|The Thick of It character|
|Created by||Armando Ianucci|
|Portrayed by||Peter Capaldi|
Malcolm Tucker is the protagonist or anti hero of the BBC political satire, The Thick of It, portrayed by Peter Capaldi. His role was as Director of Communications for the Government of the United Kingdom. Tucker was originally a secondary character, with Chris Langham's Hugh Abbott as the protagonist being watched over by Tucker, but after Langham was fired from the series the show focused more on the character of Tucker and his dealings with the inept Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship (DoSaC), originally the Department of Social Affairs (DSA) in series 1 and 2. He is one of only four characters to remain as the same character from the series in the film, In the Loop. He has no direct or obvious counterpart in the spin-off Veep.
Creation and basis
The character is based on several figures, most notably real life Director of Communications for Prime Minister Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, who admitted to his liberal use of profanities in the workplace. Campbell confessed to enjoying The Thick of It and found it hilarious. However he did not enjoy the feature film spin off, In the Loop and was vocal in expressing his dislike of the film. Capaldi later revealed that his personal preferable inspiration for the character was notorious Hollywood producers, most notably Harvey Weinstein.
Background and personal life
Other than the very obvious fact that he is Scottish and the character traits he exhibits during the series, little is known about Malcolm Tucker's background or personal life. Opposition minister Peter Mannion (Roger Allam) once called him "the Gorbals Goebbels", ostensibly a reference to Tucker's place of origin--this would indicate quite possibly a very humble background as well as bear the marks of a self-made man.
The nature of Tucker's home life is ambiguous and is somewhat contradictory through the course of the series - in the special episode Spinners and Losers he is revealed to have a niece; during a rant in front of Ollie in series 4, and speaking of himself in third person, he explicitly states that he has no children (nor friends for that matter), and in series 3 he is shown spending his 50th birthday alone in his office. However, at other times, there are hints that he has a family - he wears a ring on his wedding finger, there are children's drawings on the walls of his office (which could be his niece's), and when being pursued by photographers after his forced resignation, a young boy is briefly seen looking out of the window of Tucker's home. His character profile on The British Comedy Guide says that he has split up from his partner. The reasons for his deep personal animosity towards journalist Simon Hewitt, mostly left open to speculation in the final cut, are explained to Ollie by Terri in one of the deleted scenes: Hewitt's current girlfriend, BBC health correspondent Kelly Grogan, had been Malcolm's girlfriend until about three months earlier.
Before the start of the series he forced his predecessor Steve Fleming (David Haig) to resign by telling the press that he was resigning before even asking him, thereby leaving him no choice but to resign. Tucker took his place as Director of Communications for Number 10. No mention is made of his professional background before taking this position.
It is Tucker's personality that causes him to be infamous and feared along the halls of Westminster. The series is rife with scenes denoting a rather complex personality. He has a short temper and is likely to verbally abuse someone who has caused him or the government embarrassment, stress or irritancy with foul language and such description that it causes fear amongst not only the person being abused, but others around as well. His colourful language is a hallmark of the character. He acts as the Prime Minister's enforcer to ensure the cabinet ministers all follow the party line, and managing the government's crisis management PR - usually in the form of spin. He regularly uses rumours, smears, or threats of extreme violence to achieve his ends. His fierce reputation for verbally abusing people became what Deputy minister of DoSaC Fergus Williams (Geoffrey Streatfeild) referred to as, "a rite of passage" for politicians, to be "Tuckered".
