- 26 July 2006
This article is from 2006.
A is for Armando
Has Armando Iannucci actually been involved in every single great comedy moment on British television in the past 15 years? Rodger Evans chases down the improbable truth about
A is for Armistice and Ah-ha!
Memories of the mid 90s topical comedy shows Friday and Saturday Night Armistice are almost as vague as those of Britpop - perhaps that was also merely a dream? - and even the interweb offers few reminders of Armando's follow up to The Day Today. No matter. The toy car travels of the Mr Tony Blair Puppet, a gonk-like representation of the then leader of the opposition, which for reasons best know to Armando looked very little like Blair, were as funny as anything recorded by Noel and Liam. And, as post-modern comedy catchphrases inspired by Sweden's finest export go (no disrespect to Volvo, Ikea or Henrik Larsson intended) does it get any better than 'Ah-haaaa?'
B is for Blair and Big Brother
'He's weirder than ever, our PM,' claims Armando. But not merely on the basis of disagreeable foreign policy decisions, third way sophistry or his oleaginous ways. 'No, TB is weird because he tells us, "I only know what I believe'" and that, as Iannucci points out, 'is the exact same argument used by the Taliban.' From TB to BB, he argues that misnomered reality TV should to be taken to its bloody conclusion. 'Wouldn't it be great if next season saw a special effect as one of the housemates? I suggest Peter Jackson's King Kong. I'd definitely stay up to 3am to watch a 25-foot high CGI ape crash around the kitchen while talking about full body-waxing to a gay actor from Emmerdale, and then crush him.' Would King Kong come to the diary room, please …
C is for Cameron and Cool-Rating
Armando thinks the shiny leader of the opposition also happens to be nothing but a special effect. A very good one, mind, but, 'his head's just that little too big for his body. His casual clothes look nearly casual but not quite. And no actual human being would clench his hands in that pig-teat-pulling way that Cameron does.' Still, Chameleon Dave would doubtless score top marks according to The Thick Of It's Number 10 three line whipped Cool-Rating - 'HBO imports, Pixar, you dig The Streets … who's the only gay in the village?'
D is for The Day
Today Armando produced the superlative news spoof that introduced Steve Coogan and Chris Morris. And television journalism was never the same again. Except that it was of course, only more so. So Exocet-like was the satire of The Day Today that it bled into reality and suddenly it was impossible to tell the difference between Chris Morris and Jeremy Paxman or Alan Partridge and, well, insert the name of any sports presenter chimp or light entertainment whore that takes your dis-fancy.
E is for Election Night Armistice
And so it came to pass one historic evening in May 1997 that not only was Armando allowed to muck about in the studio next door to the one in which one of those Dimblebys was doing the grown-up coverage; he also persuaded us to watch a bunch of kids jumping up and down on a bouncy castle in the shape of the House of Commons, presumably to best represent our top notch brand of democracy. Yes. Take that, Peter Snow!
F is for Fimbles, Factgasm and Fuck
The purple-striped one is actually Patricia Hewitt, he reckons. Hang on though - isn't Bessie really Margaret Becket? Factgasm was an episode of The Day Today, alternatively titled Newsatrolysis. So there. And the F-word is used with Anglo-Saxon abandon by The Thick Of It's sultan of spin Malcolm Tucker.
G is for Get Carter Day and Graphics
Forget St Andrew's Day or St George's Day or that holiday promised us if England had won the World Cup … on Armando Iannucci's Charm Offensive it was Will Self who suggested we take 24 hours to celebrate Michael Caine's greatest moment. Well apart from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels … Remember the brilliance of those spoof graphics on The Day Today? And how the real thing came to look more and more like the piss-take? The likely reason was that this element of the show came from the creators of the ITN News graphics, who at the time embraced the opportunity to stretch their style. Trouble is, now, whenever you see those pictures pop up on Channel 4 News one can't help but smirk.
H is for Hobbies
Astronomy and masterminding international attacks, apparently.
I is for Influences
Buster Keaton, Peter Cook, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Douglas Adams.
J is for Jesuits
Armando's education and very nearly his calling
K is for Knowing Me, Knowing You...
L is for Langham, Chris
Winner of Best Comedy Actor for his portrayal of Minister of Social Affairs, Hugh Abbot in The Thick Of It, Langham is going through what might understatedly be described as legal difficulties at present. But did you know his big showbiz break came from writing gags for The Muppets?
