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A post that would have been a million times as funny

…if I could find the right bloody sketch on YouTube. First I thought it was “Negotiations” from Not The Nine O’Clock News, but it wasn’t. My goodness, they wouldn’t allow the line at 1:30 nowadays, would they? Sticking with Mel and Griff, I then tried “The Union Man” with no better success. The sketch about Gerald the Gorilla was always a long shot.

Nope. Just couldn’t find it. It’s the one where there’s this meeting between the leaders of the different unions, the TUC or whatever they called it, and they are having a break and someone says, “tea or coffee?” and one of the blokes says, “let’s vote on it” and so they vote and tea gets more support, only the bloke who wants coffee has a block vote of three million when the all the ones who wanted tea together only added up to two million or something like that or vice versa. That one.

Look, back in nineteen whaty-whatever it was quite surprising to see anyone on TV mocking the trade unions. All the luvvies were lefties even then.

Anyway, I thought of that sketch when I saw this story pop up in the Guardian:

One million students join calls for vote on Brexit deal

Student organisations representing almost a million young people studying at UK universities and colleges are today joining forces to demand a referendum on any final Brexit deal, amid growing fears that leaving the EU will have a disastrous effect on their future prospects.

Predicting a young people’s revolt over the coming months, student unions – representing 980,000 students at 60 of the country’s leading universities and colleges – are writing to MPs in their areas this weekend, calling on them to back a “people’s vote” before a final Brexit deal can be implemented.

Student leaders said last night that they were planning action that would dwarf protests held in 2010 against the coalition government’s plans for student fees, and that they would not rest until they had been granted a say on their futures.

That’ll be one million for coffee then.


Breaking news: I am adding this clip of a random guy supporter of Zheremy Corbyn interrupting the current UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest to shout, “Nazis of the UK media, we demand freedom!” because it is very important.


Edit: Hat tip to Patrick Crozier who found the relevant Not the Nine O’Clock News episode here. The block vote sketch in question starts at 8:00. The actual result of the vote was five hands raised giving one and a half million votes for tea, outvoted by Mel Smith’s five million votes for coffee.

24 comments to A post that would have been a million times as funny

  • They need a letter sending out to them reminding them that the vote was already held in 2016.

    These are the sort of students who (before the days of recording lectures) would turn up to my office a few days after the lecture saying they’d been ‘away’ (which usually meant they’d been in the bar, or on a skiing trip, or something like that) so can I give them my lecture notes?

  • The interrupter was a Corbynista.

  • The sketch the OP had in mind goes as follows (from memory).

    Mel: “Well comrades, I think we’ve done good work this morning. We deserve a break for tea or coffee. Which will it be: tea?”

    The other four in the meeting all raise their hands. Mel counts the hands.

    Mel: “That’s one million, two hundred and fifty thousand for tea, and …”

    Mel raises his own hand, then glances up as if surprised to see it.

    Mel: “… oh, five million for coffee. Coffee it is then, comrades.”

    Meanwhile, in Britain today, some 1000 students or less voted to demand a Brexit re-vote while 979,000 students they ‘represent’ had no say.

  • bobby b

    We have those same student “leaders” over here.

    If you tell them that Trump represents their views because he won the election, you can watch their heads explode.

  • RAB

    Perhaps we have to look back as far as the late fifties for proper Union satire. Arthur Scargill thought I’m Alright Jack was a documentary.

  • Tom Stoppard’s play Night and Day (1978) is only three years or so before the OP Not the Nine O’Clock News sketch and includes very pointed (and accurate) observations on the UK’s journalists’ union.

  • Snorri Godhi

    The way i see it, Brexit is unavoidable once Article 50 has been invoked. A referendum rejecting a Brexit deal between the EU and the UK would mean Brexit without a deal. (Lawyers here might want to clarify that.) Many people might be happy about that, but not the student “leaders”, i expect.

  • Paul Marks

    Corbyn supporting Brownshirt thug calling other people “Nazis” and saying he wants “freedom” (which is exactly what he wants to DESTROY).

