Now that The Thick of It has wrapped up its final new episodes, this recap column will turn back to its retro episodes once again. The last time I covered retro episodes, it was the end of season two, which saw Hugh’s department in a new building and Hugh dealing with a lot of cock-ups all at once. Hugh is not present in these next episodes, which are referred to as “The Specials.” Each episode is one hour long, so they’ll be split in half for these recaps. The first Special is entitled “The Rise of the Nutters,” with “Nutters” being the name that refers to those people in government backing a candidate to take the current Prime Minister’s place. I should say that these Specials are loosely based on the time in real British politics when Tony Blair stepped down from his post as PM and Gordon Brown took over. If it helps you, the “Nutters” are Gordon Brown supporters. Let’s dive right in!
“The Rise of the Nutters” opens with Ollie and Emma walking to work together, each comparing the powerful men they work with. Ollie says that the leader of Emma’s party is just a man and the leader of his party is the Prime Minister. With Emma sufficiently shown up, Ollie mentions Ben Swain – a junior minister for DoSAC – who has a big media appearance that day. Malcolm and Jamie appear – Jamie, you’ll remember, works with Malcolm in Communications – and say that they’re going to meet with Julius, a special adviser to the Prime Minister.
Over at the Opposition, Peter Mannion meets up with his two advisers, Emma and Phil. They mention one of Stewart’s latest great ideas – putting a wind turbine at Peter’s house to seem eco-friendly. The only problem was that it hadn’t been windy, so Peter had to pay to keep the thing spinning. Phil also makes the suggestion that they start a departmental blog that he can write for Peter.
Back at the Government, Malcolm and Jamie throw their weight around with Ollie, teasing him about the fact that he didn’t know which program Ben Swain was appearing on (Newsnight). However, Malcolm is put slightly in his place when it’s revealed that Pat Morrissey – another key player in Communications – has instituted a two-tick system so things need to be approved by both her and Malcolm. Pat, it appears, is a Nutter. Right away, it’s established that the Nutters are trying to gain ground over those who don’t support their candidate by cutting them out of the loop.
Malcolm and Jamie have their meeting with Julius and several other unnamed officials. Just to annoy him, Jamie sits right next to Julius and he and Malcolm tease him quite a bit. Julius announces that they will be cutting immigration policy out of politics and outsourcing it to an independent firm. This, he says, is part of the PM’s legacy.
With the legacy mentioned, Malcolm and Jamie then ask Julius if he knows the departure date for the PM. Julius clearly does know the date, but he’s not telling. The reason Malcolm and Jamie want to know the date so badly is so they can position themselves in a politically advantageous position for when the current PM leaves Number 10. If they know the date, then they would know when to start cozying up to the Nutters so as to stay in their powerful positions.
Julius is not talking on the departure date, but he does reveal that Ben Swain will be interviewed by Jeremy Paxman – a feared newscaster on Newsnight – rather than a Newsnight “drone,” as Malcolm had first thought. This news shakes Malcolm because he had been out of the loop on this development. Pat had taken two ticks to approve the issue rather than giving Malcolm the one tick he was due. Aside from losing a bit of power, Malcolm is also worried that Paxman will mention a “computer fuck-up” when interviewing Ben.
At DoSAC, everyone seems to be in holiday mode since Christmas has just passed. Glen is going away to help his sister with her place in Wales, and Hugh is said to be on holiday in Australia. Ben Swain appears to get briefing notes for his interview on Newsnight. Glen mentions to Ollie that Ben is a Nutter and that Ollie should keep an eye on him.
At the Opposition, Stewart is trying desperately to make Peter look young, hip, and modern, and Peter isn’t having any of it. This speaks to a larger dynamic taking place in the Opposition party, one that they hope will get them back into power because they’re appealing to younger voters. My personal favorite facet of this strategy is the “no tie” strategy. For some reason, Stewart has gotten it into his head that not wearing a tie will make Peter look younger and more relatable.
Meanwhile, Malcolm and Jamie arrive to prep Ben for his interview on Newsnight. Now that they know it will be Paxman, they have to impress upon Ben the seriousness of the interview. They do this by drilling him with questions and being generally abusive, of course. They ask him what his response will be if Paxman asks about the computer fuck-up in immigration. They float the idea called “week at the coalface,” which basically means that Hugh will go to an actual immigration office for about a week to investigate problems in the system.
That night, Ollie is at Emma’s place (which she shares with Phil, making it even more awkward) to watch Ben’s interview. Ollie tells Emma about his grand idea, “the week at the coalface,” and how Ben is going to announce it tonight.
Soon, the interview begins and it’s an utter mess. Ben is sweating profusely, he has a weird “mega-blink” going on, and he is answering Paxman’s questions very badly. Ben’s performance is painful to watch, but everyone else’s reaction to his performance is comedy gold. Malcolm stares in disbelief at Ben’s floundering, Jamie tells him the cameramen are laughing on set, and Ollie, Emma, and Phil wither with second-hand embarrassment. Eventually Malcolm says to pull him off though he didn’t get to announce the “week at the coalface.”
Ollie calls Glen to tell him just how badly Ben did in his interview. Glen then warns Ollie not to mention any important ideas while he’s at Emma’s place. Ollie shrugs off this warning, but we know he’s already told her about the “week at the coalface” idea.
Sure enough, the next day at the Opposition office, Stewart is looking for a way to capitalize on Ben’s failure. Emma floats an idea – how about Peter visits an immigration office to root out the systemic problems? She has nicked Ollie’s idea.
That evening, Ben has a launch party for his book, It’s the Everything, Stupid. While there, Malcolm and Jamie give Ben a good ribbing for his poor performance on Newsnight. Ollie gets a call from Emma, who admits to him that she’s nicked his idea and that they’re going to announce it soon. When Ollie tells Malcolm about this unfortunate turn of events, Malcolm is obviously very upset.
He pulls his team into the kitchen of the party’s location to ask them what happened. Terri says they got a request to use the idea from Stewart and she didn’t see a problem with putting it through. Now Malcolm is really furious because Terri went over his head in this matter. Malcolm calls Julius to tell him about this development and Julius seems fine with it. He says they want the Opposition to go with this idea because they’ll point out the problems in immigration and then the Government will swoop in and solve those problems.
Malcolm is not pleased and is determined not to let the Opposition announce this policy first, though it seems to be what Julius and the PM want. He pulls Ollie, Jamie, and Ben into his office to prep Ben for another media appearance. This time, Ben will mention the coalface idea and everything will be fine. Just as a quick sidenote – this scene contains the best threat that has ever been included in the show. The threat comes from Jamie and it involves an iPod, that’s all I’ll say.
Just as Ben is psyching himself up for another media appearance, Malcolm receives word that the Opposition have already announced it. They were too late and now the Opposition has nicked one of their best ideas.
What will happen next? Will Malcolm continue to have power taken from him as the Nutters rise? What will happen when Peter Mannion finds himself at an immigration office for a week? Stay tuned next time for the second half of “The Rise of the Nutters.”