Do you remember fluffy Mr Sir Alan Sugar and his POWER CRAZED ALIEN LIZARD Apprentices, from last year?
Well, they're back! And this time the space lizards are disguised as CELEBRITIES.
It was all for COMIC RELIEF, and they raised loads of money for Charity, which was good.
But one of the LIZARD CELEBRITIES had ESCAPED over to BBC2: it was my old friend MR FRANK LUNTZ, doing his own COMIC TURN for the Newsnight Show.
Hoping backwards and forwards between channels it was difficult to tell where the comedy began and where the charity telethon ended.
As I am sure you know, Mr Frank's usual shtick is like a magic show – he offers the audience a deck of knaves and then proves that Mr Balloon is the Queen of Hearts.
[R: king, surely?]
It did not quite work out so well for him this time – some people have suggested that this is because the Newsnight Show insisted on picking the clips that he used, some because it was a smaller group and therefore harder to find either the right sound bites or the right group think.
These are VERY MEAN things to say about poor Mr Frank. It is hardly HIS FAULT that Mr Balloon has not been as shiny as billed in, er, that piece that Mr Frank did back at the Conservatory leadership election.
Anyway, he did his best for his favourite toffee nose chum, and he gives it an EVEN BETTER spin here for the Grauniad.
The huge POP ART posters of the leaders were as HILARIOUSLY SUBTLE as ever: Lord Blairimort in the background all in BLUE (old, cold, Conservatory); Mr Balloon on a nice Liberal orange (fresh, new, Liberal); Sir Mr the Merciless on washed out red (old again, blood, pale and lifeless, and linked to the Labour); and Mr Frown foregrounded in poison green (not the GOOD green of life and vibrancy, the NASTY green of jealousy, envy, bitterness and monsters).
I am sure that Mr Frank must have seen them and GROANED that the designer had got all the colours the WRONG WAY AROUND! After all, if you are going to use colours for the Party Leaders, you surely must mean to use the right party colours. Otherwise people might get MIXED MESSAGES and you could be INFLUENCING your sample.
It is interesting too what a difference the editing can make.
On the telly, Sir Mr the Merciless actually got some rather GOOD scores on Mr Frank's funny dial-o-matic machines. (Watching the people using them, it did not seem to take much of a twist to turn up to 100. Do you think that some NUANCE might be lost if you're only really measuring people in states of good bad or indifferent?)
Anyway, Sir Mr the Merciless seemed to be popping up into the eighties from the clip that appeared. Mr Frank cannot have noticed that because he did not comment on it – and he got very excited when Mr Balloon's scores hit a high of a bit above fifty.
In the paper, Mr Frank reduces the remarks about Sir M to '…"yawn", "bland" and "old fart"…'
The comments which the Newsnight Show chose to pick up were those too, but also the youngest member of the panel saying both "I can't believe how ageist you all are" and "Ming is the only one who is trying to do something for young people, fighting tuition fees".
The Newsnight Show showed that Sir Mr the Merciless DOES get caricatured… but also that he can still reach out to people; the newspaper piece does not see beyond the caricature.
Mr Frank picks up on the negative reaction people had to Mr Balloon's webcameron and his photo-ops and stunts. Too much Blair, says the panel, and Mr Frank has to agree. Actually, the panel went into rather more detail about Mr Balloon's shortcomings. "All Spin and NO Substance." Do not say that we haven’t been warning you about this, Mr Balloon. Even YOU would have to admit you are in QUITE A LOT of trouble when Mr Frank is saying it's time to wheel out some policies, I think!
Mind you, when he asserts that "Balloon's policy pronouncements continue to prove that he is not a return to the "old Tories" of the 1980s" I am afraid that Mr Frank is kidding himself.
Sorry Mr Frank but (a) WHAT policy pronouncements? Vague aspirations to cut flying or help families – these are not policies. They are barely even directions of travel!
And (b) flying tax reminded people of stealth taxes; families reminded people of "back to basics". Oops, looks like a return not to the heyday 1980s but to the sleazy, incompetent 1990s.
The last time Mr Frank was on the telly, he was saying how much BETTER the Labour were going to do once Mr Dr Reid was installed in number ten.
