It’s time for satire to bite back

A new show and app are set to give politi­cians the treat­ment, says li­bel lawyer Alex Wade

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Lifestyle -

As over­tures to do some legal work go, Chris Chap­man’s was un­usual. “Peter Fluck tells me you’re a man who likes tak­ing risks,” he wrote to me in an email. “If he’s right, I won­der if you’d like to help.” Peter Fluck is the man who cre­ated Spit­ting Im­age, and Chap­man was head of re­search and devel­op­ment in Spit­ting Im­age Projects, an off­shoot of the leg­endary pup­pet show. “I’ve cre­ated a dig­i­tal app that I want to use to shame delu­sional politi­cians who abuse their po­si­tions,” said Chap­man. “I think it might be wise to have some legal ad­vice. Peter also tells me you’re a li­bel lawyer. Would help­ing me avoid the law courts be up your street?” That was four years ago. The rest isn’t quite his­tory – yet – but Chap­man’s app has just been launched. Its tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter, as there is a re­newed in­ter­est in satire. Next month ITV will launch New­zoids, a top­i­cal pup­pet an­i­ma­tion sketch show which will poke fun at pop stars, politi­cians, celebri­ties and sports per­son­al­i­ties. Char­ac­ters from Rus­sell Brand and Simon Cow­ell to Barack Obama and Prince Harry will be brought to life in a six-part se­ries which fuses tra­di­tional pup­petry and state of the art dig­i­tal an­i­ma­tion. ITV’s direc­tor of en­ter­tain­ment and com­edy, Elaine Bedell, be­lieves the time is ripe for the re­vival of satire. “ITV has a rich his­tory of play­ing popular satir­i­cal com­edy in peak­time on its main chan­nel, and it seemed a good time to re­vive it this year,” says Bedell. “We are pleased to be adding to our grow­ing com­edy port­fo­lio with this funny and bit­ing look at the world of pol­i­tics and celebrity.” New­zoids is ex­pected to kick off next month, just as Bri­tish vot­ers gear up to go to the polls in the gen­eral elec­tion on Thurs­day, May 7. Its cre­ators prom­ise to de­liver “a satir­i­cal and sur­real spin on the sto­ries and celebri­ties we read about ev­ery day”. More­over, they say that “no one in the public eye will be safe from the New­zoids treat­ment”. Mean­while, Chap­man is tak­ing things a step fur­ther with his app. He has cre­ated a se­ries of dig­i­tally an­i­mated char­ac­ters from the worlds of pol­i­tics, sport and tele­vi­sion, with some bear­ing an un­canny re­sem­blance to our best-known politi­cians. Steve Nal­lon, the voice of Mar­garet Thatcher from Spit­ting Im­age, pro­vides many of the voices, but there are other char­ac­ters as well, such as foot­ball fans, an­i­mals, toys and generic sci-fi char­ac­ters. Head­caster’s tag-line is “Be your other self”, so if you want to rant about your foot­ball team you have the per­fect op­por­tu­nity. “You down­load the car­i­ca­ture you like, via your phone or tablet, then speak through it for a max­i­mum of 30 sec­onds,” ex­plains Chap­man. “You see your speech in­stantly auto-lip-synced from their mouths. You can add some pre­set an­i­mated moves and then you’re ready to Head­cast. You can share what you cre­ate as videos straight to YouTube, Twit­ter and Face­book.” Chap­man’s team will mon­i­tor so­cial me­dia and se­lect the best user-gen­er­ated con­tent, then broad­cast it on their own be­spoke YouTube chan­nel, known as the Wonk Chan­nel. “I’ve had enough of po­lit­i­cal wonk-speak,” says Chap­man. “The Wonk Chan­nel is there to give ev­ery­one the chance to speak their piece through a host of po­lit­i­cal car­i­ca­tures. If you’ve had enough of Boris and his broom, you can Head­cast what you think. If you feel like hav­ing a go at Nick Clegg, you can down­load a char­ac­ter and vent your spleen. “So­cial me­dia has un­locked a lot of hid­den tal­ent and raw com­men­tary. We want to give that tal­ent a pro­duc­tion plat­form, so that peo­ple don’t need priv­i­leged ac­cess to the tra­di­tional me­dia world. Head­caster is about ‘broad­cast­ing with’ in­stead of ‘broad­cast­ing at’.” The app has some im­pres­sive back­ers. Stephen Fry and Rob­bie Sav­age are among those who will be head­cast­ing their other selves. What, though, of the legal risks? My old boss, Nigel Tait of CarterRuck – the law firm which has been the scourge of many a news­pa­per and tele­vi­sion pro­ducer – says a cau­tious ap­proach is the right one. “So­cial me­dia has cre­ated an im­pres­sion that any­thing goes,” says Tait, “but it doesn’t. The law of li­bel is marginally more de­fen­dant­friendly than back in the days of Spit­ting Im­age but it re­mains the fact that if a pub­lisher or broad­caster gets it wrong, they can end up hav­ing to apol­o­gise and pay dam­ages.” When it comes to satire, though, the writer GK Ch­ester­ton’s words are ap­po­site: “A man is an­gry at a li­bel be­cause it is false, but at a satire be­cause it is true.” Peter Fluck says: “Spit­ting Im­age ran for 12 years on prime-time tele­vi­sion and it’s fair to say that we sav­aged an aw­ful lot of peo­ple. The great and the good were se­ri­ally out­raged. But we were never suc­cess­fully sued, and by the end of the show peo­ple wanted to be on it. They saw it as a badge of hon­our. I’m told that Hansard would even ar­range for MPs would watch a tape of the pre­vi­ous night’s show.” Does Fluck think that the cur­rent crop of politi­cians are dif­fer­ent than the likes of Michael He­sel­tine, who grew more manic with each air­ing of Spit­ting Im­age – not to men­tion the “Welsh wind­bag” Neil Kin­nock and the cigar-chomp­ing prime min­is­ter, Lady Thatcher? “To­day’s lot are just the same,” says Fluck. “They all go into pol­i­tics, pon­tif­i­cate pompously and in­ef­fec­tively, and re­tire to take well-paid di­rec­tor­ships and write bestsellers.” Rob Brown, head of jour­nal­ism at Falmouth Uni­ver­sity, goes fur­ther, say­ing: “Politi­cos are prob­a­bly even more de­serv­ing of such sav­age treat­ment now be­cause so many of them have never done any­thing but pol­i­tics. Ed Miliband is the prime ex­am­ple of this but the Labour leader is far from alone in that re­spect.” For Brown, satire’s role is “to punc­ture pom­pos­ity through mer­ci­less par­ody and re­mind would-be em­per­ors that they have bare back­sides and are of­ten barefaced liars”. Satire is mak­ing a come­back, and for good rea­son. I just hope, when Chap­man next gives me a call, that my an­ten­nae for legal risk are switched on. Head­ ‘New­zoids’ is ex­pected to air on ITV next month

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.