    And “block vote” Student Union and Guardian.

    Not good.

  • Patrick Crozier

    The way I remember it, block votes were never that important until Labour had a special conference in 1980 or thereabouts after which the people who would later found the SDP left. It was again important in the subsequent deputy leadership election between Dennis Healey and Anthony Wedgwood Benn. So, any sketch pretty much has to be in the 1980/1 period which – again – IIRC was well before Alas Smith and Jones got going.

  • Patrick Crozier

    Right. The sketch in question appears to have been first broadcast on 10 November 1980.

    The Special Conference took place in January 1981.

    The Labour Deputy Leadership election took place in September 1981.

    So obviously block voting was widely known about before the conference and election in question. To do with voting at Labour Party conferences perhaps?

  • Patrick Crozier

    Found it. Sketch starts at 08:00

  • Stephen K

    Many thanks for this, it was marvellous.

  • Mr Ed


    As an aside, move on to 8′ 56″ on that show (the next talking sketch starts just after that) and you get a horribly prescient mickey-take on a fake ‘Girl Band’ pertinent to other discussions here. It would NOT be shown today on TV.

    Back OT, in the 1970s and early 1980s, the TUC Conference took place in the Autumn sandwiched between the political parties’ conferences and were televised on the BBC, effectively crowding out anything else on the news, the tedium was notorious. Richard Littlejohn has some reminiscences from that time in a 2010 column here.

    And here are some telling exchanges from Hansard in February 1979 in the dying days of the Labour government, showing the state of debate and giving no hint that Mrs Thatcher would start off by following Labour’s plans.

    §Q1. Mr. Tebbit asked the Prime Minister when he expects next to meet the Trades Union Congress.

    §The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan) I met representatives of the TUC at a meeting of the National Economic Development Council yesterday and further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

    §Mr. Tebbit Is the Prime Minister aware that in his dealings with the TUC, if he stands by his brave words of last night that present pay offers in the public sector disputes are pretty well the limit, he will have the support of all Opposition Members, even if he cannot command the support of members of his own party? Will he further remind the TUC, on the subject of reform of the law on picketing and the closed shop, that opinion polls show that it is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and not the TUC, who speaks for the trade unionists in this country?

    and further on, with a bit of emphasis added by me. 😉

    §Mrs. Thatcher Will the Prime Minister discuss with the trade union movement today’s rise in interest rates? Is he not aware that an increase in interest rates to 14 per cent. is a potential disaster for home buyers? Is it not the case that mortgage rates are already higher than at any time before 1974 and that it is the home buyer and the small business who are having to pay the price for the Government’s economic failure?

    §The Prime Minister I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for spelling out some of the consequences of the policy she has been advocating. Perhaps she will now give me greater support in the Government’s determination to keep inflation down and to achieve moderate wage settlements as a means of so doing and to ensure that the degree of uncertainty about the level of wage settlements, which is partly responsible for the increase in the minimum lending rate, is put at an end. I would be very happy to have her support on those matters.

    §Mrs. Thatcher Is the Prime Minister aware that if he wishes genuinely to get down inflation, he must get down Government borrowing? The real reason for the increase to 14 per cent. is the high amount of borrowing which this Chancellor has been doing and his declared intention to increase that borrowing by a further 2½ per cent. next year.

    §The Prime Minister The right hon. Lady is, as so often, partly right. The level of Government borrowing clearly influences the level of interest rates. The level of Government borrowing in this country is about on a par with that of a number of other major industrial countries as a proportion of our gross domestic product. It would be helpful if we could reduce it, but I prefer that it should be done not by cutting public expenditure but by increasing economic growth, which would give us additional revenue.

    §Mrs. Thatcher If the Prime Minister is so anxious to reduce Government borrowing, will he withdraw the present White Paper on public expenditure?

