TV UK, 21 October

i>A Very Social Secretary: putting the tire in satire.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Culture

A Very Social Secretary puts the tire in satire, as in satired, satiresome, sa-downright-tedious. What the celebrated West End musical writer Ben Elton used to call ‘a little bit of politics’ has for too long excused rubbish comedy, especially on British TV, where ancient mother-in-law jokes are given a spurious radical gloss by being directed at Ann Widdecombe.

A Very Social Secretary launched More4, Channel 4’s supposedly grown-up spin-off, last week, and is to be shown on the main channel last night. It is a comedy dramatisation of the notorious affair between then home secretary David Blunkett and the ‘wealthy socialite’ Kimberly Quinn, which led to his fall from government around a year ago. It is packed with cheap sex gags, held together by a smug contempt for New Labour, with no apparent political substance to back it up.

In an article published in the Guardian on the day A Very Social Secretary was first broadcast on More4, its writer Alistair Beaton elaborated on the ‘it’s satire, innit?’ defence, by explaining that New Labour is hypocritical about politicians’ private lives (1). Blair, Blunkett et al are not shy about parading their families when they think it makes them look good, but they get upset when somebody tries to use their private lives against them (as evidenced by Blunkett’s attempts to have the film withdrawn). No doubt this is true, but is it not equally hypocritical to feign lofty disapproval of personality-based politics and then go all heat magazine by way of opposition?

When it comes to challenging hypocrisy, you have to pick a side: is it right or wrong to focus on politicians’ private lives at the expense of political substance? Beaton’s complaint about New Labour’s schmaltzy confessional style is disingenuous, since he is clearly rooted in the same culture, and not above indulging in celebrity gossip disguised as politics.

Consequently, and as with most alleged satire, the comedy in A Very Social Secretary is entirely independent of its supposed political critique. This is not to say that Beaton doesn’t have one. We got that in the Guardian article, in which Beaton laid into New Labour’s post-brown-paper-bag brand of corruption. ‘It is a more insidious corruption, the corruption of a government with no ideology other than a fervent belief in globalisation.’ Er, what’s that? Globalisation? I must have missed that amid the blind-man-having-sex gags.

To the extent that the posturing media class has political ideas, they are utterly arbitrary and eccentric. I mean, ‘globalisation’? Isn’t that a bit 1990s or something? Of course it isn’t would-be satire writers’ fault that there aren’t a whole lot of serious ideas that really do mean something to audiences and might provide material for convincing political comedy. But their apparent belief that the shenanigans of the New Labour crowd are the stuff of great satire indicates that they aren’t even aware of the problem.

Worse, to the extent that New Labour does have a political outlook, that unwholesome hybrid of intellectually vacuous opportunism and self-righteous moralism, it is entirely shared by these people, court jester Rory Bremner being the example par exellence. I bet he’s down on ‘globalisation’, too. A Very Social Secretary is described by Channel 4 as ‘a wickedly funny satire’. Now that’s a joke.

Read on:

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(1) An affair to dismember, by Alistair Beaton, Guardian, 10 October 2005

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Topics Culture


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