If a particularly evil round of Pointless asked you to name the most obscure Prime Ministers in TV and film, chances are your brain would immediately spit out the unfortunately obvious: Michael Sheen’s Tony Blair in The Queen, Paul Eddington’s Jim Hacker in Yes, Prime Minister and Hugh Grant’s, um, David – just David – in Love, Actually. The follows list purposely avoids about such first-base pub quiz fodder, and instead concentrates on the “Did they really?” actors who have happened to play The Queen’s chief cabinet cajoler, inspired by Tom Hollander’s recent turn in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
Prime Suspect: Peter Cook
PM Played: Sir Mortimer
TV Show / Film: Whoops Apocalypse (1986)
Defining characteristic: Being utterly bonkers.
In the ‘80s, there was a sitcom called Whoops Apocalypse, and then there was a film called Whoops Apocalypse, and both have sunk into bargain bin obscurity. This is despite a stellar cast list including John Cleese, Peter Jones and Richard Griffiths (the TV show) and Rik Mayall, Herbert Lom and Alexei Sayle (the film). Both small and big screen versions cover Cold War politicking between the UK, the US and Russia, but what is actually important here is that in the movie, Peter Cook plays an utterly addled Prime Minister who thinks that demonic pixies are responsible for unemployment. Needless to say, everyone loves him and at one point he ends up with a hook for a hand.
Prime Suspect: Stephen Fry
PM Played: Alastair Davies
TV Show / Film: 24: Live Another Day (2014)
Defining characteristic: Reminding you of Lord Melchett in Blackadder Goes Forth.
Giving the impression he took the gig for a bet, Stephen Fry does his tried-and-true big-and-blustery pompous patriarch as Prime Minister Alastair Davies, coping with Jack Bauer’s hours of power with barrel-chested aplomb as he supports (or doesn’t support) America’s President James Heller in the ongoing war of words with China. You get the feeling he might bust out a “BAAAAH” at any moment but somehow, God knows how, he resists.
Prime Suspect: Tony Robinson
PM Played: Unnamed or “The Prime Minister”
TV Show / Film: Blackadder: Back & Forth (1999)
Defining characteristic: Lack of cunning (presumably).
You don’t learn too much about Baldrick’s Minster Prime, but there are a few key facts to be gleaned: he’s enjoying his fifth term of office, he’s best mates with absolute monarch King Edmund III, parliament has been officially dissolved and he walks about with his shirt untucked. This is all thanks to 1999’s incarnation of Blackadder using a time machine to rejig history and make himself the big boss of everything, and of course everyone’s favourite turnip fan comes along for the ride. Fun side note: Tony Robinson is now a knight of the realm, so you must call him Sir Tony when you see him in the street.
Prime Suspect: Rik Mayall
PM Played: Alan B’Stard (Kind of)
TV Show / Film: The New Statesman (1987, 1989-1992, 1988, 1994)
Defining characteristic: B’stardliness.
“Alan B’Stard is a selfish, greedy, dishonest, devious, lecherous, sadistic, self-serving ultra-right-wing Conservative backbencher.” Sometimes – if not most of the time – Wikipedia gets it bang on. Then again, he only starts off a selfish, greedy, dishonest, devious, lecherous, sadistic, self-serving ultra-right-wing Conservative backbencher – later, he becomes an utterly awful Lord Protector, which is not technically the same thing as Prime Minister (by any means), but any chance to mention the brilliance of Rik Mayall and the jaw-dropping dickishness of B’Stard cannot be denied.
Prime Suspect: John Hurt
PM Played: Adam Sutler (Kind of)
TV Show/ Film: V For Vendetta (2006)
Defining characteristic: Big faceyness.
If you’ve watched V For Vendetta, you’ll remember John Hurt, what with his mug taking up most of the screen whenever he appears. While he's Big Brothering about, issuing orders and whitewashing V’s explosive actions, it’s not entirely clear whether he’s Prime Minster or not, especially as everyone calls him “Chancellor”. But he is, so there. In fact, he’s the leader of the Norsefire Party, and came to power after promising to restore order after terrorists supposedly killed 80,000 people with a self-ignited bioweapon. Of course, Sutler was actually behind it, the ridiculously awful big-faced bastard.
Prime Suspect: Anthony Head
PM Played: Michael Stevens
TV Show / Film: Little Britain (2003-2006)
Defining characteristic: Niceness.
At one point, Little Britain boasted viewing figures so colossal, it’s genuinely embarrassing. In November 2005, for example, 9.5 million people watched Vicky Pollard repeat the exact same catchphrases she always does, but with different actors and in a different location. And while most viewers watched the show for reasons other than Anthony Head, he was also on screen, playing the passive and pleasant Prime Minister that dealt with the unwanted attention of amorous aide Sebastian Love. Later on in the series, it appears he may actually be gay himself, but just doesn’t fancy Sebastian. Ah, comedy – it’s funny stuff!
Prime Suspect: Rory Kinnear
PM Played: Michael Callow
TV Show / Film: The Black Mirror (2011)
Defining characteristic: Willingness to have sex with pigs under extreme circumstances.
The victim of an elaborate and incredibly cruel prank, Rory Kinnear’s PM agrees to have sex with a pig live on national television to ensure a kidnapped member of the Royal Family stays alive. He initially refuses before, alas, eventually relenting, and things get horribly ironic when the Duchess in question is released earlier than expected, just to prove that if there’s something on a screen, the world will ignore what actually matters. It turns out this scheme was all down to an Turner Prize artist with a very grand plan, but at least Callow is ends up with the respect of his country for his sacrifice. This was series creator Charlie Brooker’s first episode of the show, and set the tone for the rest of proceedings: bonkers.
Prime Suspect: Ian Richardson
PM Played: Francis Urquhart
TV Show / Film: The House Of Cards trilogy (1990-1995)
Defining characteristic: Machiavellianism
SPOILER ALERT: Kevin Spacey’s Frank Underwood rises from congressman to President over the course of the show. So it should come as no surprise that in the original British version, Francis Urquhart, the Machiavellian maneuverer that he is, goes from MP to PM over the course of the first series. Over the next two, however, things go from bad to worse, and FU – as he’s known – eventually ANOTHER SPOILER ALERT comes to a sticky end. His career as Prime Minister is best described as “bloody scary” as anyone who crosses him also suffers from an end that is sticky.
See also: Gabriel Byrne in Secret State (2012), Michael Gambon in Ali G Indahouse (2002), Robbie Coltrane (above) in Stormbreaker (2006).