I always wondered how long it would take to see a British version of The West Wing; a drama that depicted the Prime Minister as an honest, heroic warrior for Truth and Justice (yet somehow still believable). It has seemed a totem of UK political fiction that it be cynical and slightly – if not overtly – comedic. Yes, Minister, House of Cards, The Thick of It… some wonderful dramatic assessments of the art of government, but where the optimistic alternative?
Perhaps we British don’t feel the need for escapist political wish-fulfillment. Somehow it seems un-British to “blow our own trumpet” by watching our political leaders reach for the stars. The very thought inspires a cringe, swiftly followed by a giggle. We have the Queen to look up to, to inspire national pride, and to unify us with pomp and ceremony. We are happy to let the Prime Minister get on with the dirty work essential to maintaining our interests, without any need for moral leadership from Number 10.
Nevertheless, after the brilliance of the genre-defining The West Wing, it was inevitable that someone would attempt to bring a touch of the Bartlet Administration to Downing Street. It is not surprising that radio is the medium for the first obvious try at this. BBC Radio 4 is running a series of Friday Plays by Jonathan Myerson called Number 10.
I’m sad to say that what little I’ve heard of it so far has indeed inspired my default British embarrassment at the sound of earnest, posh-accented, politicians wading through the nastiness of the world, trying, a little too pompously, to make it a better place. But it’s a start. If we are to overcome our cynicism we have to begin somewhere, and that is why I will be listening more and doing my best to believe.
I’ll let you know how it goes.