|The Thick of It|
|Format||Comedy (political satire)|
|Created by||Armando Iannucci|
|Written by||Jesse Armstrong
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||16|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original channel||BBC Four (Series 1, 2 and Specials)
BBC Two/BBC HD (Series 3)
|Original run||19 May 2005– present|
|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, and won Best Situation Comedy and Best Comedy Performance, also for Langham (although Peter Capaldi was also nominated), at the 2006 BAFTAs.
The series can be described as the 21st century's answer to Yes Minister, highlighting the struggles of the media and spin doctors against civil servants. Iannucci himself 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 to them. In particular, the character of Malcolm Tucker bears a distinct resemblance to former Director of Communications and Strategy Alastair Campbell, a comparison Campbell himself has acknowledged.
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 has stated that "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.
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 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 Olly Reeder, and Joanna Scanlan as Civil Service Press Secretary Terri Coverley.
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.
In the second batch of episodes, a reshuffle is in the offing, and the series follows the minister's attempts to keep his job. Olly is seconded to Number 10 "to phone his girlfriend" Emma Messinger, who happens to be 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 advisor Emma Messinger capitalises on the error by stealing an idea from Ollie Reeder, her boyfriend, to send the shadow minister Peter Mannion on a factfinding mission at an immigration centre. Meanwhile, Malcolm 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 Olly and Glenn as her advisors. 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 are also major plotlines.
Most episodes focus on the department's incumbent minister and a core cast of advisors 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.
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 calls them 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.
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 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.
In the Loop 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. Although many of the cast return, the only actual returning characters are Malcolm Tucker, Jamie (given the surname "McDonald" for the film) and a very brief cameo from Samantha Harrington as Malcolm's secretary Sam, with series regulars Chris Addison, James Smith, Joanna Scanlan, Alex MacQueen, Olivia Poulet, Eve Matheson, and Will Smith playing new characters altogether.
The Thick Of It is a British sitcom, satirising the inner workings of modern government, that is currently in its third series and stars Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker.
Her Majesty's Civil Service