The one-off comedy drama ‘Hacks’ by Guy Jenkin, one of the writers of Outnumbered and Drop The Dead Donkey, was shown on Channel 4 on New Years Day and was a pleasant surprise.

A spoof of the News of the World hacking scandal story, it used a mixture of real-life names and events with made up ones. So Hacks was set in a Sunday newspaper called The Sunday Comet edited by a young female called Katherine Loy played by Claire Foy (who was in fact a bit TOO young for the role). The owner of the newsgroup was an Australian called Stanhope Feast, his son had glasses and an American accent and lived in the shadow of his father, and his wife was called Ho Chi Mao Feast. The Scottish Prime Minister (Gordon Grey) was replaced by David Bullingdon (played by Alexander Armstrong) whose wife was called Samantha. There were mentions of Tony and Cherie, Princess Diana and a Ginger Prince, Sienna Miller and Hugh Grant.

The Sunday Comet was found guilty of phone-hacking after the Ginger Prince realised that his voicemails were being listened to by their royal correspondent (played by Celia Imrie) rather like the News of the World had been discovered. Russ Abbot played a corrupt Police Inspector who let it slide, as did the politicians who were all eager to please the Murdoch character. However, the story escalated when a soap star realised that his phone has also been hacked and had to be settled out of court. This all led to a parliamentary hearing chaired by Stella Gonet where instead of a ‘most humble day of my life’ moment, Stanhope Feast bowed down in Japanese fashion to indicate his humility. He was then attacked by a spray rather than by a custard pie, and his wife attacked the attacker in comedic vampiric fashion. The female Rebekah Brooks character resigned but was sent to prison and the Sunday paper closed down, but not before exposing everyone such as the Feasts, the PM, and their own staff.

It was nice to see Nigel Planer again, so soon after his turn as Peter Mandelson in The Comic Strip Presents: The Hunt for Tony Blair. This time Planer was playing the role of deputy editory of the Sunday Paper. Kayvan Novak had a very funny role basically utilising his Fonejacker part to ring people up pretending to be Prince Philip/Gordon Brown/Desmond Tutu to elicit private information. There was a young intern who sounded a lot like Martine McCutcheon and who was the one who ultimately brought down the paper and then became editor of The Sun. And it ended with Stanhope Feast, abandoned by his young wife and son, railing against the British public because, after all, they had lapped up all the gossip and scandal his  Sunday newspaper had been peddling for so long.

The programme began and ended with a disclaimer saying that all the characters and story were fictitious and yet it played a fine line. Obviously it could not have been as absurd as some moments were if it had based everything on the real characters. And yet, it might as well have.

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