On the impossibility of taking Michael Gove seriously: A Stab in the Dark

Michael Gove. You must know him, right?

No? Okay, well he’s a Tory MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. Look, here he is on Sunday’s The Politics Show:

Now, I have a problem with Michael Gove. No matter what he does, no matter where he goes, I will always remember him as being one of the three hosts, including David Baddiel and Tracey MacLeod, of Channel 4’s early 90s comedy/polemic show A Stab In The Dark.

No one who had anything to do with A Stab in the Dark should be an MP.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about A Stab in the Dark:

A Stab In The Dark was a British television programme of topical monologues and discussion screened on Channel 4 in 1992.

It was hosted by comedian David Baddiel, journalist and future Conservative MP Michael Gove and critic and television presenter Tracey MacLeod.

The monologues, often containing very dark humour, were delivered straight to camera by each host in turn before a small studio audience on a stark set with numerous staircases. Sometimes relevant guests were invited on to further or contradict a point, including Conservative MPs Jerry Hayes and Alan Clark.

One of the more memorable routines was Baddiel’s contention, in opposition to contemporary feminist orthodoxy, that the word “cunt” should be reclaimed as a term of abuse, and no longer be used to refer to female genitalia. His task was made harder by the fact that the producers would not allow him to say the word itself.

Basically, Baddiel did the comedy stuff, MacLeod did the cultural stuff and Gove did the political stuff.

What I’d like to add to Wikipedia’s contribution (and might do one day, it being Wikipedia) is that David Baddiel did what he always did on shows and recycled huge quantities of his stand-up act. When he ran out things to recycle – it being a weekly show – he ended up a little desperate. I seem to recall a five-minute long monologue in which he complained about one Asian model who kept appearing in all the same porn mags he ‘read’. As Tracey MacLeod put it afterwards, “I guess every boy needs a hobby.”

What Wikipedia also doesn’t mention was Michael Gove’s contributions to the programme. Most notable of these was Gove discussing with a senior member of the armed forces the fact that gay men weren’t then allowed to be soldiers. In something almost out of Brass Eye (I can’t help but think it’s what Chris Morris was thinking of when he wrote this sketch), Gove asked questions like, “Don’t you think gay men should be allowed in? They take better care of themselves, they have nice moustaches…”

As The Independent’s David Sexton wrote at the time:

Michael Gove, the third presenter, is a young Scotsman on the make, bumptiousness caricatured. Interviewing studio guests, he fearlessly repeats the same question over and over again, whether or not it has already been answered. This week it was the turn of Sir Rhodes Boyson, who argued that ordinary people know more about education than experts. ‘Sir Rhodes Boyson, an eminently ordinary man, thank you very, very much’, said Gove cheerily, signing off. His talents are real but misapplied – he might do better as a Jehovah’s Witness, or as an estate agent in this difficult market. Or he could argue the case for another series of A Stab in the Dark.

Needless to say, A Stab in the Dark didn’t go down at all well. Indeed, it was rumoured at the time that Channel 4 executives were going around wearing badges that read “I had nothing to do with A Stab in the Dark“.

It only got one series, it most definitely was not a “Lost Gem”, and it’s why I can’t take Michael Gove seriously. In case you missed it, here’s the only clip on YouTube – it’s mostly David Baddiel but Gove joins in at 6m30s with a piece in which he interviews an armed robber.

Now you can fail to take Michael Gove seriously, too.