- The Thick of It
The Thick of It Format Comedy (political satire) Created by Armando Iannucci Written by Jesse Armstrong
Starring Chris Langham
Country of origin United Kingdom No. of series 3 No. of episodes 16 (List of episodes) Production Producer(s) Adam Tandy Running time 30 minutes Broadcast Original channel BBC Four (Series 1, 2 and Specials)
BBC Two/BBC HD (Series 3)
Original run 19 May 2005– present Chronology Related shows In the Loop
The Thick of It is a British comedy television series that satirises the inner workings of modern British government. It was first broadcast on BBC Four in 2005, and has so far completed fourteen half-hour episodes and two special hour-long episodes to coincide with Christmas and Gordon Brown's appointment as prime minister. To date, the series has earned Best New Comedy and Best Comedy Performer for Chris Langham at the 2005 British Comedy Awards, Best Situation Comedy and Best Comedy Performance, also for Langham at the 2006 BAFTAs, and Best Comedy Performance Male and Female for Peter Capaldi and Rebecca Front, as well as Best Situation Comedy a second time at the 2010 BAFTAs.
The series has been described as the 21st century's answer to Yes Minister, highlighting the struggles of the media and spin doctors against civil servants. Series creator Armando Iannucci describes it as "Yes Minister meets Larry Sanders". The former civil servant Martin Sixsmith is an adviser to the writing team, giving some of the storylines an element of realism. In particular, the character of Malcolm Tucker is said to bear a distinct resemblance to former director of communications and strategy, Alastair Campbell.
A feature film spin-off, In the Loop, was released in the UK on 17 April 2009. The third series was eight episodes long and started on 24 October 2009, on BBC Two and BBC HD. A fourth series, eight episodes long, has been commissioned. According to Iannucci, filming for the new series will begin in March 2012.
Armando Iannucci originally conceived of a modern political satire after "arguing the case" for Yes Minister in a 2004 Best British Sitcom poll for BBC2. His idea was commissioned by Roly Keating, the controller of BBC Four, who granted Iannucci limited budget, telling him to "turn that into what you can." Iannucci created the first series of three episodes, which aired in May–June 2005, and a second series, also of three episodes, which followed in October.
The series is written by a team of writers led by Armando Iannucci, who also directs the series, with Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Roger Drew, Sean Gray, Ian Martin, Will Smith and Tony Roche. Some of the dialogue is improvised rather than scripted (with the cast credited as providing "additional material"), and includes some very strong language. Peter Capaldi said "Fundamentally 80% of the final cut is the script that we started with. The improvisation just makes it feel more real and not written." Prior to rehearsals, the scripts are sent to a "swearing consultant" in Lancaster called Ian Martin, who adds some of the series' more colourful language. The programme's producer is Adam Tandy, who has produced all of Iannucci's television projects since 2000. The programme is shot with hand-held cameras to give it a sense of vérité or fly on the wall documentary. The documentary style is furthered by the absence of any incidental music or laughter track.
The action centres on the fictitious Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship ("DoSAC" – previously the Department of Social Affairs, or "DSA", prior to the reshuffle of episode five), which supposedly came out of the prime minister's passing enthusiasm for "joined-up government". Thus it acts as a "super department" overseeing many others, which enables different political themes to be dealt with in the programme, similar to the Department for Administrative Affairs in Yes Minister.
Hugh Abbot, played by Chris Langham, is a blundering minister heading the department, who is continually trying to do his job under the watchful eye of Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), Number 10's highly aggressive and domineering "enforcer". The programme also features James Smith as senior special adviser Glen Cullen, Chris Addison as junior policy adviser Ollie Reeder, and Joanna Scanlan as civil service press secretary Terri Coverley.
EpisodesMain article: List of The Thick of It episodes
Series one and two
In the first batch of three episodes, Hugh Abbot is installed as a new minister following the forced resignation of his predecessor Cliff Lawton. These episodes follow his attempts to make his mark on the department by introducing new policies while following the party line enforced by Malcolm Tucker. Due to a series of complications and mistakes, this leads to the minister coming close to resignation on a number of occasions.
