot a pheasant on the lawn.
Or would they? A survey by The Business magazine has revealed that shooting is the seventh most popular pastime for company directors, just below gardening. Joining a syndicate has been recognised as a "good networking tool", apparently, and is increasingly popular among female executives.
It may well be true that game-shooting is an environmental asset, but could there be a more depressing image of contemporary Britain than these bonus-bloated, BlackBerry-toting idiots, kitted out in the latest designer country-wear, roaring across the landscape in their ridiculous Landcruisers in order to network with one another by killing plump, semi-tame birds?Reuse content