In spite of his brash, impulsive and volatile persona, he is strongly implied to be more intelligent and adept at long-term thinking than all or most of the other characters; his constant scheming, although borderline Machiavellian in the words of Hugh Abbott, is paradoxically aimed at a common good, namely the prevalence of the party line and the resolution of issues arising from ministerial incompetence, whereas apparently friendly characters such as Ollie come across as covertly self-serving and egotistical by comparison. He is also implied to be a self-made man of humble origins, a firm believer in meritocracy and a staunch opponent of classism and cronyism, e.g. comparing the intentions of an MP's daughter to capitalise on her family connections to the practices of Tsarist Russia and "the fucking Dimblebys". Accordingly, his demeanour towards working-class characters or anyone deemed a social inferior is sincerely empathetic, gentlemanly and devoid of condescension, as opposed to the obnoxious and patronizing behaviour displayed by characters such as Mannion or Pearson towards hotel receptionists or campaigning youths. The only exception to this behaviour shown in the series is nurse Douglas Tickel, who finds himself at the receiving end of Tucker's scheming. He does on only two occasions show remorse and regret for his actions, notably when he hits Glenn, he expresses what appears to be genuine remorse after punching Glenn. He even feels sorry for Glenn when he has a mini mental breakdown and tries to brighten his mood. His film portrayal is arguably less sympathetic, and his actions seem less fueled by ideological persuasion than by an interest to keep his job at all costs.
His reputation precedes him in his own party, the media and even among the opposition. "Malcolm Tucker has the physical demeanour and the political instincts of a velociraptor" (The Guardian); "Tucker's writ runs through the lifeblood of Westminster like raw alcohol, at once cleansing and corroding" (The Daily Telegraph); "If you make eye contact with Malcolm Tucker, you have spilled his pint (The Times); "Iago with a Blackberry" (The Spectator).
Main article: List of The Thick of It characters
Malcolm is one of four "Spin doctors" featured on the show, and one of the three that are universally feared by ministers and civil servants, the others being Cal Richards (Tom Hollander), nicknamed "The Fucker" who is like Tucker in that he is verbally abusive and threatening, but is more unpredictable e.g. one moment he will be calm and relaxed and the next, without warning he will scream to get attention; he is one of the few people in Westminster who is more feared than Malcolm. Steve Fleming is the other, though he is not as feared as Tucker and Richards as he does not swear anywhere near of much as they do he is still infamous throughout the party, but is perhaps mentally unbalanced as he has sudden breakdowns. Stewart Pearson (Vincent Franklin) is equally unpleasant but not nearly as feared by his party or other party members; he is a cool, calm man who doesn't usually raise his voice and hides his intellectual mediocrity behind a hip, pseudo-modern political jargon that no one understands and irritates people more than intimidates them.
Tucker has very little patience or time for the incompetence of ministers and other civil servants in Whitehall to the point where he describes himself in series four as having "no real friends". He considered Hugh Abbott to be bumbling and incompetent and out of touch with the common man/woman and was constantly fed up with the way he had to deal with his mistakes. He got on better with his successor Nicola Murray (Rebecca Front) though. Although he admitted she was a "psycho" he found her to be a "nice lady". He believed she did a much better job as Minister for DoSaC than as Leader of the Opposition to the point where he had grown tired of her incompetence and staged a coup d'état against her and found her to be "a waste of skin". Despite not caring about Ollie Reader (Chris Addison), Malcolm often uses him in his schemes as he does not doubt his basic skills. He views Ollie as a "wannabe" Malcolm as does everyone else. He often threatens Ollie more than other members of DoSaC like Glenn or Terri, implying he finds Ollie more irritating. Glenn is possibly the only major character to whom Malcolm shows any (if occasional) warmth due to his misfortunes.
He has a long-standing rivalry with party Life Peer Julius Nicholson (Alex MacQueen), who delights in his sacking at the end of series 3, but does help him return to power in the next episode. He also has a rivalry with "Fat Pat". He hates Cliff Lawton (Timothy Bentinck), Hugh's predecessor, whom Malcolm forces to resign in the first episode. Cliff held a grudge against Malcolm for this and is the reason why Jamie McDonald didn't inform Malcolm that he was his man to run for PM in the special "Spinners and Losers". He despises Steve Fleming, his predecessor, whom he forced to resign sometime prior to the series. Fleming exacts revenge on Tucker for forcing him to resign by doing the same to him. However, despite everyone fearing him and enjoying not being abused or threatened by Malcolm, rivals such as Nicholson unite to bring down Fleming and reinstate Tucker, as they all agree that he is the party's only protecting screen against the media, and their only chance at saving the party in the impending general election.
