A Very British Coup – 1988 | Channel 4
Based on the novel by Chris Mullin, this political thriller stars Ray McAnally as the newly elected left-wing prime minister Harry Perkins, who soon finds himself up to his neck in conspiracy.
Harry Perkins, steel worker and trade unionist from Sheffield, becomes Prime Minister of the UK by an overwhelming majority, partly because of corruption and public disillusionment with the Conservative Party and financial institutions of the City of London. The IMF and the military and secret services of the UK (and USA) are unhappy with the non-nuclear and neutral aspirations of his party and are supported in their fears by nationalistic media moguls.
A Very British Coup (Channel 4, 1988) looks both to the past and to the future. Made after Labour's third successive election defeat in 1987, when the party was swinging to the right, the idea that a Labour government could be elected on a popular platform of public spending and anti-Americanism seemed extremely unlikely. Labour MP Chris Mullin's original novel was written in the late 1970s, a time which was already a fading memory for the population of Britain, who would not see another Labour government for nearly ten years.
In other ways it is utterly of its time, sharing a concern with the secret state and nuclear weapons with contemporary conspiracy thrillers Edge of Darkness (BBC, 1986) and Defence of the Realm (d. David Drury, 1985). State surveillance became an increasing concern for civil libertarians with the proliferation of computer databases keeping files on political activists.
The series' images of surveillance are striking: American agent Chambers (Erin Donovan) operates clunking reels of audiotape, while her British counterpart Fiennes' (Tim McInnerny) monochrome computer monitor is shot in close-up as names and numbers appear character by character. The look is laughably archaic, but at the same time clearly only the visible part of the iceberg of the unseen state.
Keith Allen's effective performance as Thompson, press secretary to charismatic Prime Minister Perkins (Ray McAnally), is more enjoyable for knowing that future ‘king of spin' Alastair Campbell – later to perform the same role for Tony Blair's popular and radical, but much more right-wing, Labour government – was one of the production's advisers.
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