The future of politics, circa 1970

Reflecting on David Frost’s death the other day, comedy critic Bruce Dessau made a passing reference to “The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer”, a film I’ve never actually seen:  “Some said the lead character, a ruthless ex-advertising man-turned-politician, had more than a little of Frost about him,” Bruce wroteIrony of ironies, Frost was the movie’s executive producer.

 Is it worth tracking down a copy? William Cook describes it as a “prize turkey”. And yet, and yet:

Like all prize turkeys, it had all the ingredients of a great movie, including the participation of one of Britain’s greatest comedians, Peter Cook… Ever since Cook became a star, at the beginning of the 1960s, film producers had been queuing up to offer him leading roles, but none of them had succeeded in capturing his strange wit. He was touted as the next Cary Grant. And then along came “Michael Rimmer”, and Cook’s film career imploded.

Watching “Michael Rimmer” today, what’s most astonishing is its extraordinary powers of prophecy. Admittedly, the specifics of the story were pure fantasy (to the best of my knowledge, no British MP has ever murdered the Prime Minister by pushing him off a North Sea oil rig) but the generalities were spot on… Rimmer anticipated the absurdity of “interactive” politics, and the inevitable triumph of style over substance as politicians learnt to control TV. In another uncanny premonition of modern politics, any policy differences between Labour and the Conservatives are virtually non-existent. Rimmer’s party allegiances are irrelevant. His only real interest is power.

Brilliant. I’ve just ordered a DVD on the strength of that scene alone. The party political broadcast with a fictionalized Harold Wilson – played by that great character actor, George A. Cooper –  is a slapstick treat too.

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