Ian Monk: Laugh at in-jokes, but not too loudly

'We'll use the carrot-and-stick approach,' says the loathsomely funny Malcolm in the latest episode of BBC2's In The Thick of It. 'We'll take the carrot and shove it up... and then we'll take the stick and shove it up... '

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

It's a raucously good one-liner. Like much of the bitingly satirical script, it more than justifies the existence of the BBC's post-watershed hours for the creative use of vulgarity.

It's just a shame that the programme is about the only popular showcase for the PR business. Of course, it's a great in-house joke for the trade, chuckled at by all us professionally self-regarding media cognoscenti.

And for the armies of PR wannabes, it presumably sharpens the appetite for a life of presumed power, influence and money. It can only be a matter of time (and I may already be behind the times here) before the satire becomes a media studies module.

But, addictively enjoyable though it is, there must be a question about how much the cult show does to raise the stock of our trade among its consumer audiences.

Of course, were it simply some scriptwriter's flight of fancy, we could all laugh unreservedly. But it is no such thing. It is effectively a docu-comedy - closely based on the extraordinary exploits of the highest-profile British spin doctor of the millennium thus far. Its creativity lies in exaggerating and satirising the antics of the Alastair Campbell modus operandi - not inventing them.

And yet it does not even do members of the New Labour team professional justice. Surely for them, as for the rest of PR good practitioners, there must have been some hours of careful strategic planning.

Was it really ALL just coarse thuggery aimed at perverting the truth and diverting voters' attention?

As a TV entertainment show, the hard graft of intelligent thinking, analysis, careful nurturing of clients and media contacts would seriously lack punch. But it might just prevent our profession from being bracketed in public perception alongside estate agents, debt collectors and politicians.

The joke is on us and, of course, it is irresistible - as long as clients don't laugh too loudly.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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