The second batch of episodes takes place before a cabinet reshuffle, and follows the minister's attempts to keep his job. Ollie is seconded to number 10 "to phone his girlfriend" Emma Messinger, a member of the shadow defence policy team, where he is under the close eye of enforcer Jamie. Meanwhile, Terri Coverley is on compassionate leave following the death of her father, leaving her role to Robyn Murdoch, a senior press officer. The department also has to contend with the interference of the prime minister's "blue skies" adviser Julius Nicholson. The minister and the department survive the reshuffle, with the department being rebranded as the "Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship" and moved to a new building. However, the mistakes and compromises continue.
In the two specials, following the Christmas break, Hugh Abbot is in Australia and the department has to "babysit" junior minister for immigration Ben Swain, who is described as a "nutter" (a supporter of prime-minister-in-waiting Tom Davis). The first special ("Rise of the Nutters") revolves around a computer problem at Immigration, which is exacerbated by the junior minister appearing in a disastrous Newsnight interview. The opposition policy adviser Emma Messinger capitalises on the error by stealing an idea from her boyfriend Ollie Reeder, to send the shadow minister Peter Mannion on a factfinding mission at an immigration centre. Meanwhile, Tucker is concerned about his position in the government after speculating that the prime minister's handover to Tom Davis is expected in less than six months. Tucker conspires with Ollie to leak the prime minister's "legacy programme" (the PM's plan to move the handling of immigration policy to a non-political executive board) in the hope of stalling his departure, inadvertently leading the PM to resign early. The next episode ("Spinners and Losers") follows a single night of "spin", as advisers, junior politicians and enforcers all try to better their position during the transition.
In series three, Hugh Abbot is replaced as minister by Nicola Murray, played by Rebecca Front. She is an unexpected, last-minute choice for the position, and given her inexperience and lack of staff, she is forced to retain Ollie and Glenn as her advisers. The series continues to focus on the general running, or mis-running, of DoSAC, with Murray's attempts to formulate her "fourth sector pathfinder initiative" being a running thread throughout the series. However, with the cloud of the forthcoming general election and tension at 10 Downing Street looming, the series also broadened its scope to include episodes set at the annual party conference and BBC Radio 5Live. We also see more of Murray's opposite number, Peter Mannion, and other members of the opposition first seen in the 2007 specials. The gradual breakdown of Malcolm Tucker and appearance of new threats to his dominance, in particular Steve Fleming played by David Haig are also major plotlines.
A fourth series was commissioned in March 2010. Iannucci has expressed an interest in targeting the coalition government, in particular the role of the Liberal Democrats in the next series. In an interview with The Guardian, he stated his idea was for Peter Mannion to have become a minister "but there will be someone from the other party in the coalition in his office, so a lot of the comedy will come from that tension between duplicated ministers." Work began on the scripts in March 2011. Shooting for the fourth series will commence in March 2012.
Cast and charactersSee also: List of The Thick of It characters
Most episodes focus on the department's incumbent minister and a core cast of advisers and civil servants, under the watchful eye of number 10's enforcer, Malcolm Tucker. However, over its run, the series has developed a large cast of additional characters, who form the government, opposition, as well as members of the media.
- Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi) is the aggressive, profane and feared director of communications for the government. He serves two main roles: acting as the prime minister's enforcer to ensure the cabinet ministers all follow the party line, and managing the government's crisis management PR, usually in the form of spin. He regularly uses smears or threats of violence to achieve his ends. Tucker also appears in In the Loop. The Guardian used the character in their coverage of the 2010 general election and the Labour leadership contest in a column written by Jesse Armstrong.
- Hugh Abbot MP (Chris Langham) is the Secretary of State for Social Affairs (later Social Affairs and Citizenship) in series 1 and 2. He is an inept cabinet minister who is generally out-of-touch with his electorate. While he believes he has some influence, he often finds himself at the mercy of events and bearing the brunt of Tucker's vitriol. He reads the New Statesman and has two children, Alicia and Charlie, whom he barely sees. Replaced by Nicola Murray in a reshuffle at the beginning of series 3, without appearing on-screen.