    §The Prime Minister The present White Paper, which provided for a modest increase of 2 per cent., was generally regarded as a sensible approach to these matters. The right hon. Lady has no need to adopt a hectoring tone about this. But the uncertainties of the present pay situation, including the high additional cost that would result from meeting some of the claims being put forward in the public sector and in the public services—whether in the local authorities or the Civil Service—or some of the other claims, would mean, if carried through, that we would have to review total Government expenditure and the borrowing requirement. There can be no escape from that.

  • CaptDMO

    Am I missing the part where the “union” reps, claiming to “represent hundreds of thousands” with their letter, are siply told…
    “We’re sorry, your votes are not being solicited in this matter at this time. As students, by definition, you are still learning.

  • Rob Fisher (Surrey)

    “representing”. Pretty sure I only joined the student union to get cheap beer.

  • Patrick Crozier (May 13, 2018 at 9:45 pm), thanks for letting me check my fallible memory. I see it was ‘one million five hundred thousand’, not ‘one million two hundred and fifty thousand’ who wanted tea. Like everyone else who saw it when it was shown, I knew the sketch was about the unions. That must be why my memory added the word ‘comrades’ at appropriate points in the sketch.

    While some of the half-hour episode needs you to remember the news and entertainment of the day, much of it stands the test of time. Mr Ed notes the hilariously PC interview of the ‘girl’ band (members Griff, Mel and Rowan). Also relevant are all the sketches showing how Reagan then was treated as is Trump now.

  • miker22

    My local news (ITV News Anglia) covered the Eurovision incident this evening (14th), including an interview with the singer who was slightly injured. Not once did they mention that the protester was a Corbyn supporter.

  • Mr Ed

    Pretty sure I only joined the student union to get cheap beer.

    Pretty sure I only joined the student union because it was automatic that students were ‘enrolled’ in a Students’ Union, and some money was paid to the Union for my membership from taxpayers’ money regardless of my wishes.

    Mrs Thatcher did sod all to change that, the feeble appeasement of her approach remains. At the time, the Sage likened the University catering and the Student Union catering to the USSR and the State Farm vs. the Collective Farm, both foul but one revelled in its foulness.

  • Mr Ed (May 14, 2018 at 8:38 pm), in Edinburgh, we got rid of our student’s union in my first year. I can claim no credit: three-years-older and wiser heads, by careful planning, let the usual suspects arrange a referendum on whether to belong to a UK union or a Scottish union. At the last moment, they slipped in a third option – no union at all – and the usual suspects, being comically ignorant of how they were regarded by the rest of us, did not work hard enough to remove it again. The usual suspects then held three more referenda in a year (EU style) but the no-union-at-all vote just kept getting larger in both % and absolute size till eventually an absolute majority of the student body voted (for the first time ever in any UK university IIRC), after which the usual suspects were compelled to stop trying.

    I then went to Oxford. If I was a member of a student union at Oxford, I was blissfully ignorant of the fact.

  • Here you go:

    You just have to have a knack for that sort of thing.

  • Bruce

    Not the Nine O’clock News??

    Best series-ending song – EVAH?


  • Rich Rostrom

    outvoted by Mel Gibson’s five million votes for coffee.

    Um, I doubt that it was Mel Gibson… I haven’t seen the program (I am a Yank and it has never been shown over here that I know of).

    But I checked IMDB, which sez Gibson was never on NtNO’CN, but one of the show’s regulars was Mel Smith.

    [Oops! Thanks for pointing that out, I’ll correct it now. – NS]

  • Runcie Balspune

    Block voting was actually part of Labour policy decisions during their conferences, until Blair got rid of it, that was probably before most students were born.

    This is another narrative stealing initiative, the assumption is that leaving the EU is somehow “bad”, whereas staying in the EU is never considered “bad”, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the main reason why people voted against it. You wouldn’t consider “one million” students worried that the government is going to cock it up and they remain in the EU after all which might adversely affect their future, it’s always that leaving is “bad” and staying is “good”.

  • Rob Fisher

    All those Reagan jokes. Nothing really changes.