Alan B’Stard: ‘Let’s Go the Whole Hog and Join New Labour’
by Rik Mayall Interviews And Articles Archive Blog
By James Rampton for Scotsman.com, 29th March 2006
Alan B’Stard MP is holding court in front of the assembled press at the Atrium, a super-swanky restaurant on Millbank, a mace’s throw from the House of Commons.
It’s the sort of place where slick party leadership contenders hold launches to convince voters how hip they are. B’Stard has been out of the public eye for fourteen years now, but the absence has done nothing to dim the man’s supreme arrogance.
I start by asking him what he thinks of the Scottish Executive. “When the North Sea oil ran out, the Westminster government dumped Scotland and called it ‘devolution’!,” the MP sneers with a familiar curl of that patrician lip.
“Still, I’m delighted by all the building work going on at the Assembly,” he says, presumably referring to the broken roof beam which has evicted MSPs from the Holyrood parliament’s debating chamber. “I own a massive construction company, so I’m making bucket-loads of money out of the Scottish taxpayer.” Typical of the man who put the B’Stard into politics.
He then strides imperiously out for a photo call on College Green, from which he is unceremoniously ejected by two burly police officers. “There I was, happily posing for photos for my people,” B’Stard splutters in outrage as he straightens his tie afterwards, “when these policemen came up to me and said, ‘we’ve been asked by Parliament to move you on’.
“They were clearly invoking the ancient No Looking Sexier Than Anyone in Parliament Act.”
Yes, B’Stard, the anti-hero of The New Statesman, the cult satirical sitcom whose anti-hero embodied the worst excesses of the 1980s’ “Greed-is-Good” culture and the Thatcherite right, is well and truly back.
The dashingly swept-back hair, the three-piece, pinstripe suit and the alternately (depending on who you are) superior and obsequious mannerisms are still there, but this time he has added a New Labour red rose to his lapel and a red rosette reading “B’Stard” on the other.
Scriptwriters Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, who between 1987 and 1992 penned four series of The New Statesman for ITV, have resurrected the compulsively revolting B’Stard for The New Statesman – Episode 2006: The Blair B’Stard Project, the stage-play which is coming to Edinburgh and Glasgow later this year. So, where has B’Stard, the man who was once more Thatcherite than Mrs Thatcher, been for the past decade and a half? He’s been busy crossing the floor, of course. As if things weren’t already bad enough for Tony Blair, B’Stard has now defected from the Tories to New Labour.
“New Labour are young, they are sexy, and they are much more right wing than the Conservative Party,” explains the MP, that trademark supercilious smirk playing across his lips. “I was tempted by the far right, but then I thought, ‘No, let’s go the whole hog and join New Labour’.”
With detached amusement, scriptwriter Gran expands on the theme. “This is a terrible time for Tony Blair and New Labour. The government is reeling,” smiles the writer, barely able to contain his glee at the satiric possibilities this offers him.
“It’s three years since the invasion of Iraq and we still don’t know why that happened. Only one man can save Tony Blair – and that’s Alan B’Stard. Tony has based his whole act on Alan, but he’s not as good at it!”
In his new incarnation of the stage-play, B’Stard is working out of a hitherto unknown New Labour nerve centre at No 9 Downing Street. He has been made Blair’s enforcer, using Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson as the hired help. He also gets up close and personal with Condoleezza Rice, the United States’ Secretary of State.
In addition, the MP reveals that he is the only person in the world who knows the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. A multi-millionaire after playing the markets on Black Wednesday, B’Stard has also been put in control of the price-list for peerages.
Clearly a dab hand at backhanders, he passes me a letter on 9 Downing Street headed notepaper. “Dear Member of the Press,” it reads, “no point beating around the bush. You know who I am, I know what you are. So please find attached half of a £20 note (national press)/ £10 note (regional press)/ luncheon voucher (freelance press).