- Nicola Murray MP (Rebecca Front) replaces Hugh Abbot for series 3. She is promoted to Social Affairs and Citizenship Secretary as a last-minute choice in a government reshuffle in the run up to a general election. Inexperienced and naive, she begins her tenure poorly with a number of public embarrassments over her husband's career. She also finds it difficult to maintain a healthy balance between her home and work lives, conflicting with Tucker when he demands that she send her daughter to a comprehensive school, rather than her preferred choice of an independent school. Relatively powerless in the cabinet, her dour public image, largely encouraged by Tucker, leads her to be referred to as "glummy mummy". Although she and Tucker regularly clash, he is occasionally shown to be much more sympathetic towards her than her predecessor, particularly when he suggests that the government might quietly ignore her wishes regarding her choice of school for her daughter "in a term or two.".
- Glenn Cullen (James Smith) is senior special adviser to the minister. A long-standing friend of Hugh's since the campaign days, he acts as his chief adviser. He is generally politically adept, often being a voice of sense within the series, although due to his age is often ignored and emasculated by younger members of staff. Despite a number of mishaps, such as swearing at a member of the public who confronts Abbot, he keeps his job due to his loyalty to Hugh. Following Hugh's departure, he expects to retire, but is unexpectedly kept on as adviser to Nicola Murray. His home life is troubled, being divorced and with a disabled son. Originally intending to run for parliament at the next election, his association with Nicola leads to him failing to receive enough support to become a prospective parliamentary candidate.
- Oliver "Ollie" Reeder (Chris Addison) is a special adviser to the secretary of state (formerly junior policy adviser) to Hugh Abbot and his replacement, Nicola Murray. An Oxbridge graduate from Lincolnshire, he is arrogant, inept, inexperienced, somewhat gawky and is often inadvertently the cause of departmental mistakes. However, the minister often takes up his ideas believing them to be vote-winners. During series 1 it is revealed that he once had a relationship with journalist Angela Heaney (Lucinda Raikes) who makes occasional appearances through all three series. He was seconded to 10 Downing Street after he slept with opposition party worker, Emma Messinger (Olivia Poulet) and was told to use his relationship to gather information on opposition party policy. He is described by Terri as "a bit morally bankrupt and dangerously unreliable".
- Terri Coverley (Joanna Scanlan) is director of communications for the department. Notionally responsible for press relations at DoSAC, Coverley was head of press recruited from supermarket chain Waitrose as part of an ill-advised scheme to make government run like a business. Professional but prudish, she is often left to "mop up" the bad press garnered by the department. As a civil servant, compared with the MPs and advisers she is relatively safe in her job, a fact which she repeatedly states to their annoyance. She takes a leave of absence during series 2 due to the death of her father.
EpisodesMain article: List of The Thick of It episodes
The first run of three episodes screened on BBC Four from 19 May 2005. A further three episodes were transmitted 20 October – 3 November 2005. The six episodes were repeated on BBC Two in early 2006, and later on BBC America together as a single series. The subsequent DVD release of all six episodes describes the episodes as The Complete First Series.
An hour-long Christmas special, "The Rise of the Nutters", aired in January 2007 with a further ten episodes planned for later on in the year. However, Chris Langham did not reprise his role as Hugh Abbot, due to legal allegations against him, and his subsequent conviction has ruled him out of any further roles. To fill this void, Iannucci introduced new characters into the series forming the opposition.
Another one-off hour-long episode "Spinners and Losers" aired on 3 July 2007. It was followed by a 15 minute extra episode through BBC Red Button, following the same story from the opposition's point of view.
For series 3, transmission switched to BBC Two, with subsequent repeats on BBC Four. The series ran for eight episodes from 24 October 2009 to 12 December 2009. As a Red Button extra, each episode had an accompanying 10 minute documentary titled Out of The Thick of It broadcast immediately afterwards and on the BBC Comedy website, which featured cut scenes, specially written scenes and, later, discussion of the programme by the series' writers, makers and with figures involved in British politics.
