It’s time the Tory leadership contenders started talking about Culture - Anthony Clavane

Yorkshire-born singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran said: 'If we don't support funding for art, drama and music for young people, then you just won't have any home-grown talent at all". (AFP/Getty Images).
Yorkshire-born singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran said: 'If we don't support funding for art, drama and music for young people, then you just won't have any home-grown talent at all". (AFP/Getty Images).
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Shocking news emerged this week that the classic sitcom Peep Show is being remade by the Conservative Party. The roles of the highly dysfunctional friends, Mark and Jez, will be played by the two frontrunners in the Tory leadership contest, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. Otherwise known as Mike and Boz.

Westminster’s El Dude Brothers have been best mates for years but often find themselves in awkward, uncomfortable situations. In their attempts to become two of the greatest TV characters in history, they usually end up, as in the last leadership contest, as sad losers. And yet this hapless duo, like most comedy double acts, seem inextricably bound to each other.

Channel 4, The Brexit Party and why journalistic freedom matters - Anthony Clavane

The last time they both applied for the vacant role of Tory leader, it did not end well. One of them, I can’t remember who, stabbed the other in the back, or front, and in the end Sophie, or was it Theresa, ended up as prime minister.

If only.

Shockingly, Peep Show is going to be remade – but by the Americans, with female actors replacing David Mitchell and Robert Webb in the lead roles. I say shockingly, not because of the gender flipping, which seems quite an interesting idea. It’s the prospect of a US version that I object to. I mean, look what they did to The Inbetweeners, Life on Mars and The IT Crowd. And what about the way they butchered The Wicker Man, The Ladykillers and Get Carter?

And don’t get me started on Man About The House.

The problem with an American adaptation is that Peep Show humour is quintessentially British. Just like Tory humour.

One of my favourite characters in the Channel 4 hit was actually called Johnson. Part-Lothario, part self-promoting sleazeball, he memorably advised Mitchell’s character to put his career before the ladies. “I mean,” he reasoned, “does a balance sheet ever come crying and saying that it needs some time to think about things? A business doesn’t say it loves you, then run off with a buddy.”

In the end, however, I thought that over nine series of brilliant comedy, Sophie emerged as the most rounded character. She was played by Olivia Coleman, whose Oscar-winning role in The Favourite has since transformed her into a Hollywood star. Coleman, along with Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Idris Elba and Daniel Kaluuya, was name-checked in this week’s fascinating report hailing the economic success of Britain’s creative industries.

The report concludes that the success of these industries – the reason the Americans are so keen to adapt our outstanding shows – is mainly down to public investment in arts and culture. The achievements of Coleman, Waller-Bridge, Elba and Kaluuya would not have been possible without training in publicly-subsidised courses.

Two years ago, the Tory manifesto described our culture as “world-beating” and praised its role at the heart of the regeneration of modern Britain. Lip-service was paid to providing “strong support for the arts” and introducing a “new cultural development fund”.

But austerity has been a disaster for this sector. According to the latest County Councils Network review, spending on culture has fallen by almost £400m in shire councils over the past decade – and culture budgets have fallen by 33 percent.

As Ed Sheeran said: “If we don’t support funding for art, drama and music for young people, then you just won’t have any home-grown talent at all. Without funded programmes and opportunities, a massive number of talented young people just won’t have the chance to discover what they’re capable of or develop their skills.”

It would be refreshing therefore if, instead of just trying to out-Brexit each other, Mike and Boz gave some thought to the cuts in arts and music education programmes.

I’d still like to see Westminster’s El Dude Brothers in a comedy show. A head-to-head Question Time special between the two rivals, perhaps. Gove could blab on about experts being idiots, how leaving the EU is so easy-peasy and why “Frosties are just Cornflakes for people who can’t face reality.”

And Boz would retort with another great line from Peep Show – one that might equally apply to any of the other leadership hopefuls: “You’re not trying to get away with pretending you’re a normal person are you?”