A Five Pint Philosopher With Little To Say: John Lydon On Question Time

He might be famous for being outspoken, but the ex-Sex Pistol brought very little to the table during his appearance alongside Louise Mensch...
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He might be famous for being outspoken, but the ex-Sex Pistol brought very little to the table during his appearance alongside Louise Mensch...

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Special guest stars. Dramatic showdowns. Breath-taking cliff-hangers. There are all sorts of great tricks that TV producers can pull to get the viewers tuning in for the final episode of a long-running series. However, with the recent shake-up of the BBC, it seems as though some of those rules that usually govern the drama department have been applied to the factual team, as Question Time ended its summer run with the promise of an explosive finale.

Poor old Ed Davey, Dominic Lawson and Alan Johnson were pretty much relegated to supporting roles, as the stars of the show were clearly John Lydon and Louise Mensch. But anyone expecting a knock-down, drag-out battle to the death will have been sorely disappointed. Maybe the announcer raised our expectations unreasonably by gravely intoning that “tonight’s programme features some strong language.” As it was, all we got was one twat. Saying the word ‘twat’.

As much as I wanted to cheer on John Lydon, bringing his anarchic idiosyncrasies to panel of stuffed shirts, the reality was somewhat anticlimactic. When he wasn’t putting the world to rights with all the wit and insight of a five-pint philosopher, he was pausing to say ‘right?’ after every five words. As though the astonishing clarity of his wisdom was in danger of losing us, unless he constantly checked that we were able to keep up. The one stand-out moment of his appearance, was referring to the Barclays rate-fixing as “shenanigans” – as though cheating the country was akin to a pair of hapless removalists trying to get a piano up a flight of stairs.

 When he wasn’t putting the world to rights with all the wit and insight of a five-pint philosopher, he was pausing to say ‘right?’ after every five words

Like a cross between the haughty Pandora Braithwaite, and Sylvestra Le Touzel in that classic Heineken ‘elocution’ ad, Mensch sighed, rolled her eyes, and flicked her hair melodramatically throughout the hour, as though she was in the early stages of demonic possession. To be honest, I was surprised that she managed to last the full sixty minutes, since a hearty exchange of views isn’t really her bag. I half expected her to secede from the panel half-way through and announce that she was setting up an alternative debate in the broom cupboard, where she’d be submitting the questions, deciding on the answers, and moderating the exchange. Oh, and vetting the audience to decide who gets to watch. I don’t know why, but I imagine she spent most of her childhood birthday parties staring out of the window wondering if anyone was going to turn up.

Equally surprising, was her swift admission that “crimes have clearly been committed”, when discussing the Diamond debacle. Alan Johnson, meanwhile, cautioned against referring to the incidents as ‘crimes’, preferring the term “serious unlawful conduct” – an obfuscation which marked him out as a “comprehensive lady part”.

With one of those magnetic arthritis bracelets wrapped around his neck, and a unisex blouse that was open to the waist, Lydon spent most of the show growling his disdain for the other panelists. The initial novelty of his presence on the show soon waned, once the audience members had to tell him to shut up. In the end, only Dimbleby had the right blend of patience and gravitas to control his random outbursts, carefully explaining the format as though he was addressing a child with ADHD.

Dimbleby gamely tried to pretend that the strongest thing to pass the former Pistol’s lips was an unfiltered Capstan

As for the rest of the show, it was very much business as usual. There were the curiously agitated audience members, who started off well once they’d earned the right to speak, but seemed to lose their point halfway through. And plenty of awkward silences, as they waited to see if their observation would be met with a smattering of approving applause. Most of the comments were anodyne variations on a classic Onion op-ed piece, entitled “Someone should do something about all the problems,” save for one confused old man who predictably got immigrants and asylum-seekers all mixed up.

The real highlight came in the final section, when a question was asked about the ‘war on drugs’. As the audience held its breath, waiting for Lydon to explode, Dimbleby gamely tried to pretend that the strongest thing to pass the former Pistol’s lips was an unfiltered Capstan. Instead, it was Mensch who decided to talk about her own experiences with Class A drugs, although she pointedly refused to name which ones she’d used for fear of ‘glorifying them and making them more popular’. Bless her – the only thing she’s ever made cool is baseless misogyny. And even that was short-lived.

After much talk of how drugs “messed with [her] head” Louise argued against their legalisation; the implication being that she’s smart and mature enough to use them, but the same rules shouldn’t apply for the rest of the population.

The final line of the show went, unsurprisingly, to Lydon, who shut down a comment about Ian Brady wanting the right to starve himself, by saying “We don’t do things to be wicked.” Except E’s, maybe.

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