The only other person he allows to criticise him without retaliation is fellow Scotsman, Press Officer, Jamie McDonald (Paul Higgins), whom Malcolm "lets off his leash" to do his work for him when he needs to be in two places at once. Perhaps his most important relationship is with his secretary, Sam (Samantha Harrington), whom he is very protective towards, and even in the immediate aftermath of his own forced resignation at the end of series 3, he is shown trying to comfort her and protect her from the men removing him from his office. She is one of the few people who genuinely like Tucker and is upset when he is fired. Even though she is not a party hack, she moved with Malcolm after his party lost the General election to stay as his assistant. she was present every day at the Goolding Inquiry, her face evolves into visible concern towards the end of the inquiry as she witnesses an end to Malcolm's career.
In Series 1, Department of Social Affairs (DSA) minister Cliff Lawton is given the sack by Malcolm Tucker because of press pressure; though he drafts him a letter of resignation to give him "the chance to say you're jumping before you're pushed". He selects a new minister for DSA, Hugh Abbott. The new minister decides to make his mark by launching an anti-benefit fraud initiative on vague approval from the prime minister without going through the proper procedures. Malcolm makes him scrap the announcement at the last minute to avoid confusion between the prime minister and the treasury; forcing Hugh to announce nothing at his scheduled press conference. Later, when the prime minister suddenly approves the initiative; Malcolm successfully spins a story that Hugh did actually make the announcement at the press conference. He then intimidates Olly Reeder's ex-girlfriend, Angela Heaney, who was the journalist originally assigned to cover the story, into not reporting on the farcical flip-flops that resulted from dysfunctional communication within government.
Hugh exasperates Malcolm by being out of touch with the common man and popular culture; so he attempts to get him to watch zeitgeist tapes. At the same time, Hugh supports a bad policy on juvenile rehabilitation because of the unanimous approval it receives from focus groups; further worsening his public image. When Malcolm and Hugh mistakenly think Simon Hewitt, a sharp journalistic critic of Hugh, engineered the focus group gaffe because one of the prominent groupees was really an actress; they attempt to intimidate her and get Angela Heaney to publish a tamer version of the story. It however transpires that Hewitt has no relation to the groupee; and, ironically, they've leaked an embarrassing story unnecessarily.
After a housing bill, spearheaded by Hugh and junior minister Dan Miller, that prohibits owning an empty second property, passes successfully through parliament, Hugh becomes in the position where he leaves his London flat empty for long stretches of time; so he tries to get around the contradiction by putting the flat on the market but not accepting any offers. When this is discovered by Angela Heaney; Malcolm hurries to manage the situation: he gets the flat sold extremely quickly, below market price; but it is already too late. The scandal causes Malcolm to urge Hugh to resign to save the housing bill; explaining that such a resignation would be seen as honourable, but Hugh is very reluctant to do so. After Malcolm reads an upcoming inquiry report that incriminates Hugh badly; he decides to send the message that the government won't "throw a good man out to the wolves over one single little fuck-up.". Dan Miller ends up resigning to further boost his long-term image and political career, and Hugh stays.
In Series 2, Hugh Abbott is accosted by a member of the factory he is visiting and he begs Malcolm to bury the story for him. Malcolm has more pressing issues; an important story on a major IT project's overspending and possible corruption on the part of Goeff Holhurst; but he goes to ITN to help Hugh out anyway. He fabricates a story that the seemingly "real person" factory worker is actually standing for a far-right political party; the reporters agree to minimise the story. However, when the Holhurst story breaks at the same time; he decides to send Olly to re-shift the focus at ITN from Holhurst to the Hugh story.
