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Last Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005, 17:24 GMT
Faces of the week
Faces of the Week

Our regular look at some of the faces which have made the news this week. Above are ARMANDO IANNUCCI (main picture), with REBEKAH WADE, DAVID BLUNKETT, THE DUCHESS OF CORNWALL and JERRY HALL. ARMANDO IANNUCCI

The man responsible for some of the best broadcast comedy in Britain, Armando Iannucci, is to become an Oxford University professor. He's to occupy the university's chair in broadcast media for the next academic year.

"It means doing four lectures a year on the subject of comedy, and even though the post is paid for from an endowment by Rupert Murdoch, I'll still be able to shaft The Sun, Sky and Fox TV if I want to", he smiles.

The last time Armando Iannucci was at Oxford University, he was studying for a doctorate on John Milton. His decision to abandon it in favour of a career in broadcasting was paradise found.

The man who had "always been the guy impersonating the teachers at school", was offered a job producing comedy programmes for Radio Scotland and has never looked back.

Armando Iannucci
Master of mirth: Armando Iannucci
His big break came after he moved to London and collaborated with Chris Morris on the BBC Radio 4's spoof news show, On the Hour.

Iannucci soon became the well-spring from which so much recent TV and radio comedy has flowed - Alan Partridge, The Day Today, The Saturday Night Armistice, Gash, and The Thick of It, to name but a few.

Today, Iannucci wears many different hats, those of comedian, writer, satirist, producer and talent scout.

Such is his stock with the BBC, that, last year, the Corporation gave him a two-year deal, with a "licence to stray" into new genres such as the arts and politics. "Trouser-watering" was how Iannucci described it at the time.

Satire

One of the fruits of this deal has been his production of The Thick of It, the second series of which has just gone out on BBC Four.

Set in the offices of the fictional Ministry of Social Affairs, the TV series satirises mercilessly the relationship between the government spin doctors and their hapless Secretary of State in the same way as Yes, Minister laughed at the interplay between the minister and his civil servant.

Chris Langham as Hugh Abbot MP in The Thick of It
No, Minister: Chris Langham as Hugh Abbot MP in The Thick of It
All done in that familiar, acutely-observed, deadpan style that has become Iannucci's trademark and which so influenced series like The Office.

"New Labour, in the guise of Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, has set new standards in putting style and presentation over policy", he explains. "It's perfect material for satire."

The "Campbell" character is played by Peter Capaldi who, coincidentally, shares Iannucci's Scottish-Italian roots. The pair both grew up in Glasgow and their parents would go dancing together.

Armando Iannucci's father, who ran a pizza parlour, was from Naples and died when his son was 17. His mother, also of Italian stock, was born in Glasgow where she ran a hairdressing salon.

"I don't know what influence my ancestry has had on me, but I do know that I feel neither fully Scottish nor fully Italian. If I'm at a ceilidh, I'm thinking 'what's all this about'? The same goes for an Italian wedding."

This may or may not explain why one of the hall-marks of Iannucci's comedy productions is the element of confusion. "I like to show things that appear natural but then go wrong. It's a reaction to the way people get categorised into class, race or whatever. I'm wary of the labelling process."

Alan Partridge at his Desk of Sport on The Day Today
Alan Partridge at his Desk of Sport on The Day Today
Armando Iannucci is expansive on the current state of British TV comedy which is suffering from falling audiences. He does not put this down to a decline in quality, but mainly to the fragmentation of TV in general with the onset of large numbers of digital channels.

This has resulted in the creation of smaller niche markets for comedies which can become cults. But, at the same time, he feels that the false perception has grown that mainstream comedy is, by nature, bland.

"I see no reason why the creative approach to niche comedies in which people like myself take on a variety of different roles, where ideas are developed during the production process from all quarters, can't be applied to a bigger audience.

" If you get the best writers, pay them well enough and pilot their work properly, there's no reason why you can't get good comedy aimed at large numbers of viewers."

His next project is to be a fake history programme looking back on the events of today from the year 2050. It's to be called Time Trumpet.

Judging from Armando Iannucci's past record, he's unlikely to blow it.


Rebekah Wade: Arrested
REBEKAH WADE

Fleet Street's own feisty "red-top", the carrot-haired editor of The Sun newspaper, Rebekah Wade, was arrested after allegedly assaulting her actor husband, Ross Kemp. Ms Wade, 37, was said to have given 41-year-old Mr Kemp, who plays EastEnders hard-man Grant Mitchell, a "thick lip", and was detained for eight hours at Wandsworth police station in London before being released without charge. He later shrugged-off the incident, saying: "It was a lot of fuss about nothing."

Moving on: David Blunkett
DAVID BLUNKETT

Following his resignation from the Cabinet, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, David Blunkett, is facing further allegations. It has emerged that, besides the controversy surrounding his dealings with the technology firm, DNA Bioscience, and two other companies, Mr Blunkett was late in officially disclosing speaking fees totalling up to 20,000 in the Commons' Register of Members' Interests. Beyond this, Mr Blunkett spent the evening following his resignation at dinner with Rebekah Wade (see left).

The Duchess of Cornwall: Mixed welcome
THE DUCHESS OF CORNWALL

Opinion in the United States is divided on the success of the Duchess of Cornwall's first official foreign tour with the Prince of Wales. Their eight-day visit has already included a star-studded party in New York and dinner at the White House. Though the normally reticent Duchess has impressed many of America's great and good, a poll has revealed that 81% of Americans said they were not "remotely interested" in the royal visit.

Ill: Jerry Hall
JERRY HALL

Jerry Hall has pulled out of the West End musical production of High Society citing glandular fever. The Texan-born star, and former partner of Sir Mick Jagger, had received some harsh reviews for her role as Mother Lord. Ms Hall was absent from the production for more than a week before confirming her departure, saying that she was under doctor's orders to have a period of complete rest. She first fell ill with glandular fever last year.

Compiled by BBC News Profiles Unit's Bob Chaundy




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