"We thankses you, Mr Frank my precious," as the Home Secretary would put it.
Unfortunately, the panel tonight seemed not to have got the memo and were, on the whole, rather warmer towards Mr Frown than Mr Frank would have liked. I think that there was a certain amount of willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt after all his not messing the economy up for the last ten years.
The biggest laugh of the night was, of course, the hilarious drop in all the dials at the moment the Mr Frown clip cut away to Lord Blairimort feigning applause from the sidelines.
So, no winners but one big fat loser. No, not Mr Frank – Lord Blairimort, obviously!
Meanwhile back in the TORCHWOOD TOWER, Mr Sir Alan had hired a CIRCUS for his CLOWNS to perform in. All right, it was a fairground.
He divided his celebrity lizards into two sides. There was a team of GIRLS lead by Trinnie who was a scary robot lady in Doctor Who and Maureen Lipman who was a scary television lady in Doctor Who. And a team of BOYS led by Alistair Henchman and Piers Moron who are scary enough in REAL LIFE.
Trinnie decided that the way to win was to call up all of her INSANELY RICH friends and sting them for thousands (one ticket sold for a hundred and fifty GRAND!). Mr Moron decided that the way to win was to CHEAT.
The incident of the kidnapped chef was NOT a case that needed Sherlock Holmes to solve. In fact Trinnie solved it herself by going downstairs to the boys room and saying "oi, that's my chef!"
In fact, Trinnie lost points with Daddy Alex by threatening the poor chef's job – it was hardly his fault that Mr Moron had locked him in the lavatory, and threatening him that way was just WRONG!
Even so, Mr Moron and Mr Henchman should not have been manhandling her like that, and she was very upset afterwards. They were just like BULLIES in a playground… and based on this I worry that "The Thick of It" may actually be a DOCUMENTARY and not a COMEDY after all!
While Mr Moron was MESSING ABOUT though – promising the Earth and delivering a few grains of dust from the asteroid field – Mr Henchman got down to some serious work.
An early example of Mr Henchman's terrifying power came with the negotiations for who would have which rides and stalls. When the girls revealed that they wanted the dodgems (which the boys wanted too) Mr Henchman said that they could only have the dodgems if the boys got the next THREE picks, and steadfastly refused to reveal any hint of what they would pick.
This gives a rather scary insight into the inner workings of the government where even knowing what you are talking about is a card to be kept secret until you are ready to play it!
Of course, the girls were foolish enough to agree – so the boys gave up one of the things they wanted and came away with all of the other three.
The problem for the boys, though, was that their leaders were just too used to commanding that a thing be done and expecting it be done. They had lost the knack of actually DOING. The key example was Mr Henchman's inability to refill a stapler. So he gave it to Mr Moron to do. Who BROKE the stapler.
And IRONICALLY for men who call themselves movers and shakers – the man behind Lord Blairimort and the man in the Mirror – they just did not think big enough, did not see the big picture.
They got caught up in putting on the best stalls at the fairground, whereas the girls had twigged that the winners would be the ones who brought in the most money. So the girls just shamelessly asked for WHOPPING GREAT DONATIONS. It did not matter that the boys' stalls were all packed out on the night while the girls rides lay empty, nor that the boys sold out of food before the girls – the girls had got tens of thousands of pounds for their tickets and where the boys sold food at a decent mark up, the girls sold it at a totally INDECENT one!
The boys brought in a little under £300,000; the girls rather a lot over £700,000!
Though as Trinnie put it – and won some points back with Daddy Alex for doing so – between them they raised over a million! And then that was doubled on Comic Relief night too!
So kudos to the girls, but who would get fired? They kept us on tenterhooks as log as they could – which was a good thing because we could watch Mr Frank's close up magic on BBC2 while we waited!
It came down to three: Daddy Baker had been responsible for not charging rip-off prices for the food, Mr Henchman had been the team leader, and Mr Moron just because.
I am sorry to say, that Daddy cheered when it was Mr Moron who got it.
"You're fired!" said Mr Sir Alan.
"Again," said Mr Henchman quietly. He'd been waiting for that moment. You could tell.
Sadly, Mr Moron learned nothing from his experience, still blaming spin as he was driven away to the car crusher in Mr Goldfinger's spare car…