Daily Archives: 28 October 2007

Can someone explain to me why Ricky Gervais has an acting career?

I went to see Stardust on Thursday and despite having low expectations of it, loved it. Getting the balance of humour and fantasy right so that it doesn’t look like self-indulgent nonsense is tricky and I think they even just about managed to pull off Robert De Niro in a dress.

But one thing spoiled it for me: Ricky Gervais’ cameo. This was basically David Brent in a silly hat and stood out like a sore thumb. It reminded me of Paul Heiney’s cameo in 1985’s Water. Paul Heiney was a That’s Life presenter who made a series called In At the Deep End in which he had to do things he had no prior experience of (sort of an 80s version of Faking It). Somehow he got a small part in this small, rather rubbish British film and his performance – up against Michael Caine – is execrable. It has become embedded in my brain as an example of why film-makers should resist the temptation to include showy cameos in their films for the sake of a bit of extra publicity.

It has become increasingly clear that the reason The Office was so excruciatingly funny was that Gervais wasn’t acting. It was him – or at least scarily close to his true persona. Yet because he remains popular in the public imagination, and has lots of celebrity friends, he has somehow managed to build a years-long career doing the same basic schtick. How much longer is this going to go on?

I have horrible visions of him becoming the 21st century version of Leslie “hel-lo!” Phillips, turning up in films and TV programmes in his 70s to do his David Brent act so long as the fee was right. But while typecast, at least Phillips could act.

Huhne: is Trident the right issue?

Chris Huhne clearly believes the Trident issue is key to his success and yesterday I was sent an email from Duncan Brack, Chair of the Federal Conference Committee, endorsing him specifically for this reason. They may well be right and they are certainly right that our current policy of sitting squarely on the fence in the hope that we never have to make a difficult decision is unsustainable. I certainly don’t share Linda Jack’s cynicism – if you are a senior cabinet member you must choose your battles carefully, especially when you have a vulnerable leader and rivals who are alert to any sign of disloyalty (if it is such a major issue of conscience, Linda, why didn’t you resign from the FPC? And why are you backing Clegg?).

Good internal politics it may be, but is it good external politics? There are certainly people out there who feel strongly about nuclear disarmament, but they are relatively few in number. For all my criticisms of Clegg for demanding the party move out of its comfort zone and reaching out beyond our supporter base and then not doing so, I agree with the sentiment. Kickstarting a debate about Trident doesn’t do either, although it does at least address one of my major concerns which is that our policy ceases to face both ways.

It is good that Huhne is looking for dividing lines, just as he did in 2006; apart from anything else it will make the contest more interesting in what was looking increasingly likely to turn into a snore-fest. But if the public perceive that the contest was fought on largely emic party obsessions and not on the issues that matter to them, whoever wins will struggle to hit the ground running in December. He should turn to bread and butter issues as we get closer to the day when the ballot papers are sent out.