THE COMIC STRIP PRESENTS – THE HUNT FOR TONY BLAIR: Friday 14th October, C4, 9pm
Turning 30 is an intimidating prospect for any cheeky twenty-something who has a penchant for mischief-making and absolutely no desire to settle down for a nice, comfy life in the suburbs.
But one mischievous upstart who has been upsetting the proverbial apple cart since 1982 should have no fear of celebrating the big 3 â 0. The Comic Strip will be blowing out three decades worth of candles next year but its unique brand of outrageous satire is still as pungent as a teenagerâs armpit. And thankfully, this group of satirists are a long way from settling down in the comfy comedy suburbs with neighbours such as My Family or Outnumbered asking to borrow a cup of sugar.
After a six year sabbatical, the comedy collective who “changed the face of British comedy” returned with their comedy crosshairs set firmly on Tony Blair and his questionable behaviour in Iraq. The moment a police axe went through the door of Number 10 I knew we were in for a treat.
The hour-long noir inspired thriller featured Stephen Mangan as runaway murder suspect, Blair, and was rammed with comedy icons past and present. The debut Comic Strip sketch of 1982, ‘Five Go Mad in Dorset’, was made up of six aspiring comedians by the names of French, Saunders, Edmondson, Allen, Coltrane and Richardson. Reports suggest they did reasonably well off the back of it.
Over the years the hottest comedians of the day have made their cameos on the 41 Comic Strip features which have aired on both the BBC and Channel 4. This latest episode was no exception and featured plenty of extra comic blood in the shape of James Buckley (the âclungeâ? king of Inbetweeners fame), Geordie stand-up Ross Noble, Harry Enfield, Nigel Planer and the legendary Rik Mayall.
The jumpy edits and hazy monochrome tones kept The Hunt For Tony Blair true to its hardboiled thriller origins. The performances were deliciously extravagant and the over-baked melodrama, synonymous with films of the period, provided the perfect platform for some serious cabinet caricatures. From the softly spoken malevolence of Peter âSquealerâ? Mandelson to the slack-jawed Gordon Brown who goes from livid to incandescent throughout the episode.
Mangan reportedly said âyesâ? to the project before writer, director and producer Peter Richardson had finished asking, and it is easy to see why. The Green Wing actor plays the well-meaning but murderous Blair with the perfect blend of bumbling innocence and skin-crawling insidiousness. His initiation into the world of George Bushâs seedy underworld of warmongering is pure genius. His bumbling Britishness leaves him seriously on the backfoot when it comes to street cred, but it doesnât take long for him to get into the spirit, puffing away on a Cuban after some gentle encouragement âsmoke it ya prickâ?. If American administration is a bunch of casino-dwelling mafia thugs, Bush is the cigar-chuffing Capone.
The Comic Strip has always prided themselves on their irreverent attitude towards figures of authority and this latest comedy caper certainly holds up a black and white finger to the former PM and his blindly compliant accessories. But Mandelson is painted as the real mastermind and the CS do not hesitate in drawing their own conclusions about who was in charge of the whole debacle.
The dramatic denouement, in âThe Chilcotâ? theatre, sees Blair defending his dubious actions to audience members while a crazed Gordon Brown fires rounds at him from on high. By this point Blair, who was already on the run facing a murder charge, has slain a police officer, a âlight entertainerâ?, several innocent members of the public, John Smith and Robin Cook. Did writer, Richardson, worry about implicating Blair in two actual fatalities? Ish. “Yes I do worry about Robin Cook and John Smith. There’s no suggestion he [Blair] actually did murder these people; it’s ridiculous and not true…â?.
He might plead his innocence when it comes to making such libelous claims but it is clear that The Comic Strip has not lost its nerve. It is refreshing to see some intelligent satire back on the screen, and with a script that would not feel out of place being spewed forth by the rubber visages of the Spitting Heads puppets, The Hunt for Tony Blair did not disappoint.