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28 October 2014

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Absolute Power

The cast of Absolute Power

With its long evolution and starry creative team, Absolute Power would make for a fine episode of Comedy Connections.

The key characters of PR gurus Charles Prentiss and Martin McCabe first appeared in Mark Tavener's 1989 satirical novel In the Red, which along with its sequels was adapted for a successful set of series on Radio 4.

Geoffrey Palmer, Stephen Fry and John Bird

These shows had featured the acting talents of comic greats Stephen Fry and John Bird, who at this point played the roles of TV commissioners, but the characters of Prentiss and McCabe were so strong that they became natural fodder for a spin-off series of their own and Fry and Bird were the perfect candidates for the respective starring roles.

Based on historian Lord Acton's famous saying that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely", the series focuses on the Machiavellian scheming that goes on in the backstabbing world of modern public relations.

In its Radio 4 incarnation, Prentiss and McCabe's involvements were almost always political, with the pair often finding themselves fighting on behalf of opposing clients.

As the series progressed, Prentiss also met his match in female equivalent Gayle Shand (Tamsin Greig) with whom he enjoyed a passionate love-hate business/pleasure relationship.

James Lance as apprentice Jamie

Transferring to TV, Absolute Power boldly shed its old radio skin and a new tagline heralded its new direction: 'Spin is dead, long live PR'.

Written by Guy Andrews, Andy Attenbury and the BBC's own Mark Lawson, the show's primary focus now shifted away from politics into the wider world of celebrity-obsessed culture.

By Now Fry's character of Charles Prentiss was a fully-fledged Prince of PR Darkness, with Bird's McCabe as his intelligent but bumbling partner, always surprised at the sheer depths to which Prentiss will sink to achieve his aims.

Zoe Telford as Alison Jackman

Their company is staffed by equally believable PR types played by a top-notch cast, including the sharp but unfortunately honest Alison (Zoe Telford), smooth PA Nick (Nick Burns) and James Lance as cynical Prentiss-apprentice, Jamie.

Over two series, which saw Prentiss's scheming eventually land him a brief spell in prison, viewers were privileged to the rare sight of some of the country's top comic talent engaging in an unusually topical sitcom, highly relevant to the modern PR age.

Without making the kind of giant waves that might be expected of such a classy cast, it was nonetheless a sharply written, smoothly executed show, often served up with a deliciously biting wit.


John Bird
Martin MacCabe
Stephen Fry
Charles Prentiss
Zoe Telford
Alison Jackman
James Lance
Jamie Front
Nicholas Burns
Nick Mayer
Sally Bretton
Cat Durnford
Andrew Lee-Potts
Jimmy Bart
Michael Fenton Stevens
Timothy London


Guy Andrews
Scott Cherry
Mark Lawson
Andy Rattenbury
John Morton
Tristam Shapeero
Paul Schlesinger
Jon Plowman
executive producer

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