Trends in political television fiction in the UK: themes, characters and narratives, 1965-2009

2013-10-28T14:34:24Z (GMT) by Liesbet van Zoonen Dominic Wring
British television has a long tradition of broadcasting ‘political fiction’ if this is understood as telling stories about politicians in the form of drama, thrillers and comedies. We identify and discuss three genres in which UK political TV fiction has been shaped throughout the decades: comedy, thriller and drama. We examine the characters, themes and narratives in these genres and assess whether they invite political engagement from their audiences. Across time and genre, the main characters turn out to be mostly plain men of uncertain age – around 40 or over – somewhat grumpy, somewhat clumsy and hardly ever in full control of their situation. The dominant themes across time and genre link closely to these types of main characters: in most thrillers they are overwhelmed by sinister outside forces or inside political machinations. The narrative of the political machinery that exerts its inescapable corruption over all individual politicians runs strongly through the three genres across the whole time period. A further similarity across time and genre is that most series are firmly linked to real-life politics. It is this particular aspect that produces their potential relevance for affecting people’s political understandings, judgements and engagement.