IT IS the sort of tricky situation that Malcolm Tucker, the legendarily foul-mouthed spin doctor of political satire The Thick of It, would have used all his skills to avoid.
But the comedy character’s Scottish creator, Armando Iannucci, found himself drawn into a very public spat with former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell on Twitter yesterday, after Campbell criticised the veteran comedy writer and director for accepting an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
At one point, Andrew Neil, presenter of the BBC’s The Week in Politics show, was drawn into the exchange, questioning the wisdom of Iannucci’s acceptance of the award.
Campbell, rumoured to have been one of the inspirations for Tucker, started the argument when he invoked Tucker’s name to take a shot at the 48-year-old comedy writer’s decision to accept the award.
“So @AIannucci OBE joins the Establishment he claims to deride. Malcolm Tucker and I do not approve of honours system,” he tweeted.
Campbell has gone on record in the past as someone “opposed to honours” and who resisted efforts by both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to award him one in recognition of his efforts in helping to steer New Labour to three general election victories.
Within minutes, Iannucci shot back a withering retort worthy of his own comic creation: “@campbellclaret It’s probably more Establishment to order your army to march into other countries for no reason. Swings and roundabouts.”
Not to be outdone, however, Campbell’s reply was equally pointed: “@Aiannucci you see, your wit a bit tired and blunt already. Three little letters can have more impact than you realise. Tut tut.”
This elicited a tart, three-lettered response from Iannucci, “WMD” - a reference to Weapons of Mass Destruction, and claims that Campbell had ‘sexed up’ the Labour government’s famous dossier on Iraq’s said weapons.
The writer then withdrew from what he described as “this embarrassing awards business” tweeting: “I’m off for breakfast. Anybody coming?”
Iannucci had initially made light of his gong on Twitter, given to him for services to broadcasting, acknowledging congratulations from followers, including Chris Addison, who starred in The Thick of It, with a comment that “it was the most humble day of my life”. He added: “Everyone nominated joins an actual army squadron. I now have to salute Kate Winslet ( who was awarded an OBE). Gareth Malone (TV choirmaster and new OBE) and I drive a tank”.
However, Iannucci, whose credits include The Day Today, I’m Alan Partridge, Veep and the award winning film In the Loop, had said earlier that he felt “a bit guilty” about accepting the award: “I hope it’s not an attempt by the government to stop me because that’s not going to happen.”
But Campbell refused to accept his disclaimer, tweeting “That’s what we call spin.”
Just as the spat seemed to be subsiding, Neil pitched in with a comment directed at both parties. “Why would somebody who constantly parades their anti-establishment credentials accept such a bauble?” he asked.
To which Campbell replied: “There speaks a Scot in the BBC Establishment who, I suspect, would not take an honour. Am I right?”
Neil confirmed his suspicions, stating that he was “more right than you know”, adding: “Journalists should never accept honours from people we are supposed to be holding to account!!!”
Campbell finally let the matter rest with one last jab at Iannucci: “Sad to see CBE trending below O and M. Anyway, enough from me, off out.”