During a career spanning nearly five decades, John Sergeant has been at the forefront of mainstream media-reporting, writing, and even dancing
C: Based on your recent output, have you always had a yearning for travel and adventure?
“That was certainly one of the reasons why I didn’t become an actor or a comedian, which was how I started in broadcasting with Alan Bennett. I can’t say I would have made a brilliant comedian but we got a good start when we won the comedy of the year award! I thought that being a journalist would give me more adventure.”
C: Does television satire need to make a comeback?
“Yes, it usually flourishes when things are going wrong, but when satire’s the only way people can get back at ‘them’, it doesn’t always succeed and there are lots of times when satire helps keep the government in power. But, it’s a safety valve, and you feel that in the recent past it’s been a bit too serious for satire. You feel that people aren’t relaxed enough to say, ‘it’s all a bit of a laugh, it’s all going to be okay’.”
C: What do you feel about the Donald Trump presidency and the future direction of America?
“Well, it’s extremely risky. I think the worry is that he sets the tone for so much of what we think and respect about America. And if he goes on behaving like this ‘shooting from the hip’ kind of guy, you think the office of president is then undermined. I think the worry is that the Americans might turn on him because he won’t deliver on what he’s promised. But, it’s very dependent on America being a success too. And he will then, of course, get the reflected glory – which is the unfairness of politics, isn’t it? Politics is largely about luck and that’s why it’s like showbiz, people endlessly want you to repeat success – that’s what they’re really after.”
C: Do you think Obama had that ‘showbiz success’ appeal?
“Well Obama’s a wonderful man, fantastically talented and intelligent and a terrific speaker, but he had difficulties with Congress, he couldn’t get what he wanted through. So his presidency doesn’t seem like the glorious success it could have been. But, it was a very difficult time for America with the worse financial situation for a long time, and there were lots of people in Congress who were quite determined that he was not going to be a success.”
“Thatcher was very used to being an outsider”
C: Would you say politicians can be unlucky in inheriting the world left for them by their counterparts?
“Yes, Margaret Thatcher, for instance, was very fortunate. She looked as if she was going to lose the election of 1983, but she won it in a large part because of the Falklands War. But all this spin about how she took on Galtieri… no. It just happened and people responded to it and it went well for her. All sorts of things could have gone wrong but they didn’t and part of the big picture was that the people wanted to test her in a war situation. So it was perfect. Even though the economy was actually in a downturn.”
C: Are there parallels between Theresa May and Thatcher?
“Yes, but there is an important political point here that they as leaders, and Thatcher was very used to being an outsider, that they aren’t mucking in with the lads and often stand apart from the crowd. It’s what gets referred to as ‘the loneliness of power’.
“From the point of view of being a woman in a man’s world they’ve got to be able to keep their own counsel, which can be strengthening.”
C: So, how do Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher compare?
“Margaret was much stronger, much more inventive and, curiously enough, I think much more ready to take a gamble. So, from that point of view, she liked taking risks. But the big difference was that she loved arguing, that’s the biggest difference.
“Blair and Cameron, most Prime Ministers oddly enough, don’t really like arguing, but she loved it. She would cross the road for an argument and that made her much more exciting and she liked being exciting, she obviously liked putting on a show. But then Theresa May obviously likes putting on a show with her leather trousers and all that kind of thing – she’s obviously a greater exhibitionist than we thought.”
C: Would you say Thatcher was more of an exhibitionist with her political manoeuvres?
“I think that she was more of an actress. I mean they’re all actors; they’ve got to be because they’re acting on the public stage. I remember standing behind Margaret Thatcher when she arrived in America one year and it was just as if we were in the wings of a theatre, all dressed up and about to go on. She was quite determined to put on a show.
“From a journalist’s point of view, she was always more fun; you could see she was choosing her gear to really wham people! That’s fun to watch, particularly when you’ve got all these men around. That’s why she was my favourite Prime Minister, strictly from a reporter’s point of view of course. Nothing to do with her policies, I’m certainly not a Thatcherite.”
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