And so at last we come to the end of The Thick of It. The very end. Not long after I finish typing this, the slagheap of fallout from The Goolding Enquiry will be dumper-trucked onto Malcolm, Nicola, Peter, Ollie, Glenn, Terri and all the rest of that parade of numpties and cockwallets. And that’ll be that.
It’s been heartbreaking and lovely to hear the anguished howls of defiance and betrayal every time one of us tweets that it’s over. I don’t plan to go into any of the business of why that’s happening or review the history of the show or any of the things that I expect will be written in the press and on blogs this weekend. But as the last Blackberry is turned off and the final insult spat, I did want to write down some of the things that I might not get the chance to say again.
When we met for the first rehearsal of the show in January 2005 I don’t think any of us in the cast really knew what this thing was. We sat for a couple of days and read the first script and discussed the characters. People In The Know came and talked to us and told us about what life was really like inside New Labour in the doggest of days of its second parliament. We began to rehearse and improvise in the way that’s now been explained so many times in interviews and features (and were all individually convinced we couldn’t do it, whilst everyone else could). But even then we didn’t really know what the show was, what it would look like. As far as I was concerned, though, it had Armando Iannucci and it had Peter Capaldi and it had Chris Langham – three men whose work I’d loved for years.
Once we started filming, things began to get a little clearer. We shot that first series in the old Guinness building in Park Royal, a place often used as a location. Just before we got there it had been vacated by the cast and crew of Batman Begins. I know. Now, you know what TToI has been reminding you of all these years, right? At any rate, once we were there we began to be able to see what it was going to look like. Armando would occasionally play takes that he was particularly giddy about back to us. I remember standing at the monitors, helpless with laughter watching Chris as Hugh position himself halfway through a door to talk to Malcolm.
We filmed three episodes and by the end of the scramble that was that shoot we felt excited. Like there might really be something good in this. And ever since then we’ve just felt happy – If I were American I might even say “blessed” – to be the ones who get to be in that room. It’s the kind of thing you dream about being involved in and I don’t think there’s a single Thickovite who hasn’t realised what an incredibly lucky bugger they were for being on that Unit List.
These days, of course, I believe I know what The Thick of It is about. I think it’s about three things. Politics is certainly one of them, but I really don’t think it’s the most important. In fact I think it probably comes in at number three on the list. I know, I know. Bear with me, caller. The sit of the com is Westminster politics, that’s for sure. And the longer the show has gone on, the more fun people have had with spotting the (frankly coincidental) ‘predictions’ that the genius phalanx of writers, led by Armando, have got right. In fact, as is very well documented and noted, this last series it’s been crazy. I don’t think anyone’s sent preview tapes to the Government, but it certainly has sometimes felt like it.
But for me the show is basically a workplace sitcom. It’s a bunch of idiots, who can barely stand each other, forced into the same space whilst – Death Star trash compactor-like – the walls begin to grind inevitably inwards and they all start to panic and squabble hopelessly. It’s a farce. A dark, profane farce set in a Westminster that seems uncomfortably close to the real one, but a farce nonetheless. With the best swears you ever heard in your life. If it were simply about politics, it wouldn’t be the thing it is. I think that what grabs people, what keeps them coming back to watch more – apart from the seemingly endless stream of astonishing lines from those genius writers I mentioned – is that they’re tuning in to see what’s happened to the characters they’ve invested so much in. Look at how the internet talks about the show; the love for Malcolm, the sympathy for Glenn, the pity for Nicola, the disdain for Ollie.
Finally, and far more personally, I think this: The very best thing about The Thick of It is what Armando has used it to do. Back in April we were sitting in a disused restaurant in BBC Television Centre which, the show being the glamorous, high-budget affair it is, we’d co-opted as a rehearsal room. Around the table were the writing team, the directors and Armando. As I looked about I was struck by how many of us had had our break on this show. About how many of us he’d looked at and said, “Come over here and have a go at this,” purely on the basis of some confidence he had in us, some feeling. Before this show I’d never acted, really. Nor had I directed a television show. I’ve done both of those things now. And on this last series the majority of the episodes were directed by people who were new to directing, people Armando reckoned could do the job and so to whom he gave a shot, even though he knew how big a deal the show had become and how much was riding on getting this final series right. Actors, writers, directors – there are people in all those departments who have learned their craft on The Thick of It. The most important thing to me about this show, the most unusual too, is that to some extent it’s sort of The Academy of Armando. No-one really remarks on this, which is why I wanted to. There aren’t many people in Televison who’d do what he’s done here. It’s a brilliant and unusual thing, in that respect; it’s an incredibly positive thing to do and so very valuable to those of us who benefitted. It’s a real “money where your mouth is” job, at that.
I’ve loved being a part of this. And it’s been squirmingly lovely to hear how much the show has meant to some of you, too. Thanks to all of you who’ve told me of that over the years. For what it’s worth, I could happily go on with it forever. In some ways I’d love to – I don’t like the idea of not getting to dick around with those people again. But equally, I think it’s probably time to go. Some people love the show, some people hate the show and as the tired old comedy maxim goes, “If they hate you, get off. If they love you, get off.” That seems about right. I reckon we need to get the fuck out and fuck the fuck off.