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Bremner, Bird and Fortune (1999-)

Main image of Bremner, Bird and Fortune (1999-)
Channel 4, tx. 17/10/1999 - present
Over 70 x 50 min editions to 2007, colour
Production CompanyVera Productions
ProducersGeoff Atkinson, Elaine Morris, Mark Robson
DirectorsGeraldine Dowd, Steve Connelly, Chris Fox, Sean Hardie, Steve Smith, Paul Wheeler

With: Rory Bremner, John Bird, John Fortune

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Impressions and sharp satire from Rory Bremner and the Two Johns

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In 2001, journalist Robert McCrum dubbed Rory Bremner the new 'leader of the opposition' on the British political scene. His collaboration with John Bird and John Fortune, Rory Bremner - Who Else? (C4, 1993-98), had cemented this reputation in its blurring of the gap between current affairs programming and comedy. Bremner, Bird & Fortune, its direct successor, has survived long enough to find renewed support at Channel 4, develop a powerful voice of dissent towards New Labour and engage with a whole new generation of viewers.

Whereas the list of contributors remained much the same, the change of title marked a promotion for 'The Two Johns'. The pair provided a link back to an earlier satirical generation, having delivered similar material at Peter Cook's Establishment Club in the 1960s as well as on BBC-3 (BBC, 1965-66). Even Bremner's detractors tend to have a fondness for their traditional weekly grilling of political worm George Parr.

Unusually, the creative team behind Bremner, Bird & Fortune do not talk of 'sketches' but 'stories', and hold to a steadfast refusal to sweeten complex issues. Bremner and his producer Geoff Atkinson regularly consult a wide variety of insiders, inviting MPs, advisors and journalists to define how various political activities connect together. Only by making sense of things, Bremner argues, can they make nonsense of them - often cruelly so - in monologues and conversational sketches.

Following a respite in 2000 - Bremner toured, making only three specials for Channel 4 - the series returned with a new sense of purpose. George W. Bush was now US president, and with a looming general election in the UK, series two left a bitter taste, caustic enough for its star to be banned from the Labour battle bus. A series of unsettling 'hidden camera' conversations between Tony Blair (Bremner) and Alastair Campbell (Andrew Dunn) were introduced, airing without a studio audience. Such elements became fixtures, as did dinner party conversations between Bird, Fortune and their fictional wives, played by Pauline McLynn and Frances Barber.

A strength of feeling against the war in Iraq has brought a new audience, and viewing figures have remained strong. As Bird explained in 2005, "people no longer see politics as something that simply happens to them." The team's reaction has been to take a more serious and purely journalistic tone in a run of Iraq-themed specials, as well as their best-selling 2004 book You Are Here.

Ian Greaves

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