Mark Thomas has always been largely indefinable as an “entertainer”. Even sitting here now using this job title as a definition seems wholly wrong and doesn’t do adequate justice to his work. However he has always entertained me so to save time I will describe him in this instance thus. What he does seems to straddle the line between political activism and comedy. Comedic he undoubtedly is - emerging during the late 80’s and 90’s from the ashes of the ‘Saturday Night Live/Not the Nine O’clock News era’ of anti Thatcherism and Ben Elton (pre We Will Rock You days) - his shows and writing focused not only on taking the piss out of the main stream political classes but more importantly using investigatory journalism to dig deeper into the hypocrisies and injustices of some these individual’s actions and their dubious associated organisations. His work always made for riveting TV as Thomas never pulls any of his punches; confronting his subject matter full on. This was exemplified by his show Mark Thomas: Comedy Product, which ran from 1996 to 2002. I recall one memorable episode, when he exposed former Labour environmental minister Michael Meacher the author of the book Socialism with a Human Face (1982). Well he owned lots of houses, and probably still does, in London and Oldham and rented them out...for a lot of money.
Consequently I was very pleased to see recently that a new series(number 4) written and presented by Thomas in his usual stand up comedic style, called The Manifesto would be broadcast on BBC radio 4. In conjuncture with a stand-up tour and his book The People’s Manifesto (2010), the idea is to ask the general public what laws and policies should be introduced to best assist us in the times we live in. Broadcast in the manner of a stand up gig like most of his other work to date, episode one made for some laughs. The idea of using “Quantitative Easing” i.e. the printing of money, to stimulate the ailing economy, but instead of giving it to the banks which the government are currently doing, give it to people to spend. More comically suggested was give it to irresponsible people to spend it as quickly as possible, thus getting the economic wheels ‘a turning’ yet again.
As has often been his trademark Mark Thomas makes comments which are both funny and also in many cases profoundly accurate. Getting MPs to wear the sponsors of the companies and organisations who fund them, in a football strip style is another instance of this which I recall from his book. In many cases these MPs would really not want to be seen to be linked with the kind of corporations and organisations that they are funded by, and it would also seem hugely undemocratic due to the nature and stature of many them. This you can see would be a little embarrassing for them, to say the least, yet they are more than happy to accept their money.
As always Thomas goes for the jugular, so if you haven’t already, and like me are a stickler for a bit of political satire go and listen to Mark Thomas: The Manifesto. The first two episodes of the show are presently on the old ‘wireless’, or as it is more commonly known today the ‘iplayer’. I personally recommend this, and his similarly titled book The People’s Manifesto. Brave, funny, insightful and often just a bit silly; have a listen, have a read.