The UK Had the Best Political Satire TV Shows in the 1980s

By | April 29, 2023

There are several reasons why the UK had some of the best political satire TV shows in the 1980s.

Firstly, the 1980s was a decade of great political change in the UK. Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister, and her Conservative government pursued a radical (some would say common sense) agenda of free-market policies and privatisation. This provided rich material for satirists, who could use comedy to critique and satirise the government’s policies and actions.

Secondly, the UK has a strong tradition of political satire, dating back to the 18th century when satirical prints were used to mock and critique political figures. This tradition continued through the 20th century with satirical magazines such as Punch (who once stole an article I submitted and published it under someone else’s name) and Private Eye. In the 1980s, TV shows such as Spitting Image, Yes Minister, and The New Statesman built on this tradition and brought political satire to a wider audience.

Thirdly, the BBC played a key role in the development of political satire in the UK. The corporation was (is) publicly funded and had a remit to provide programming that informed and educated as well as entertained (they are far from that nowadays it must be said). This allowed for the creation of shows such as Yes Minister and The New Statesman, which used satire to shine a light on the workings of government and politics.

Finally, the 1980s saw the rise of alternative comedy in the UK, which challenged traditional comedic forms and pushed the boundaries of what was considered acceptable. Satirical TV shows such as Spitting Image and The New Statesman were part of this wave of alternative comedy, using humour to question authority and challenge the status quo.

Taken together, these factors help to explain why the UK had some of the best political satire TV shows in the 1980s. The decade was a time of great change and upheaval in politics, and satirists were able to use comedy to comment on and critique these changes. The strong tradition of political satire in the UK, combined with the BBC’s then commitment to public service broadcasting, helped to create a fertile environment for the development of these shows.

Let’s have a quick canter through the best three political satire TV shows of the 1980s.

Spitting Image

The 1980s Spitting Image TV show, which featured a cast of puppet caricatures of public figures, often used satire and humor to comment on politics and society. However, you’ll never see the original aired today as some aspects of the show are considered offensive or inappropriate by the wokerati that run the British media, especially the biased BBC. Those who adhere to “woke” or progressive ideologies will make sure it never sees the light of day again.

Spitting Image

One issue that may be problematic for some viewers is the show’s use of racial and ethnic stereotypes. While the show often mocked politicians and celebrities of all backgrounds, some of its depictions of minority groups might be seen as insensitive or offensive in today’s ‘cancel culture’ world. For example, some characters were portrayed with exaggerated facial features or accents that played on racial stereotypes.

This didn’t trouble everyone though, then Junior Health Minister Edwina Currie is proud to have her original Spitting Image puppet in her office at home.

The show’s humour sometimes relied on crude or vulgar language and sexual innuendo, which some consider not acceptable by modern standards. Some viewers may also take issue with the show’s use of violence and aggression in its humour, as some sketches involved characters physically attacking each other.

But come on, who didn’t love the Chicken Song?

It’s worth noting that Spitting Image was a product of its time and was created in a different cultural context than today’s world. While some of its content may be seen as offensive by modern woke standards, it was a popular and influential show in its day and remains a cultural touchstone for many people who grew up in the 1980s.

The New Statesman

Alan B’stard was a fictional character from the British satirical TV series “The New Statesman,” which aired from 1987 to 1992. The character was played by actor Rik Mayall and was created by writers Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran.

The New Statesman - Political Satire TV Shows

Alan B’stard was a Conservative Party MP who was depicted as a ruthless and amoral politician, willing to do whatever it takes to further his own career and interests. He was often portrayed as a caricature of the greed and excess that the left associated with the Thatcher era in British politics.

The character’s name was a play on the French phrase “Il est un bâtard,” which translates to “He is a bastard.” Alan B’stard was known for his ostentatious lifestyle, including his expensive cars, lavish parties, and numerous affairs.

He was also known for his right-wing views and support for policies such as privatisation, deregulation, and tax cuts for the wealthy.

While Alan B’stard was a fictional character, he became a cultural icon of the 1980s and 1990s in Britain, representing a satirical take on what some saw as the excesses and corruption of politics and the Thatcher era.

Yes Minister

“Yes Minister” was a British television sitcom that aired from 1980 to 1984. The show was created by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay, and it starred Paul Eddington, Nigel Hawthorne, and Derek Fowlds.

Yes Minister - Political Satire TV Shows

The show followed the exploits of Jim Hacker (Eddington), a fictional Member of Parliament (MP) who is appointed as Minister of the Department of Administrative Affairs (later the Ministry of Administrative Affairs) in the British government. The series was noted for its sharp political satire, its intelligent writing, and its dry British humour.

The show’s title “Yes Minister” referred to the relationship between Hacker and his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby (Hawthorne). Sir Humphrey was a master of bureaucratic maneuvering and often frustrated Hacker’s attempts to implement his policies. Hacker would often find himself agreeing to Sir Humphrey’s suggestions, despite his original intentions.

The show was praised for its accurate portrayal of the workings of government, and many of its storylines were based on real political events. It was also known for its use of complex, technical jargon, which added to the show’s humor and satire.

“Yes Minister” was a critical and commercial success and was awarded numerous accolades, including several BAFTA awards. It was followed by a sequel series, “Yes, Prime Minister,” which aired from 1986 to 1988 and followed Hacker’s promotion to the role of Prime Minister.

Why are programmes like these not produced today?

There is no one clear answer as to why TV shows like Spitting Image, Yes Minister, and The New Statesman are not being made today, but there are several factors that may contribute to this.

With the proliferation of streaming services and online content, there is now a wider variety of options for viewers to choose from, and this may have reduced the audience for political satire TV shows. Our media has been dumbed down nowadays and nonsense like Big Brother, Housewives of [wherever], and The Only Way is Essex now dominate our screens. There may be concerns among broadcasters about the potential for political satire to offend viewers or attract controversy.

There may be a lack of interest or investment in political satire from production companies and broadcasters. Political satire can be expensive to produce, requiring high-quality writing, special effects, and talented actors, and it may not be seen as a commercially viable genre by some industry insiders.

Political satire can be a challenging and complex genre to navigate, particularly in an era of polarised politics and heightened sensitivity around issues of race, gender, and identity. It can be difficult to create content that is both funny and inoffensive, and this may deter some writers and producers from pursuing political satire as a genre.

There are likely multiple factors contributing to the lack of political satire TV shows today, including dumbed-down audience preferences, commercial considerations, and concerns about the impact of satire in a complex political and media landscape.

I’d suggest they want easy content and pro-EU and anti-Russian propaganda dribbled throughout the content. Why tell the truth about Ukraine when you can just regurgitate a US State Department press release? Entertainment is now people eating insects in a jungle or Amanda Holden’s rather perky nipples, not clever satire.

Many suggest that the British media is wholly controlled by the left nowadays, and they are more interested in identity politics, fantasy genders and inserting mixed-race families, people in Muslim attire and references to why we British should be ashamed of our colonial past into every programme. As another fictional politician, Francis Urqhart once said: “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment”.

Stuart Smith

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