1 9 8 7 – 1 9 9 4 (UK)
27 x 30 minute episodes
1 x 70 minute episode
It is May 1987 and Alan Beresford B’Stard is elected at the age of 31 as the Conservative MP for the North Yorkshire constituency of Haltemprice.
His majority (26,738) is the largest in the House of Commons – a fact not unconnected to the head-on crash involving his two principal election opponents, the Labour and SDP candidates, who are presently in a hospital instead of on the hustings.
To prevent the police from revealing that the cars had been tampered with, B’Stard promises to push through Parliament a bill enabling the boys in blue to pack pistols instead of truncheons.
What he doesn’t explain is that he can get the weapons for them wholesale – made from recycled frying pans – and that they may not work very well. So began one of the best, and certainly the most outrageous, British sitcoms of the late 1980s.
While Yes, Minister drew plaudits for its wittily accurate portrayal of Whitehall machinations, The New Statesman bludgeoned and appalled in the most uproarious of ways.
But even as the most unscrupulous, wickedest, greediest, nastiest politician of all time, Alan B’Stard (played to perfection by the late Rik Mayall) seemed to reflect some truths of 1980s Britain.
B’Stard was treasurer of the ‘Keep Britain Nuclear’ pressure group (and behind the dumping of nuclear waste in a children’s playground). Before becoming an MP he was secretary of the Friends of South Africa, a position he resigned in protest at left-wing infiltration of the group.
All committee’s formed by the devious B’Stard usually had the acronym C.A.S.H, to which he insisted all donors should make their cheques payable. He was the ultimate income tax defrauder.
His marriage, too, was a sham. B’Stard’s wife, Sarah (Marsha Fitzalan), was as money-motivated as her husband, and despite having lesbian tendencies – she had an affair with Alan’s political agent, Beatrice (Vivien Heilbron) – she would sleep with anyone for her own ends.
He married her purely for her respectability and her money, although her despicable father Roland Gidleigh-Park (Charles Gray) – from whom she would eventually inherit everything – hated B’Stard with a vengeance.
At work, B’Stard was permanently beastly to his assistant Piers Fletcher-Dervish (Michael Troughton), an old-school upper-class twit who became a permanent whipping boy who never had the sense to run a mile in the opposite direction.
Various TV personalities appeared in cameos as themselves. Additionally, seen in character roles were Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Helen Lederer and John Sessions – the latter as a cocaine-addicted peer who was accidentally killed when someone tried to assassinate B’Stard.
A spoof shooting incident staged by B’Stard at the end of the second series led to a single 70 minute Dallas style special, Who Shot Alan B’Stard?.
In fact, the shooting was arranged by the MP himself after he had bet £50,000 at 20-1 that capital punishment would be reinstated by Christmas.
Determined to expose B’stard as a fraud, his wife Sarah convinced Piers Fletcher Dervish and campaigning journalist Kerry Grout (Peter Blake) to help her find out how the shooting was rigged. The plot thickened when they discovered a high-powered rifle and a bulletproof vest in B’stard’s safe – but as Piers demonstrated to Grout how the shooting was fixed, he accidentally killed the journalist.
Eventually leaving parliament, B’Stard found himself imprisoned in a Siberian Gulag before returning to the political fray as a Euro MP, representing the German constituency of Obersaxony.
Screened at a time when the Conservative government was free to indulge its whims by virtue of a three-figure parliamentary majority, The New Statesman perfectly portrayed both Margaret Thatcher‘s government and the decade where “Greed Is Good” became the catch-cry of every white-collar worker in the western world.
The spectacular replica of the House of Commons was left over from the 1986 Granada miniseries, First Among Equals.
Rowena (RR) Cooper
Sir Stephen Baxter
Sir Greville McDonald