Political satire? Look no further than Fry & Laurie

As a teenager in the Eighties, I was fortunate that some fine political satire was available to lighten the seemingly unending period of Conservative government.

In contrast to now, this normally took the form of sketch comedy rather than panel shows, Not the Nine O’Clock News and Spitting Image being the most celebrated examples of the time. However, I submit to you that the work of national treasures Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie was just as incisive, often funnier and, it turns out, extremely presecient.

Enjoying episodes in these days of Coalition, it is extraordinary to note just how much is relevant today and, with the odd name change, could be shown as up to the minute satire.

Living in the age of YouTube allows me to illustrate my point and gives me an excuse to revisit some of my favourite clips. This is of course post-watershed fare but it is largely of the PG variety.

Fry & Laurie policeIn the very first episode Fry & Laurie examine how far the vogue for privatising national assets would eventually lead.

A man returns from his holiday to find his car has been stolen. His trip to the police station to report the crime confuses him until the officer asks, “you’ve been away? Did you perhaps miss the privatisation of the police force?”


Far fetched? Many back office functions are already contracted out. As the private sector are increasingly invited into the NHS and education, the following line seems particularly apt, “”citizen”? Oh, you mean “client””.

Continuing the theme of disregard for public assets (or maybe not in this case), an episode is interrupted to advise us that the British government has been bought by Honda.

What is particuarly amusing against today’s backdrop is the irritated defence of the government spokesman who has to face the press. The details of the deal should be none of the public’s business, “yes, there will be some unemployment…” “rejoice can’t you!”

As someone who has run up against the DfE’s lack of transparency over the past year, this rather strikes a chord with me.


Fry & Laurie RejoiceTalking of which, what is the central purpose of education? According to another clip it is to teach young people “decent, civilised behaviour”. And little else.


Of course, the refrain of the champions of privatisation and deregualtion is that it provides “choice”. But what does this mean in practice? An inspired waiter meltdown by Mr Fry shows that choice is no guarantee of quality.

Warning, there is some choice language in this one:


For contemporaries of William Hague, such as myself, it is nostalgic to watch the contender in the “Young Tory of the Year” competition live “From the Daily Mail Hall, Horrorgate”, who is currently reading “bigotry and libertarian nonsense” at University. See how many terms you can spot that have been recycled since 2010…


Fry & Laurie 2We are told, although not quite so often recently, that it is bureaucracy that is holding back economic recovery (that and the Human Rights Act). The entrepreneur in this clip laughs “I’d be better off manufacturing red tape” before applying for a loan for a decidedly non-ethical business. When the bank manager expresses his concern the rejoinder is  “either you believe in market forces or you don’t”…


Make of this final clip what you will, but wouldn’t this be a fantastic response to Osborne’s next budget. “Tony of Plymouth” for PM!


Cutting political satire? Biting social comment? Ultimately it’s just funny (and that’s all that really matters).


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