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Are the comedians starting to see sense about climate alarmism?

Plebs is a sitcom set in ancient Rome. They showed the sixth and last of (the first?) six episodes of it last night on ITV2 TV, and they’ll be showing this again tonight.

I’ve been recording Plebs. In the opening scene of this latest episode, the three leading characters, Marcus (who wants to be more successful while still being nice about it, the voice of concerned normality), Stylax (more of a Jack the Lad type), and Grumio (their slave), are out and about in the town, watching the ancient Roman version of the media, i.e. people orating and/or selling in the market place.

Mad Soothsayer Woman: “The seas will rise up and drown the people living in the lowlands …”

Doughnut Salesman: “Doughnuts!”

Mad Soothsayer Woman: “… and the sun shall beat down and burn all those people living in the hills!”

Doughnut Salesman: “Doughnuts!”

Mad Soothsayer Woman: “And those people living on the lands that are neither high nor low will also die through a combination of burning and drowning! None of you are safe! The end is nigh!!!”

Doughnut Salesman: “Come get your doughnuts!”

Stylax: “So, when’s the world ending?”

Grumio: “I dunno, I were listening to that doughnut guy.”

Marcus: “Nigh, apparently.”

Stylax: “Alright, nigh. Hang on, doesn’t that mean soon?”

Marcus: “To the people that say it, it means soon. To everyone else it means you’re a nutter, talking shit.”

Grumio: “I’m going to get a doughnut just in case.”

Sam Leifer and Tom Basden, the two man team who wrote, produced and directed Plebs, are either climate non-alarmists themselves, or at the very least they reckon that a lot of us now are, and that we’re ready for comedy which takes the piss out of our mad soothsayer tendency.

My original title for this was: “Are the plebs starting to see sense about climate alarmism?”, but I reckon our plebs have been sussing this out for quite a while now. Britain’s telly comedians are following public opinion on this rather than shaping it. Until a couple of years ago or so, they were constantly going on about how stupid climate non-alarmists were. Then they went quiet on the subject. Are they beginning seriously to see sense?

13 comments to Are the comedians starting to see sense about climate alarmism?

  • SC

    When you’re writing a comedy about ancient Rome those sort of scenes write themselves. Even if you’re not a climate skeptic you kind of don’t have much choice, once you take that sort of historical perspective then (as long as you’re not already a true believer) the rationality of skepticism forces itself upon you. And the comic potential on offer is hard to ignore. (Although the use of ‘nutter’ and ‘sh*t’ suggests that the writers are *very* unimpressed with climate alarmism).

    Pretty average and predictable show, though. I watched one episode early on, that was enough. Or has it improved?

  • PeterT

    Not necessarily. If asked whether the piece they wrote was meant to make fun of AGM alarmists they might say ‘oh no; AGM is based on science’.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Brian, do you watch enough British TV comedy to judge whether there is a any consistent difference between the BBC and ITV in the attitude to alarmism as revealed in the comedy?

    As I’m sure you recall, though it may be unfamiliar to some Samizdata readers, back in 2006 a tranzi charity/advocacy organisation called the International Broadcast Trust hosted a seminar for the BBC, following which the BBC announced that:

    The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus [on anthropogenic climate change].

    As described in this post a blogger called Tony Newbery tried to use the FoI to make the BBC reveal who the “best scientific experts” at this seminar were. He failed in his bid, but another blogger called Maurizio Morabito found out anyway by some inspired guessing and use of the Wayback Machine.

    Among the list of attendees (which was heavy on activists and light on scientists) was John Plowman, BBC Head of Comedy. To see what on earth he was doing there, look at the Background Paper issued for the seminar that Maurizio Morabito pulled out of the Wayback Machine. It said:

    The International Broadcasting Trust (IBT) has been lobbying the BBC, on behalf of all the major UK aid and development agencies, to improve its coverage of the developing world. One of the aims is to take this coverage out of the box of news and current affairs, so that the lives of people in the rest of the world, and the issues which affect them, become a regular feature of a much wider range of BBC programmes, for example dramas and features

    And comedy, evidently. That was the idea anyway, and the snippets of BBC comedy that I hear on the radio suggest BBC comedians are mostly on board, although I doubt very much if it is a matter of suitable jokes about stupid deniers being written in by the bosses. Far more it is because the BBC is just much more likely to hire left wing comedians and comedy writers. To be fair, there is sometimes a whisper of right wing comedy (libertarianism is not even on the radar) on Have I Got News For You. But I don’t so much watch that as sometimes be in the same room when it is on, so I can’t speak of trends.

