A Look Back At the New Statesman

In 1987 (in between his more famous roles in The Young Ones and Bottom), Rik Mayall starred in The New Statesman as Alan B'Stard, a pastiche of the worst kind of Tory MP. Looking back at it now, it's quite an edgy satire and it makes you wonder if this kind of thing would be on TV today.

The New Statesman was the brainchild of Rik Mayall, who'd asked Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran (a comedy-writing partnership that had had previous success with Birds of a Feather and Goodnight Sweetheart) to realise his vision.

The New Statesman went on to become one of ITV's most successful sitcoms, running for four series and three spin offs. It became such a success that it even inspired stage shows and newspaper columns written in the guise of B'Stard. So, what made this character so enduring?

Rik Mayall pitched the performance of B'Stard perfectly. An expert parody of a loathsome politician. Bribery, corruption, murder - there's nothing B'Stard won't resort to in order to work his way up the ranks.

B'Stard starts off as a backbencher, an MP for the then fictional Haltemprice constituency. However, this constituency became real when, amusingly enough, the boundary lines were redrawn in 1997 creating the constituency of 'Haltemprice and Howden'.

B'Stard eventually works his way up the ranks and ends up becoming leader of a newly formed Eurosceptic party boasting to have even the Queen in the palm of his hands.

The New Statesman was an interesting show, combining satire and sitcom - offering a more edgy alternative to Yes Minister. ITV aired it in a 10pm Sunday night slot, rotating it with Spitting Image.

The show was a particularly important one for Rik Mayall, as it gave him a chance to show off his acting range. He said of the role, with an edge of his usual tongue-in-cheek style:

"In the first series people were saying 'Gosh, isn't Rik Mayall good-looking?' but by the second they were saying 'Gosh, isn't Rik Mayall a good actor?' and that's all I ever really wanted."

Obviously, as is the way with satire the show is dated now, but it's surprising how much of it is still relevant today. Probably the most extraordinary example of this was the last episode of the fourth series, an episode that aired back in 1992.

A special Conservative party conference is called to vote on Britain's continued membership of the EEC (European Economic Community). Alan leads the campaign to leave. John Major resigns as PM, and a snap general election is called. The Conservatives then split into two - a Pro-European Federalist Party and a new Patriotic Party led by Alan B'stard.

B'Stard then essentially makes the case for "Brexit", even using the slogan 'We want our country back.' You know, there's something very familiar about all of this...

It does make you wonder if a show like this would have a place in the schedules these days? Newzoids - the supposed 2015 remake of The New Statesman's partner in the schedules - Spitting Image ultimately failed.

ITV have given up on satire all together these days, and there isn't too much of it around on the BBC and C4 either. In 2017, the writers of The New Statesman proposed the idea of bringing the show back, but also admitted it would be difficult in today's climate, reflecting on how things have changed, Maurice Gran told The Guardian:

“People are very touchy nowadays. We were hideously rude about [Conservative MP] David Mellor. Then, on a TV show, someone said to him: ‘They’re really horrible about you, aren’t they?’ And he said: ‘Well, that’s their right.’ They had power. They didn’t care. We were just pin pricks. Though we pricked as hard as we could. So although there’s a lot about that era I abhor, I’m also nostalgic for it.”

In the end, the idea of a remake (which was pitched as being about the son of B'Stard) was shelved on the grounds that it became impossible to find a channel that would broadcast the show's 'scurrilous filth', but also, and probably most importantly, they were unable to find anyone to step into Rik's shoes.

However, these days I think we could really use another B'Stard to bring some much needed satire back to the schedules.

Written by Rhianna Evans

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