From these mirthful eruptions, you will glean that, like Ken, I am an enthusiast for the art of the satirist down the ages. For instance, I have a great respect for the cartoonist's ability to deal a devastating blow, with a few strokes of his brush, to those in positions of power and influence. Raising the morning newspapers at the breakfast table, the first thing I turn to is the main political cartoon - and if it so happens that I am its hapless victim then I chuckle all the more! Indeed, finding myself privileged enough to be held up for universal ridicule, I am oft prompted to pick up the telephone receiver and dial the mischievous cartoonist as he lingers in bed.
"Is that Scarfey?" I might well then say. "And how's the lovely Jane? Marvellous! Simply wicked cartoon you drew of me this morning, Gerald! Is my nose really that long? And I hope you don't really think that I spend my time with a sticker on my head saying 'INTERNATIONAL ARMS TRADE' swilling gleefully about in a sea of sewage marked 'RWANDA'! Only kidding! If we arms traders dish it out, we've got to learn to take it - that's what I always say! Anyway, Scarfey, I'd love to purchase that delicious caricature for the downstairs WC! Would pounds 450 do the trick? Super! See you both for dinner on Thursday, cheerio!"
Like Ken Baker, I have long been intrigued by the extraordinary power of the satirist to effect change in our society. I suppose I first became aware of this power when, as a Young Conservative fighting the devastation wrought by the Attlee government, I set up my own Touring Revue Company, "The Bluebloods", whose satirical mission was to poke merciless fun at the so-called "Welfare State" with its endless handouts to loafers, malingerers and scroungers. We took our chucklesome package to village halls the length and breadth of the country - and with no little success. Just 48 years on, we are now beginning to see the fruits of our efforts; our satirical message has got through to Mr Tony Blair and his cohorts at long last, and the Welfare State is finally to be disbanded!
But let us endeavour to be non-partisan. Along with Ken Baker, I take my hat off to even the most devilish of those satirists on the hard left. Ken's "smallest room" - if I may term it thus! - is a veritable shrine to those left-leaning cartoonists who have poked affectionate satirical fun at our doughty former Secretary of State for Education and Party Chairman. Along with a valuable collection of cartoons of himself by Gerald Scarfe (Ken as a worm, a toad, a whoopee cushion, a pile of manure), there are also hilarious cartoons by Ralph Steadman (Ken as a colostomy bag), Michael Heath (Ken as a headless skunk) and the Guardian's Steve Bell (Ken as Goebbels).
Needless to say, Ken is immensely and justifiably proud of his collection, and so he should be, for it will doubtless earn him a tidy sum in his old age. "The Thatcher Years showed a remarkable rise in robust political satire," he writes in his new work on the subject, Political Satire and the Downfall of the Conservative Government, 1979-96, "so it is no coincidence that senior members of the Thatcher Cabinets have individually amassed a quantity of anti-monetarist, anti-Conservative, anti-capitalist cartoons that should now, by a modest reckoning, be worth somewhere well into six figures."
And let us never forget the devastating power of anti-establishment "alternative" comedy - another outstanding success of the Thatcher era. The waspish puppets on Spitting Image proved a particular pleasure among successive Cabinets, and it was a rare Monday morning session that didn't start with a chuckle at the delightfully crude antics of the night before! Dear old Norman (now Lord!!) Tebbit simply adored being portrayed as a loutish boot-boy, Cecil P now keeps his own "sex-stud" puppet in a prominent place in his office in the House of Lords, and my own depiction as a squashed beetle was similarly splendid. As Ken and I were saying over dinner at The Savoy the other night with Ben (Elton) and Jo (Brand), satirists give everyone a good giggle over the failings of those of us in power; and that is why we will always continue to love them as we do.Reuse content