    Does anyone have any observations on BBC vs ITV? ITV, of course, is free of the BBC’s official link to the state, although the state has its paws into all the TV channels in various ways.

    Related question: What about British vs American comedy?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    I should have said in my previous comment that the 2006 seminar at issue focused on “climate change and its impact on development”, so the mention of taking “this coverage out of the box of news and current affairs” did relate specifically to climate change.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Can anything save this comment thread from a catastrophic rise in the level of comments from me?

    I just remembered and searched for this post of yours from 2010 Global warming: another straw in the cold wind?

    And just to show how seriously they are taking it on the other side of the hill, from yesterday’s Guardian, I present George Monbiot with his much-loved tragedy: This faith in the markets is misplaced: only governments can save our living planet

  • SC

    >Not necessarily. If asked whether the piece they wrote was meant to make fun of AGM alarmists they might say ‘oh no; AGM is based on science’.

    Well, it would be silly to write such a scene if that’s what you felt about AGM, given
    that viewers are obviously going to interpret it as being a reference to AGM. But yes, some writers are that silly, so it’s possible. Like I said, making fun of soothsayers is par-for-the-course with this sort of historical comedy, so they may have written it on auto-pilot without thinking too much about it. But I doubt that myself.

  • Tedd


    I watch a lot of British TV, for a colonial. But I tend to watch older shows that are on Netflix, so I’m not up to speed on the current zeitgeist. I wonder, though: could the IBT have something to do with all the aid-for-Africa type comedy that Ricky Gervais has done?

  • Julie near Chicago

    For those who think people are not still drunk with the glories of the latest version of Doomsday, a.k.a. Warble Gloaming Hysteria, this piece by Stanley Kurtz (author of Radical-in-Chief) should disabuse you.


    The first paragraph of ” What’s the Matter With Vassar?”:

    By Stanley Kurtz
    April 4, 2013 9:53 AM

    “A sad and at times bizarre story out of Vassar shows how profoundly troubled America’s colleges now are. The campus fossil-fuel divestment campaign that’s swept across the nation over the past few months has intensified the atmosphere of leftist indoctrination now typical of many schools, turning classic notions of education as the free exchange of ideas into a distant memory. In the blink of an eye, fossil fuel producers have been turned into the equivalent of apartheid enforcers, while the Occupy movement has risen from the dead to become a free-ranging campus mob.”

    Please do Read the Whole Thing.

  • AndrewWS

    I find it interesting that there was also a slave called Grumio in the Cambridge Latin Project stories from which I learned Latin back in the 70s. I presume the writers did too.

  • Watchman

    Comedy is not naturally the friend of the establishment – it works better poking fun at it. So when something becomes establishment, it starts to be the butt of jokes, because people know it exists so have a common reference point. The reason so much comedy is left-wing is that a relatively right-wing economic (if not social) position has held sway in the UK for over thirty years, and therefore those making jokes are outside this (remember that during the 60s and 70s comedy was much more economically right-wing, if socially illiberal, in response to the general consensus on collectivist ideology that was the establishment). So if global warming is now a part of establishment thought (it is…) then comedy will start to appear to challenge it.

    So I am not sure we can say that this reflects a fall in support for action on global warming (I am not sure there ever really was support – just a general sounds reasonable from people who only later realised this would involve sacrifices), so much as a recognition that global warming hysteria is very establishment. It is however a good sign – a good cause is hard to defeat (try beating Children in Need in favour of small charities that do something for example) but an establishment view is easy to defeat if public opinion shifts against it – and public opinion was never for AGM, just not aware of what it meant.

    This also explains why this is on ITV – it is currently the least establishment of the terrestial UK channels (because it has to reflect public opinion and audience desire more to get advertising).I would like to be able to link in the fact that this also explains why ITV’s output recently has been far better than BBC’s but I think that may be a leap of logic too far…

  • SC

    I’ve now seen this episode. Just from the tone of it I’d have to say that taking it as a criticism of AGW is probably wishful thinking. Just seemed like boilerplate ‘laugh at the soothsayers’ stuff that is obligatory for this sort of historical comedy.