UK Politics

Political drama 2012: Omnishambles, Olympics and austerity

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Media captionSome of the storylines in The Thick of It seemed to mirror real-life events

It was a year which saw ministers and spin-doctors appearing before a judicial inquiry into a political scandal.

The economic downturn brought bad news for people who had considered themselves immune from cutbacks.

And the driver of a bus full of VIPs became lost on his way to the Olympic Park.

But although you might have seen these stories on the Ten O'Clock News, you were just as likely to have come across them on supposedly made-up TV series The Thick of It, Downton Abbey and Twenty Twelve respectively.

How have fact and fiction become so intertwined?

Political satire The Thick of It ended this autumn, but not before its main characters gave evidence to an inquiry into a man's suicide.

The plot coincided with the conclusion of the Leveson hearings, but there were also echoes of the earlier Hutton Inquiry, after the death of Dr David Kelly.

One Saturday night episode centred on the idea of spending £2 billion to create a bank.

Less than 36 hours later, Business Secretary Vince Cable was at the Liberal Democrats' conference, where he announced plans to devote £1 billion to… a new bank.

'Omnishambles Budget'

The programme also spawned what the Oxford English Dictionary would call its word of the year.

Omnishambles was defined as a situation "comprehensively mismanaged, characterised by a string of blunders and miscalculations".

Image caption Spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker was grilled at a judicial inquiry as part of the final series of The Thick of It

It was "a word everyone liked, which seemed to sum up so many of the events over the last 366 days in a beautiful way", said lexicographer Fiona McPherson.

And it appeared to have entered the mainstream when Labour leader Ed Miliband mocked the government's "omnishambles Budget".

Twenty Twelve, set in the offices of the Olympic Games' organisers, was another series with an uncanny knack of pre-empting events.

There were problematic countdown clocks (the real one stopped a day after its launch); security concerns (echoed by the G4S scandal); and bus drivers unable to find the stadium in east London (a coach carrying athletes from Heathrow subsequently took a long detour).

This merging of fact and fiction was described by London's mayor, Boris Johnson, when his autobiography was serialised.

"A large chunk" of the VIP party almost missed the opening ceremony in July, he wrote, as nobody had told the bus driver "with sufficient clarity where to exit from the A12".

"A sort of panicky hilarity took hold of me - an unreal sense that this was beyond anything dreamt up by [The Thick of It creator] Armando Iannucci or the satirical scriptwriters of Twenty Twelve."

'Age of austerity'

The potential consequences of another major real-life story, the economic downturn, were reflected in Downton Abbey, where the Earl of Grantham unexpectedly faced losing his estate through a risky investment.

Image caption Twenty Twelve starred Hugh Bonneville (centre), who was also heading the cast of Downton Abbey

Tying up his wife's fortune in the Canadian railways turned out to be a bad idea when the firm hit the financial buffers, and the threat of downsizing loomed large.

However, it was no surprise that the human cost of the recession became a plot on one of the country's highest-rated programmes, according to Radio Times editor Ben Preston.

"2012 has been a year characterised by big events and we now live in an age of austerity, which is affecting everyone," he says.

"We've seen scriptwriters grappling with the task of explaining this to people."

Programmes such as The Thick of It and Twenty Twelve were also reflecting reality, albeit "with artistic and comedic licence", Mr Preston added.

"One of the great geniuses of The Thick of It is that we live in a world where the line between politics and spin doctors and satire gets ever thinner."

Image caption Borgen sees a fictional Danish prime minister battling to keep her coalition government together

He believes comedy can be used to tell stories which although important to many people, may seem dull or worthy to others.

"If you look at the US election campaign, you saw The Daily Show was a source of a vast proportion of the under-30s' information," Mr Preston says.

"In a world of 24-hour news, it's only when someone as funny and sharp as [presenter] Jon Stewart gets hold of it that it starts to mean something to them."

January brings the second series of Danish drama Borgen, which follows Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg as she battles to maintain order within her coalition government.

The first episode sees her visiting her troops in Afghanistan - and so it seems TV's blending of fact and fiction is set to continue into 2013.

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