M is for Morris, Chris and McPherson, Archie
'What people don't realise is that Chris Morris is a character played by Steve Coogan and so am I,' Armando once confessed to a Channel 4 chatroom. Archie McPherson is not, to the best knowledge of this writer at least (and however counter intuitive it may seem) the creation of a comedy genius. No. And yet the unthinking woman's commentator was indubitably the super-slacked and bonneted inspiration behind No' The Archie McPherson Show, a Radio Scotland series written, produced and performed by Mandy. Iannucci is still pals with Morris and doesn't rule out their working together again at some point, but he remains tight-lipped on the future of his relationship with the golden Archie.
N is for News International Visiting Professor Of Broadcast Media at Oxford University
He explained this appointment last year to the Beeb thus: 'It means doing four lectures a year on the subject of comedy, and even though the post is paid for from an endowment by Rupert Murdoch, I'll still be able to shaft The Sun, Sky and Fox TV if I want to.'
O is for O'Hanraha-hanrahan, Peter
Useless economics correspondent on The Day Today who was much derided by Chris Morris' super-smarmy anchorman.
P is for Politically Correct and Partridge, Alan
'PC is really about politeness rather than ideology,' Armando argues. Then there's Norwich and East Anglia's finest Ambassador of civility and sensitivity.
Q is for Question Time
He's been on. I didn't see it. Think it must have clashed with Alan Partridge repeats.
R is for Roots
Asked if he'd like to be a Scots-Italian Woody Allen, Armando said: 'I'd love to be a Chinese-Hungarian Harold Lloyd.'
S is for Sopranos
Claims never to have seen an episode and this makes him feel 'rather wholesome and expansive, like someone just back from a weekend in Dorset.' Muthafugga.
T is for The Thick Of It and Time Trumpet
Winner of Best New Comedy in 2005, The Thick Of It is described by Andrew Marr as 'the angry, rampaging bastard child of Yes, Minister'. Throw in a scraping of Larry Sanders and you'd have scooped it there, Andy, having infiltrated the fibosphere of the spinners and the spun where doormat-like Ministers of State, happy slappy policy wonks, and an omnipotent Doctor of the spherical science vie for your vote. The show is painfully close to the truth, Iannucci's 'reality adviser' being former government insider Martin Sixsmith, though the truth is not really the point here, is it. The point is the message and if you're beeping not on beeping message then you're of no beeping use to us, are you, sweetheart? The Alastair Campbell-esque Malcolm Tucker, played with frightening conviction by Peter Capaldi, is perhaps the finest and certainly the most crazed comic creation from Armando since The Day Today. A new series of Thick is promised this year, and if there is any justice in this digital world then it will hop from BBC4 to one of those outlets of auntie's that folk actually watch. Time Trumpet is also coming soon to the BBC. Billed as 'false-history', it's said to be like one of those clip shows but based on the close future as remembered from the point of view of the far future. Got it? If it helps any the press blurb offers: 'Imagine Question Time presented by a donkey puppet called David Dimbledonkey. Imagine a meal made of cloned bits of talking Jamie Oliver flesh that tells you how to cook it.' And all of this to be told by the likes of Ant and Dec, Charlotte Church and David Beckham but as they may look in 50 years. Possibly not what HG Wells had in mind.
U is for Unnecessary
Armando asks if anyone would really miss Mickey Mouse, the Daily Express, or Chad.
V is for Virtual Sherry Trifle
Iannucci's luxury item as chosen at the end of his appearance on Desert Island Discs.
W is for Walking With Dinosaurs and Weapons Of Mass Destruction
2001's The Armando Iannucci Shows on Channel 4 featured visual effects made by the same team behind the Beeb's natural history series. And that's a Dino-fact. But never mind that Jurassic lark, the WMD question was neatly answered by Armando on one of his wonderfully wayward yet spectacularly spot on newspaper columns - he's scribbled for both the Observer and the Daily Telegraph don't you know. So, it turns out it wasn't really WMD that Saddam could have prepared and delivered our way in 45 minutes. No, it was actually a pie. Crust me, as our PM never ever at any smiley and sincere point told the Hutton inquiry.
X marks the spot
In fact, so pissed off about the Iraq war was Armando that he chose to react to the 'adventures' of Tony B and his warmongering mates at the last general election by voting for that nice Charlie Kennedy's lot (as they were, pre-Ming Dynasty).
Y is for Yes, Minister
He championed the classic show last year on the BBC for Britain's Best Sitcom, citing it as both timeless comedy and a crash course in political studies. 'No sitcom has been so thoroughly researched - it used real Whitehall insider moles to spill the beans - and meant that (unlike Richard Curtis, for example) the writers were considered a threat to national security.' It was clearly half the inspiration behind The Thick Of It.
Z is for Zelig-like
For just about every great new comedy moment on TV and radio of the last 15 years it seems Armando has been there or thereabouts … coincidence? Aye probably.
Rodger Evans is a reluctant writer.
25 Aug, 1pm, £5 (£3).