David says Yes to new PM role

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - Big Read - By guide re­porter John Baker john.baker@pe­ter­bor­oughto­day.co.uk 01733 588726

In turns, David Haig de­scribes his char­ac­ter, Prime Min­is­ter Jim Harker, in Yes, Prime Min­is­ter as “like­able”, “warm”, “po­lit­i­cally shrewd” and “bungling with a cer­tain in­ept­ness”. Sound fa­mil­iar? Haig’s per­for­mance as Jim Harker in the re­cent stage show of the se­ries prompted sev­eral peo­ple to com­pare the char­ac­ter to the bum­bling- yet- pop­u­lar Boris John­son, Mayor of Lon­don an­dif the West­min­ster grapevine is to be be­lieved - wanna be Prime Min­is­ter.

“I didn’t base Harkeron any­one but oth­ers have men­tioned Boris- prob­a­bly be­cause he’sgot that com­bi­na­tion of be­ing a very clever politi­cian but some­times he seems like any­thing but,” says Haig, a sea­soned the­atre ac­tor who’s per­haps best recog­nised for play­ing bonk­ing groom Bernard in Four Wed­dings And A Funeral.

The ac­tor, dressed in a trendy lumbe rjack- style jacket and lack­ing his usual iconic mous­tache, is sit­ting in the hal­lowed halls of the Na­tional Lib­eral Club on the Em­bank­ment side of the River Thames, a fit­ting lo­ca­tion to dis­cuss the po­lit­i­cal satire, be­ing a mer­e­stroll away from Down­ing Street.

Yes, Prime Min­is­ter was a sit­com cre­ated by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn which ran from 1986 to 1988 as a se­quel to the sit­com Yes Min­is­ter, which ran for four years from 1980. At the heart of the se­ries was the tem­pes­tu­ous, sym­bi­otic and far­ci­cal re­la­tion­ship be­tween elected min­is­ters and civil ser­vants, as em­bod­ied by Jim Harkerand­his Per­ma­nent Sec­re­tary, Sir Humphrey Ap­pleby ( played by Paul Ed­ding­ton and Nigel Hawthorne re­spec­tively).

In 2010 the writ­ers de­cided to adapt the story for the stage, up­dat­ing it with a plot which took in the coali­tion government and eco­nomic cri­sis, and saw the characters us­ing Blackberries. Haig took on­the­role of Harker and Henry Good­man played slip­pery sec­re­tary Sir Humphrey.

The play was such a roar­ing success that it has now been adapted for TV again, us­ing the same lead ac­tors, mean­ing Haig has to trans­fer his per­for­mance from the stage to the stu­dio and try to live up to the orig­i­nal tele­vi­sion ver­sion.

He claims not to be fazed by the lat­ter, say­ing: “Think of the num­ber of times characters such as Jeeves and Wooster have been played by dif­fer­ent ac­tors, and the comic re­la­tion- ship be­tween Jeevesand Woos­t­eris sim­i­lar to that be­tween Jim Harker and Sir Humphrey.”

Warm­ing at the thought, he adds: “Harker and Humphrey are like many dou­ble acts over the years. To say they like each other would be grossly in­ac­cu­rate but they are in­ter­de­pen­dent. And their sta­tus shifts all the time; one or the other gets the up­per hand, both be­lieve they’re right a lot of the time.

“I think the bat­tle for power is what is so ap­peal­ing, that’s what’s funny to watch.”

Yes, Prime Min­is­ter’s re­turn to our screens is timely. Not only is it an era of much soul- search­ing re­gard­ing the in­tegrity of our politi­cians, but the new se­ries comes just a few months af­ter the fi­nal episode of The Thick Of It.

Ar­mando Ianucci’s po­lit­i­cal satire was in­spired by Yes, PrimeMin­is­ter, bu­tratherthan fo­cus­ing on­the­clout of the civil ser­vants, it satirised the min­is­ters who co wer un­der the in­flu­ence of West­min­ster’s all- pow­er­ful spin doc­tors.

Haig ap­peared in this too, play­ing weasel- like Chief Whip SteveFlem­ing, mean­inghe’sina priv­i­leged po­si­tion to com­pare the two.

“It strikes me they’re very sim­i­lar and dis­sim­i­lar,” he says. “They’re both acute po­lit­i­cal satires but with great characters and great re­la­tion­ships, and they’re both funny.

“The main dis­sim­i­lar­ity to me is stylis­tic: In The Thick Of It you feel as if you’re go­ing in through a lit­tle side door and you’re in this room where peo­ple hap­pen to be be­hav­ing and re­act­ing, whereas Yes, Prime Min­is­ter is a much more the­atri­cal event - it’s a nicely, beau­ti­fully mod­u­lated, in­tel­li­gent se­quence of events, and it has struc­ture. Part of The Thick Of It’s beauty is it doesn’t ad­here to the con­ven­tional struc­ture.”

Though he doesn’t class him­self as an “I- must- get- tothe- con­fer­ence- on- time” sort of per­son, Haig says he’s a “po­lit­i­cal an­i­mal” who’s sup­ported Labour his whole life.

It was im­por­tant to him to make Harker like­able and im­pres­sive ( as well as bum­bling) to ex­plain howhe’dreached his po­si­tion.

He­names Ed Miliban­das to­day’s most like­able politi­cian. “I’m warm­ing to him, ac­tu­ally,” says Haig. “It’s really great when some­one does it against the odds. Peo­ple as­sumed he wouldn’t match his brother’s slick de­liv­ery and the pre­vi­ous Blairite tem­plates but some of his ideas [ have been good]. Who knows whether he’ll win the elec­tion or not?”

Haig him­self is con­sol­i­dat­ing his screen cre­den­tials by win­ning the lead role in The Wright Way, Ben El­ton’s forth­com­ing sit­com about a newly di­vorced health and safety in­spec­tor.

“I think it’s ex­tremely funny, like all of Ben’s stuff,” says Haig of the new show, which be­gins film­ing in Manch­ester this month.

“In the best pos­si­ble way he takes risks and it’s go­ing to be very ex­cit­ing, be­cause it’s such a good ter­ri­tory to take the mick out of. There’s also a fam­ily is­sue in the se­ries whichis rather pow­er­ful. I’m look­ing for­ward to it enor­mously.”

It’s al­ways hard to pre­dict fu­ture success at the time of mak­ing, and Four Wed­dings And A Funeral is a case in point. The 1994 film, writ­ten by Richard Cur­tis, broke box of­fice records and launched Hugh Grant to global star­dom.

But Haig ad­mits that this came as a sur­prise. “We only re­alised how big it was when we were in­vited to the distri­bu­tion party for the Czech Repub­lic or the Ukraine,” he says. “Th­ese strange places where you couldn’t imag­ine the Bri­tish mid­dle classes and their wed­ding or funeral be­hav­iour would be amus­ing.”

Yes, Prime Min­is­ter, per­haps also sur­pris­ingly, has global ap­peal too and since its in­cep­tion has been re­made in other coun­tries, in­clud­ing Is­rael, Hol­land and In­dia.

And though the new ver­sion has been con­ceived as a sin­gle se­ries, Haig and his col­leagues aren’t rul­ing out do­ing more.

“It wasn’t the in­ten­tion to tele­vise it again. As it stands it’s a one- off as a re­sult of the stage play. But, if ev­ery­bodyc omes up and says, ‘ Please do an­other’, who knows?” he says.


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