Hugh Dennis interview
Hugh Dennis is currently starring in the new election-comedy, Ballot Monkeys. Written by Drop the Dead Donkey and Outnumbered creators Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton, the show is written close to transmission and sees Dennis star alongside Ben Miller and Sarah Hadland.
What drew you to Ballot Monkeys?
I know Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin of old, having worked with them for many years on Outnumbered. They’re one of the reasons why I am where I am today. I’d trust them with my life. They’re always brilliant, but this is a particularly brilliant idea of theirs. I suppose it’s a bit of a leap of faith because it’s going to be filmed at the very last minute. But when Andy and Guy ask you do something, you just do it.
What makes Andy and Guy especially gifted?
For a start, they’re superb writers. They just know how to create a natural phrase. Nothing ever seems forced in their writing. You’re never made to say something your character wouldn’t say. If any line seems too much of a crowbar, they throw it away. They’re massively un-precious and quite prepared to put something in the bin if it hasn’t reached the required standard.
How would you describe your character?
It’s a good opportunity for me to play against the Outnumbered type. Martin Frost is slightly crosser than Pete. Martin is in charge of the Tory bus. Unfortunately, the people he meets on the road don’t realise he’s in charge because he doesn’t have a naturally commanding demeanour. That is a source of irritation for him, but he accepts it with an air of annoyed resignation. And no, I’m not basing him on anyone from real life.
Are you nervous about filming on the day of transmission?
Yes. You’d be mad not to be nervous about this. But the people who are truly terrified are the producers and channel controllers. If we don’t make the episodes long enough, they’ll just have empty space on Channel 4. If it goes wrong, I won’t be the one carrying the can – unlike Martin!
Do you think this election will provide you with a lot of material for Ballot Monkeys?
Yes, because it’s going to be such an interesting election. In previous elections, you knew that we’d have a Tory or a Labour government. But this time no one’s going to win outright. They will be horse-trading for months. The whole model has altered, which is a good thing. It’s re-energised the process. Before the TV debate with the seven leaders, I wasn’t sure about it. But it was actually good because now no leader can automatically assume voters are on their side. That will make politics better.
Do you feel cynical about British politics?
Sometimes I do think that politicians are only in it for themselves, but actually as I’ve got older I’ve started to feel less cynical about them. That’s because we live in a system where if a politician spends 82p on a bathplug, he’s pulled up for it and it becomes a national press story. Whereas in Indonesia President Suharto walked away with $8 billion and no one said anything. So politics is much more controlled in this country, and many politicians are driven by a desire to perform a public service. Also, if they were all cynical, it wouldn’t be as funny. You also need politicians who are idealistic. You always have to find the opposite for the sake of comedy.
Finally, would you ever fancy becoming a politician yourself?
No! Increasingly, I think, ‘Thank God some people are willing to go into politics because I’m not!’
Ballot Monkeys airs on Tuesdays at 10pm on Channel 4.