truth news

Damien, Gus, George, Dave and Sally . . . honest

Drop the Dead Donkey

- the Reawakening

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


This is not so much a trip as a holiday down memory lane. As a journalist in the 1990s Drop The Dead Donkey was unmissable viewing, almost a religion.

It’s outlandish characters were recognisable in any large newspaper office from those in charge spouting gobbledegook management speak, to the reporters who could knock out a 1,000 word eye witness piece on a riot full of quotes and scenes of horror, all without leaving the pub.

The reawakening is just that, rousing a classic TV comedy from the comfort of memory and giving it new life, if a rather greyer one these days, as the old GlobeLink team find themselves reassembled by Truth News, a new TV news station of dubious ownership with any similarity to GB News or indeed Truth Social surely being coincidental.

Thus, we have the new, and indeed old, CEO Gus, played as ever by Robert Duncan, still chasing ratings over serious news with his jumbled metaphors and pidgin management speak - what is a radio active ocelot by the way - now relying on dodgy algorithms and somewhat unintelligent AI as dubious allies. He is promising tomorrow's news, yesterday and as people no long believe the news states they might was well not believe made up news as real news.

And then there is ambulance chaser Damien, with his handy emotive icons of disaster – a teddy and a blood stained child’s shoe – all at the ready in his instant disaster bag. Stephen Tomkinson has even added to his doom and gloom persona in the role by ending up paralysed and in a wheelchair after a work accident.

Back running editorial, well in name at least, is George, the editor, at least that is what was on the contract. Back in the 90s he was a . . . well, a nervous wreck if we are honest, with a troubled home life and a severe case of hypochondria. Thirty years on and not a lot has changed apart from Jeff Rawle looking a little older, oh, and George has a girlfriend.

He is still, at heart, a real journalist, knowing what is news and what are the day’s real stories, but is too timid to argue for them. He also struggles to get his point across to the voice activated coffee machine . . .

It means the real editing, sorting out the car crash schedule thrown together by Gus and his AI and algorithms is done once more by Ingrid Lacey’s Helen – the assistant editor, again,  and the only member of GlobeLink and Truth with any organising ability – earning her the sobriquet Stalin.

Then there is Joy, with Susannah Doyle strutting her black leather clad stuff. We remember her as the rather weird personal assistant, the best Globelink ever had according to George.

She was sullen, cynical and snarled a lot, and had an upbringing and family that would create enough work for generations of psychiatrists and from a humble if angry past she returns as head of HR, which in her case becomes a sort of anti-personnel department, and a chance to get even and victimise anyone she had run ins with 30 years ago.

Victoria Wicks returns as the star news anchor Sally Smedley, at least she thinks she is. She is as right wing, snobby, empty headed, and desperate to promote her somewhat fading commercial image as ever, and still complains about everyone and everything.


Did Sally really say that?

And how could we forget Neil Pearson’s womanising, with a penchant for married women, gambling, drinking Dave. He’s given up drinking you know . . . really! . . . and gambling, and womanising(ish).

Dave is, well he has a secret or two to tell and he gets some of the best lines in a glorious script.

Into this madhouse,  played with commendable sanity by Kerena Jagpal, comes Rita, the weather girl woman, who doesn’t have the burden of having to carry a reputation from GlobeLink.

She is young, and as Gus points out, non-white (PC is not high on the agenda at Truth News with lesbian Helen and disabled Damien adding to Gus’s diversity tally - Sally is described as white and not young.), Rita, and it seems all the technical and other staff, are being paid in the hard currency of . . . experience.

Work experience can be a problem with techies as Sir Trevor McDonald was to discover to his cost at his televised interview.

Another newcomer is Julia Hills as ace investigative reporter Mairhead, who is investigating . . . it’s a shock when we find out, especially for George who could be having one of his turns. She once had a brief fling with Dave – which a probably a fairly common theme, and keeps her Emmy on her desk.

As far as audiences are concerned for aficionados of the original it is a delight, like the return of an old friend with all the bite and irreverence of the original. For those too young or who missed it first time around there enough laughs to keep you smiling and enough satirical references about the modern world, technology and AI to collect a new army of fans.

No one is safe, especially Sir Trevor - although the hospital did say he survived the electrocution and was now stable. The Pope and Sir David Attenborough took a hit, with Rish Sunak, Keir Starmer, Liz Truss and William Wragg having their moment along with The Post Office, Prince Andrew and a gentle mention of Angela Raynor and what we might describe as a sort of Sharron Stone moment.

It also had one of the funniest lines I have heard in ages delivered deadpan by Sally when referring to the Chinese President – its not often a line gets a round of applause purely for the wit involved – this did. 

The original was written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, and they have lost none of their scalpel like touch with this stage version helped enormously by the return of the original cast – something of a novelty of stage versions of sitcoms, particularly after 30 years.

There is a serious side as well among the laughs, the dangers of handing news gathering over to algorithms and artificial intelligence, and towards the end Damien makes a rousing speech about truth and journalism, declaring: “Honest journalism has power”.

The speech makes its serious point about the integrity and necessity of honest and unfettered journalism for a free and fair society – but point made, the writers break the serious moment with another shock and a sad moment.

The modern, trendy, media style set from Peter McKintosh, sets the tone while a huge screen hangs above the stage. We open with clips from the original with Damien and his teddy, then it is used for headlines and the inevitable wave of tweets, or Xs these days, with the script less than kind to the twitterati.

It is wonderfully acted with the cast seeming to enjoy is as much as the audience and there is a touching moment during the curtain call with photographs of late cast members, David Swift who played the veteran newsreader Henry Davenport and Haydn Gwynne, who died last year and played George’s second in command, Alex Pates. Gwynne, incidentally, won a posthumous Oliver for Best Actress in a Supporting Role this year for When Winston Went to War With the Wireless.

It might be nostalgia, but it is modern, bang up to date and brilliant comedy with bite. Directed by Derek Bond, and as long as Ofcom are kept in the dark, Truth News will be broadcasting to 20-04-24. 

Roger Clarke



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