“On receipt of a photocopy of your satisfactory journalism, we will mail you by return the other half of your bribe. For an extra million, I’ll talk to Tony about a peerage.” Opening the attached envelope, I find a £20 note cut in half. Clearly, I’m dealing with a man of honour.
Gran reveals that he and Marks have long been considering reviving the old B’Stard. “We wondered about Alan changing sides a long time ago, but New Labour was popular then. Now the time is right. You can’t do something as beastly as we are going to do unless the party is lying on the floor with a big ‘kick-me’ sign on it. Alan only exists when the animal is badly wounded.
“If we can shame Blair to go, that would be great, but not before the end of the run. For God’s sake, Tony, tough it out!” Indeed, Gran laughs, reality is in danger of outstripping fiction. “We are running like mad to keep up with the government. They are making our lives quite difficult because, obviously, there are satirists at No 10.
“We never thought they would be quite so ghastly quite so quickly and that they would give us so much ammunition. If this tour is a huge success, I’ll be able to become a marquis. I’ve got the price-list right here.” Like Gran’s comment, the Blair B’Stard project may be full of humour, but there is no denying the painful disillusionment of its genesis. Marks, still a card-carrying Labour member, is deeply disenchanted with his party. “I would like to see the party I joined in office,” laments the writer, who, in partnership with Gran, also penned Birds of a Feather and Goodnight Sweetheart.
“I was completely taken in by everything Tony Blair told me from 1994 to 1997. Then there was the war. I am desperately disappointed. I think we are beginning to see that power corrupts. I just didn’t think it would happen with this government.
“I will never forget that this government has taken my country to war. We should always remember that, and, if this play makes a point of it, so be it.”
By now Mayall has dropped his MP persona, lit up a cigarette, and is keen to talk about his campaign to Bring Back B’Stard. Mayall, 48, specialises in satire, and first shot to fame playing Rik in The Young Ones, the anarchic 1980s sitcom centred around a student house-share. He followed this up with Bottom and The Comic Strip Presentsbefore breaking more new ground with the compulsively revolting B’Stard.
Mayall admits to initial fears that he would be accused of flogging a horse many thought was long since consigned to the knacker’s yard. “I didn’t want people to say ‘oh Rik’s just doing a stage show of an old TV hit’. This is not just a recreation of the Thatcherite days. It’s an entirely fresh idea to make him switch to New Labour.
“Alan is such a timeless character that he doesn’t represent one particular period. People say he defined the Thatcherite ‘me generation’, but isn’t history repeating itself now? In the end, I was happy to come back as Alan because I’ve always been attracted to complete B’Stards!” Then, returning to default comedian mode, Mayall adds: “When people ask me, why I’m doing this play, I reply: ‘How else am I going to have an affair with Condoleezza Rice?'”
Mayall says he is pleased to be returning to the live arena in Scotland. For one thing, it offers him the chance to redeem himself after his last ignominious stage appearance in Edinburgh.
“The only time I’ve ever completely died on stage was at the Edinburgh Playhouse about 20 years ago,” he recalls with a heartfelt sigh.
“Ben Elton and I were about to go on tour, so we thought we’d test out our gear at the Playhouse in the middle of the Festival.
“But I’d only written half my show and I hadn’t even learnt that, so I put idiot-boards around the stage to prompt me. I then had the very stupid idea of dressing up in a rabbit suit to distract the audience from the shakiness of my material!
“The evening was a total disaster. The audience were kept waiting outside for an hour and a half in the rain, and the female critic from Time Out (the London listings magazine) was beaten up by the bouncers. When I finally came on stage, the lights were so bright I couldn’t read the idiot-boards. It was the worst show I’ve ever done.
“Now, if Ben and I have a dodgy show, we say to each other, ‘did you have a rabbit suit on?’ I’ve always vowed that I’d never perform at the Edinburgh Playhouse again. Now I am – although I won’t be in a rabbit suit this time!”