Interview with Pete Sinclair (Writer of Newzoids, Spitting Image and Have I Got News For You)

I have been a fan of Have I Got News For You for a few years. I also loved the recent political puppet satire show ‘Newzoids’ (with voices by Jon Culshaw and Debra Stephenson.) I have even enjoyed old clips of the greatest political satire show of all time, Spitting Image. I was delighted when Pete Sinclair, who happened to have written material for all three shows, agreed to answer some questions for my blog. He really does pick up on the dull stereotypes of politicians and gives us something to laugh at!

Pete Sinclair

  • How important is it that young people take an interest in politics?

“I think it’s vitally important. The over 60s were the only age group in which the Tories beat Labour at the recent election – and yet they are the age group that turns out to vote in large numbers! That’s why I really disagreed with Russell Brand when he was saying that voting was a waste of time. On the other hand, I agree with him that politics is not just about parliament – for example, the Poll Tax was overthrown by a popular protest movement, not an election. I also understand the frustration felt by many young people who think that the three main parties in England have nothing that different to offer. They’re all pro-austerity for a start!

Worst of all, our ridiculous electoral system means that most people’s votes simply don’t count. We urgently need PR, so that everyone’s vote matters, and so that voting for smaller parties such as The Greens isn’t a wasted vote. If that was the case, I believe that young people – and other groups who don’t vote – would be more engaged with politics. I strongly believe that the voting age should be reduced to 16, especially now that there are fixed term parliaments. My twin sons are 17, so they won’t be allowed to vote in a general election until 2020. How can it be fair that they have no say on tuition fees until after they’ve had to take out a loan to pay them? Denying 16 and 17 year olds a vote is yet another self-interested anti-democratic ploy by the Conservatives.”

  • What is it like to write political satire comedy?

“It’s a good outlet for my frustration about issues such as the ones above! I passionately believe that a better world is possible, and I despair that the rich and powerful are able to use their wealth and privilege to further enrich themselves while so many people in the world are starving. So whether or not writing political satire changes anything (and the current state of the country tends to suggest it doesn’t!) it’s at least a form of release. Writing for shows like Have I Got News For You, Newzoids and Ballot Monkeys is certainly a very enjoyable way to make a living – and it’s enormously satisfying if a joke or a sketch that you write gets a good laugh or is well received when it goes out.”

  • What was your favourite thing you wrote for Newzoids?

“I was very proud of Newzoids, and I really hope that it gets a second series. It certainly seemed to go down well on Twitter and other social media, which I thought was very encouraging, especially as Spitting Image will always be such a hard act to follow. The one thing I say to anyone who compares Newzoids unfavourably to it, is to remember that they’re comparing it to the highlights of ten whole years of Spitting Image, which is all that we remember these days. At its best it was brilliant – but a typical episode contained plenty of duff sketches. I should know – because I wrote some of them!

I was pleasantly surprised that ITV allowed (and indeed encouraged) us to be so hard-hitting on Newzoids. One of my favourite sketches (which I co-wrote with the other writers on a topical day) was this one, which has David Cameron boasting to Jeremy Clarkson about how badly he can treat people and still get voted in by them… )

I was also very fond of my Nigel Farage song (music by Richie Webb)…” )

16 Newzoids-0978.psd

  • What was your favourite thing you wrote for Spitting Image?

“Ah hah – now you’re testing my memory! I can’t believe it was 25 years ago that I was writing for Spitting Image. Anyway, as with Newzoids, a lot of the topical sketches tended to be team written, so it’s hard to claim some of my favourites as my own. But there is one song that I co-write with Dave Cohen that stands out for me. It was a parody of Walk On By, and it went out in the week that Margaret Thatcher resigned. It’s one of things I’m most proud of in my career to date…” )