This brilliantly observed satire of party politics and spin doctors was commissioned by David Frost in 1966 and features a cast that reads like a who’s who of British comedy, with Graham Chapman, fellow Monty Python member John Cleese, Ronnie Corbett, Denholm Elliott and Arthur Lowe all showing up to lend Peter Cook a hand.
The laughs are patchy, and the series of farcical sketches sometimes fails to hit the mark, but the tightly constructed story is a frighteningly incisive forecast of modern-day politics.
The shadowy “coordination expert” Michael Rimmer (Peter Cook) gets a job with a seedy advertising agency, swiftly rises through the ranks, and turns around its fortunes until he eventually runs the company and transforms it into an opinion polls agency.
He instigates a flood of polls aimed at English householders and sabotages his competitor’s reputation by sending a bus full of stooges to Nuneaton and telling the opposition’s market researchers they’re Buddhists.
When the poll results show 95 per cent of the Nuneaton populace are Buddhists, the rival agency’s reputation is in tatters.
His imaginative scheme enables him to predict the outcome of a by-election by polling the whole constituency.
Rimmer then enters politics at the behest of Conservative leader Tom Hutchinson (Ronald Fraser) and sets out to capture a trophy wife to aid his political goals.
He quickly becomes the Conservative MP for Budleigh Moor (geddit?) and gains the Chancellorship, settling the economy once and for all by sending a doomed Scottish Regiment into Switzerland to steal gold – then pretendingit was found in the North Sea.
Rimmer eventually moves into 10 Downing Street after slyly pushing Hutchinson – who is now Prime Minister – off a North Sea gold platform.
Rimmer’s futuristic vision of true democracy is that every eligible voter in Britain can cast ballots via a television remote control.
Alas, the electorate tires of the endless referendum questions(which arrive every day in the post) and propels the ruthless Rimmer to the position of dictatorial President of Great Britain by relinquishing all decisions to him.
The film was a box office failure on release, although it has since (deservedly) gained cult status.
George A. Cooper
Sir Eric Bentley
Bishop of Cowley