A few weeks ago I was sat in a large canteen basking in the modicum of glamour that had been injected into my day. It may have merely manifested itself as a mediocre cappuccino at the BBC building (mediocre being as positive as I can be), but the company I was keeping more than made up for any beverage based shortcomings.
I was speaking to Laurence Howarth, a funnyman who writes funny things for Radio 4 as well as penning gags for a whole host of performers you would know and love. To be more specific, he recently penned a sit-com about arms dealers called Safety Catch. Now I know what you’re thinking, canned laughter and cartoonish characters are hardly the crucible in which an anti-arms trade ideology can be forged. Well you would be wrong.
The show takes a satirical sideswipe with a warts-and-all portrayal of the life of death merchant Simon McGrath, and raises a few ironic chuckles along the way. Though it may seem a strange topic to base a comedy show around, Laurence is keen to argue the case for raising awareness through a vector such as this. Some of the murkier aspects of the civil service were brought to rib tickling life in Yes Minister to popular and critical acclaim, and in my mind this is no different.
If you’ll forgive a small pinch of dramatic licence, Laurence presents a brutally honest account of a man attempting to reconcile the immoralities of his profession with the comfort and security it offers him. All the while he looks to his companions for rational criticism, from his career-obsessed mother happy with his financial security, to his cocksure colleague Boris, who serves as the mouthpiece of establishment thinking. Indeed the only character to take umbrage with his professional peccadilloes is his sister Judith, who works for Oxfam. Though she may huff and puff, she never really has it in her to blow her big brother’s house down.
Beneath the satirical one liners and skullduggery however, lies a human dimension to the story. Simon stands up as a cipher for a generation lost amongst a sea of browser screens and paper clips. He is so disconnected from what he does that he seeks to define himself through any other means possible and distance himself from complicity with his own reality.
I think this is really where the show strikes a personal chord, as many people feel this way about their occupation, and like Simon, are too comfortable or afraid to do anything about it. Picking such an abhorrent backdrop merely serves to magnify all of this, as well as raise awareness of what Laurence himself calls ‘one of the great human scandals’.
“I’d like to think in 200 years time we’ll look back on the arms trade as we look back now on slavery” he tells me, and by writing material like this he can only be speeding up the process. The second series of Safety Catch will be appearing in February next year on Radio 4 and I would highly recommend it as intelligent, thought provoking and riotously funny.