Hours after the seismic events at the High Court, which left the country’s legal, political and media establishments bamboozled, BBC1’s flagship debate programme Question Time sent for reinforcements.
Enter stage left, Huey Morgan.
The US Marine-turned-Fun Lovin’ Criminals singer-turned-DJ displays excellent taste on his 6Music programme. On Saturday, he followed ZZ Top’s Cheap Sunglasses with Al Green’s I Can’t Get Next To You, and played Freddie King, Black Sabbath & Justice.
On Thursday night, he offered an interminable story about Davie Crockett and a dig at the “popularism” of Donald Trump. That said, Morgan was certainly not the worst guest in the history of the show. He might not even have been the worst guest on the panel.
The main question about his appearance is whether a musician should receive an access-all-areas pass for Question Time.
Although Billy Bragg has appeared several times since 1999, the pop star on Question Time is a relatively recent phenomenon.
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In the middle of the last decade, the floodgates opened. We’ve had Adam Rickitt, Will Young (twice), Charlotte Church (twice), Fairground Attraction’s Eddi Reader, Deacon Blue’s Ricky Ross, Jarvis Cocker, the keyboard player from Runrig and a couple of appearances from Mick Hucknall.
Viewers seem to become even more vexed at pop stars than politicians’ views. The Blur bassist’s appearance in 2008 led to The Guardian’s Oliver Marre penning a piece, headlined “Alex James: a reason to withhold the license fee?” (No more than Mrs. Brown’s Boys, surely?)
For some of us, the randomness of a pop star on Question Time is one of the few things which might jolt the whole exercise into some semblance of watchability.
The reason Question Time is so popular on Twitter is that for years it was a prototype of Twitter. An echo chamber where individuals armed with strong opinions bark them loudly, shouting at others with the gall to disagree, and reinforcing the smugness of those who hold the same thoughts. No one changes their mind, no one learns anything. It is theatre for the self-righteous, with the audience often worse offenders for pomposity than the panel.
There are people who object to pop stars on Question Time on the basis they don’t know what they’re talking about. That a show which once featured Jeffrey Archer, Derek Draper, Piers Morgan and Camila Batmanghelidjh cannot be seen to lose any of its hard-won moral or intellectual authority.
This seems unfair. Asking John Lydon – the man who infamously sneered “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated” onstage – to go to Derby and sit next to Louise Mensch on a cold Thursday night to answer questions on politicisation of the banking system presents irony on a level undreamt by Alanis Morissette.
In 1998, The Beautiful South’s Paul Heaton looked as if he’d rather be in Rotterdam or anywhere than in Peterborough sitting behind the same desk as Virginia Bottomley and Richard Littlejohn. His discomfort made for some gripping viewing.
Last year, Brian May had to schlep up to Uxbridge with Tristram Hunt, Jeremy Hunt and Nigel Farage. It was unsurprising he should be the only guest to offer any element of surprise. None of the others asked why a referendum on the EU had been prioritised over one on fox hunting. It is a shame no one in the audience had the presence of mind to settle the mystery over why Mr. May’s colleague was really called “Mr. Fahrenheit”, but this is a small quibble.
Charlotte Church’s explanation of how to solve the problem of Syria, involving the three-pronged attack of dealing with ISIL, addressing climate change and “I don’t know really” was also must-see TV. Mainly for the facial contortions on former Daily Telegraph editor Charles Moore’s face as he strained to listen politely.
We live in an age where today’s pop stars are either secretive or beige about their political views. If Chris Martin, Florence Welch, Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith or Ellie Goulding were ever to appear on to Question Time, we might find out what those views are. Robbie Williams, whose last single poked fun at oligarchs, Morrissey who has just called Brexit “magnificent”, Lily Allen who once said “When famous people go on Question Time, I don’t think they ever come out of it well” – all would make the programme less formulaic. Or certainly more interesting than a Plaid Cymru representative, Yvette Cooper and Francis Maude straining to answer the “amusing” question in the last five minutes.
If none of this has convinced you, bear in mind that Question Time can also flush out political pretensions. Rickitt aspired to a safe Tory seat in Westminster when he appeared in 2006. By March 2007, he was in the cast of a New Zealand soap opera.