Stab in the Dark, A

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1992 on C4

LATE-NIGHT satire and politicised monologuery which, by our reckoning, marked the last knockings of old school ‘but seriously now, unemployment eh?’ Channel Four post-pub entertainment before THE WORD and its blowsy mates took over for good. In the frame were DAVID BADDIEL, The Late Show’s TRACEY “Amateurs!” MACLEOD and top future government wonk MICHAEL GOVE, all delivering their self-consciously controversial pieces to camera in the same hands-behind-back, head-down, gazing-up-through-heavy-lidded eyes pose which screamed “the opinion I am about to glibly vouchsafe will probably blow your drab little mind, even though it’s something I idly tossed off before breakfast this morning”. This unendearing smuggery took place in front of a minuscule studio audience in a decidedly odd set – a sort of half-arsed reconstruction of the Acropolis inside a disused, unlit warehouse, augmented by a series of unexplained white staircases which led, tellingly, to nowhere. Tricksy camerawork was in: all the low angles and wobbly zooms you’d expect, plus a weird vogue for standing each presenter on a turntable which rotated slowly with the camera to add threadbare visual spice to their wordy diatribes.

Needless to say, fearlessly challenging safe, liberal received opinion was the order of the day. (Yes, there was once a time when this counted as some kind of fresh and interesting angle for a television programme to take.) Taboos were broken (or at least slightly bent). Convicted felons were interviewed by Gove with much “Woah! Dangerous!” hype. Jerry Hayes was interviewed with a more muted introduction. Amongst others, LEE & HERRING featured on writing duties, although they’d rather not go into it nowadays. Adding to the uneasy studio atmosphere was the barely-concealed contempt each presenter clearly held (and often slyly voiced during links) for the other two. Baddiel was, unsurprisingly, the most successful pundit, musing on broadcasting embargoes of the c-word, correctly predicting the early demise of the then-nascent ELDORADO, and holding a, er, memorable phone interview with a Danish official asking what he considered was so unique about the culture of Denmark (who had just voted “nej!” to the Euro-referendum) – “Well, I think the most distinctive thing is that we voted no in the referendum…” Actually, perhaps history will remember this programme for juxtaposing the future education secretary with one of Baddiel’s schoolkid vox pops. Asked to tell a real, unsanitised playground gag, one chippy eight-year-old offered: “Q: Why did the man tell the other man to fuck off? A: Because the other man said he was a pissflapper!” Cue Gove. Wonder how memories of that’ll affect key policy decisions?

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8 Responses to “Stab in the Dark, A”

  1. Matthew Rudd says:

    Baddiel once asked a few female audience members how much they would want to be paid before they would sleep with Gove. The first said “too much” and when Baddiel quoted something like “ten million” and she replied “more than that”, he royally took the piss out of her. The next one to be asked the question rather brilliantly paused, looked Gove up and down and said “nothing!”

    The monologue Baddiel delivered on media treatment of Roy Castle as he battled lung cancer was one of the most depressing things I’ve ever heard. It deliberately didn’t contain a single laugh. “Do not go wacky into that good night”…

    Don’t remember much about MacLeod apart from her sarcastic labelling of Amanda de Cadanet as a “lateral thinker”.

  2. Paul Gatenby says:

    The theme music had a loud cat’s miaow and tinkle of broken glass at the end, which struck me even as a 15 year old as a very heavy handed way of saying ‘This is proper edgy telly – watch out!’

    The Roy Castle monologue contained references to Arthur Askey having his legs amputated, which also appeared in the Mary Whitehouse Experience Encyclopedia. A minor Baddiel obsession maybe?

  3. Scary Whitehouse says:

    The audience laughter in this programme was the very epitome of half-hearted.

  4. Applemask says:

    Michael Gove? Old Lilo-lips that my Mother’s been complaining about ever since he became her boss? I genuinely didn’t know he used to to TV.

  5. Applemask says:

    Also. That is the best joke ever told.

  6. Matty says:

    Caught a couple of episodes of this when it was on and the thing that struck me most was that the audience never laughed. I recall some polite tittering when David Baddiel made some actual joke or other in one of his monologues but I always found the spectacle of a comedy show with a largely-silent audience a bit unsettling.

    I remember Gove always seeming pompous, with a “overgrown school prefect” persona which seemed a bit contrived. I remember him delivering his monologues with a notebook or leather case or something under one arm/in his hand (it was a long time ago!) which just added to the apparently self-concious nerdishness. For some reason, his is one of the only actual jokes I can remember from the show: “perhaps she [Princess Diana, I think] should try replacing the late Freddie Mercury. It’s the closest she’ll get to being Queen”. *pause* *no laughter* *polite applause* *David Baddiel or whoever on next*

  7. Matthew Rudd says:

    The joke feature included this gem from one of the kids:

    Q: “What do you call a man with no knob?”
    A: “A tight-fisted wanker.”

    Cue back to Baddiel, who couldn’t continue his monologue as the audience laughter grew and grew as the realisation of the joke hit them, to the extent that Baddiel had to say “okay yes, it was a good one..” before being allowed to continue. I think the whole premise was that there was no point in trying to protect kids from bad language on telly as they love swearing.

  8. I do remember Tracey McLeod, who normally did fairly serious straight-to-camera pieces, attempting a stand-up routine on the show, and me wanting the sofa to open up and swallow me.

    They also rooted through Anita Roddick’s bins once, in an attempt to find something to paint her as a hypocrite. They eventually found a discarded whole chicken. They then read a letter from her representatives saying that the bins were shared by a number of households. The present – either Gove or McLeod – took a sneery “yeah right” attitude, but that was the moment the show truly lost me, because actually it was just cheap tabloid smear attempt.

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