Internationally, series 1 and 2 aired back-to-back in Australia on ABC1 each Friday at 9:40pm from 21 November 2008 and has since been repeated on ABC2 and UKTV. Later, the two hour-long specials along with series 3 premiered consecutively on the lower-rated ABC2 channel from 7 July 2011 each Thursday at 10:15pm.
The series has been the recipient of a number of awards, particularly from BAFTA. Series 1 won both "Best Situation Comedy" and Chris Langham won "Best Comedy Performance - male" at the 2006 BAFTA Television Awards, with Peter Capaldi being nominated for the same award in 2006 and 2008. Capaldi won the BAFTA at the 2010 awards, with Rebecca Front winning "Best Comedy Performance - female". The series was also declared the "Best Situation Comedy".
The series also won Best Situation Comedy from the Royal Television Society in 2006 and 2010, and won Broadcasting Press Guild Awards in 2006 and 2010 for best sitcom and writing team.
In the LoopMain article: In the Loop (film)
In May 2008, the BBC issued a press release stating that filming had commenced on a feature length adaption named In the Loop starring Tom Hollander, James Gandolfini, Chris Addison, Peter Capaldi, Gina McKee and Steve Coogan. The film followed the plight of the International Development minister as an inadvertent comment in an interview leads to him being used as a puppet by the president of the United States and the prime minister who are looking to launch a war in the Middle East. The film follows the officials and advisers in their behind-the-scenes efforts either to promote the war or prevent it.
Although many of the TV series cast returned, the only actual returning characters are Malcolm Tucker, Jamie MacDonald and Sam Cassidy, with series regulars Chris Addison, James Smith, Joanna Scanlan, Alex MacQueen, Olivia Poulet, Eve Matheson and Will Smith playing new characters altogether. The film premiered in the US at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and in the UK at the 2009 Glasgow Film Festival. It was released on 17 April 2009 in the United Kingdom. In The Loop was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2010.
American adaptationMain article: Veep (TV series)
On 27 October 2006, it was announced that The Thick of It would be adapted for American television, focusing on the daily lives of a low-level member of the United States Congress and his staff. Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz would be the executive producer, along with Armando Iannucci and Richard Day. The pilot was directed by Christopher Guest, and produced by Sony Pictures and BBC Worldwide. The cast included John Michael Higgins, Oliver Platt, Michael McKean, Alex Borstein, and Wayne Wilderson.
ABC did not pick up the show for its 2007 Autumn schedule, Iannucci distanced himself from the pilot stating "It was terrible...they took the idea and chucked out all the style. It was all conventionally shot and there was no improvisation or swearing. It didn't get picked up, thank God." Other networks including HBO, Showtime, and NBC expressed interest in the show, and in April 2009, Iannucci re-entered talks with HBO over the possibility of an American adaptation. In November 2010, it was announced that HBO had ordered a pilot for a new series called Veep, to be written, directed and produced by Iannucci. The pilot will star Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the leading role as vice president of the U.S. HBO announced it picked up the show to series in April 2011, though a premiere date has yet to be set.
On 2 April 2007, a DVD of the first six episodes was released as "The Complete First Series". It also included audio commentary, deleted scenes, and photo galleries. The two specials were released on a second DVD in April 2009. The third series was released on DVD in April 2010. Although the third series was filmed and broadcast on the BBC in high definition video there has been no release to date on Blu-ray disc.
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- ^ Variety: Louis-Dreyfus named 'Veep' for HBO
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- The Thick of It at BBC Programmes
- The Thick of It - Archived BBC Four website
- The Thick of It at BBC Comedy
- The Thick of It FanZone
- The Thick of It at the British Comedy Guide
- The Thick of It at the Internet Movie Database
- The Thick of It at TV.com
- In the Loop at the Internet Movie Database
- The Thick of It Special - Armando Iannucci - BBC Four on BBC YouTube channel
- The Thick of It: Spinners and Losers - The Opposition - BBC Four on BBC YouTube channel
- 2005 television series debuts
- 2000s British television series
- 2005 in television
- 2005 in British television
- BBC television sitcoms
- Political television series
- Satirical television programmes
- The Thick of It
- BAFTA winners (television series)
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