Long ago and far away in the England of the 1960’s television political satire was born. I was fourteen years old, precociously interested in current events, and allowed to stay up late to watch That Was The Week That Was. TW3 as it was known first aired on Saturday November 24th 1962. The star was a young David Frost and I was soon helplessly in love, my first big crush. The show was revolutionary. The hitherto staid and cautious BBC allowed open mockery of all the sacred cows of British life: Empire, Religion, the Monarchy, the Government, indeed anything considered part of the “establishment.” Harold MacMillan was Prime Minister at the time. In 1960 in South Africa he had delivered his famous “winds of change” speech acknowledging the thirst for independence sweeping that continent. Now he faced winds of change at home with the cultural upheavals of the 1960’s. That Was The Week That Was was in the vanguard of this cultural revolution. My fourteen year old self was unaware of this of course, but raised in a staunchly Labour Party home I found the irreverent lampooning of the Conservative government and the Monarchy quite thrilling.
TW3 always opened with the song That Was The Week That Was, each time with different lyrics commenting on the past week’s news and events. The singer was Millicent Martin, a perky blonde with an idiosyncratic voice and delivery well suited to the irreverent tone of the show. I was intrigued to find out that she had attended the same Catholic convent primary school as me, St. Mary’s in Romford. The show followed a variety show format with satirical sketches interspersed with musical numbers. One notable memory I have is of David Kernan singing September Song. He expanded my musical appreciation beyond the rock and roll broadcast by Radio Luxembourg, our only source for “pop” music at the time. TW3 only lasted for two years, but it paved the way for a golden age of political satire. Many of the show’s ensemble cast went on to become major names in British media, notably David Frost himself and Bernard Levin. Years later when I saw David Frost again on American television I wondered what my teenage self had ever seen in him!
I’m thinking of these memories now as I look back on 2017 and realize that, having seen the birth of modern political satire, I am now witnessing its demise. Year One of Trump is impossible to satirize; reality is satire. Is there anything any satirist could write that would outdo a Trump tweet? Trump has jumped the shark, or perhaps an entire shoal of sharks, into a world of absurdity all his own. You can see it in the lame attempts to sum up the past year in a humorous way. I have enjoyed reading Dave Barry’s annual review in the Washington Post in years past, often laughing aloud. But this year it falls flat, leaving a sour aftertaste. For there really isn’t anything funny about cruelty to the poor and sick, destructive narcissism, the casual threat of nuclear war, or any of the other shocks to the Republic wrought by this heedless president.
I think back to Millicent Martin singing “That was the week that was, it’s over, let it go.” May we let the year 2017 go, down the drain of history where it belongs.