With a cabinet reshuffle imminent, Malcolm struggles with a new "blue-sky thinker" special advisor to the prime minister; Julius Nicholson, who's always floating ludicrous government projects and challenging Malcolm's authority. He finds allies in the Departement of Social Affairs when Julius cuts them out of Malcolm's prestigious "8:30" meetings, and devises plans to significantly downsize them in the upcoming reshuffle. He uses Olly, Glenn Cullen, and Hugh to "leak" rumours that Julius will be named foreign secretary in the reshuffle; and then convinces the prime minister that Julius himself is responsible for the rumours as a gambit to guarantee a promotion. The prime minister decides to demote Julius; and Malcolm maintains his position unperturbed. He rewards his allies by getting them a promotion as "The all-new totally revamped Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship!" (DoSaC)
Hugh struggles with his conscience about being forced to support a bill on special educational needs (SEN) he previously objected to because he believes will harm special-needs pupils; Glenn's own son being one. Malcolm gets him an education expert friendly to the government position to ease his feelings and to give him something to say to explain his apparent U-turn to the Select Committee. When Hugh accidentally sends an expletive e-mail about Malcolm's expert to a young girl in Reigate instead of Glenn, Malcolm convinces Terri Coverley to take the blame for it, as it happened on her computer. Hugh gets himself in another pickle when he lies to the Select Committee by denying that he met any experts who opposed the bill. Malcolm makes apologise to the committee and convince them that he really is convinced the bill will help SEN children.
In the special, The Rise of the Nutters, Malcolm and his assistant Jamie are frustrated by the increasing influence of the "nutters"; elements in the government that have unofficially sworn allegiance to the anticipated next prime minister "Tom" after the current prime minister announces that he will resign within a year. Their attempt to properly prepare a "junior nutter", Ben Swain, for an interview with Jeremy Paxman on the problems in the immigration system fail miserably and he embarrasses himself on tv. Malcolm is also enraged that Olly's girlfriend in the opposition stole an idea to have a politician visit an immigration centre to determine the exact problems in the system, originally Malcolm's own idea. These events lead to Malcolm suspecting that the prime minister will depart sooner than expected; fearing that his position might be compromised in a governmental transition if he is not properly prepared for it, he tries to leak the prime minister's legacy project to the opposition, thinking it will delay the resignation. In the ensuing confusion, the prime minister decides to scrap the project altogether. Malcolm breathes a sigh of relief, but is shocked when this leads to the prime minister actually resigning much earlier than expected: the very next day.
In the second special, Spinners and Losers, Malcolm and others struggle to maintain their powers in the chaotic transition. "Nice Nutter Nick", a junior minister, appears to be a clear threat to Malcolm's position. Jamie leaks a story about antidepressants that makes Tom lose support very rapidly; Malcolm orchestrates back-up plan suggestion to support Clare Ballentine instead; knowing Nick will claim it as his own idea and that Ballentine will end up refusing the candidature. Then he manipulates Nick into also suggesting Ben Swain. Finally, Dan Miller, an extremely influential figure, surfaces and announces that he will back Tom, and that Tom has chosen Malcolm as his media liaison. Malcolm secures his place by convincing Tom of Nick's "betrayels".
In Series 3, Malcolm scrambles to assign the DoSaC position amidst a reshuffle; when most candidates refuse the job, he's forced to choose Nicola Murray, who is much less politically experienced that he had hoped. At the same time; Malcolm has to contend with a by-election in Leamington Spa that might be compromised by the daughter of the previous MP standing as an independent, thus damaging the chances of the party's candidate, Liam Bentley. Malcolm decides to send as many party figures as possible, including Nicola, to support Bentley's election; and, to teach Nicola a lesson about how the press can be to ministers, schemes an embarrassing photograph of her grinning with two thumbs up in front of a large poster that, due to a crop, appears to read "I AM BENT". Malcolm's background checks discover an apparent conflict of interest with Nicola's husband, who works for a company that was awarded a government PFI contract; and that Nicola intends to send her daughter to a private secondary school; he also finds out that she has claustrophobia. All three of these things are sure to damage Nicola's reputation when she's only just started so Malcolm freaks out and calls her an "omnishambles".
Malcolm tries to improve Nicola's image by taking her to a dinner at the Guardian; but this is compromised when a huge data loss occurs in the immigration database that DoSaC is responsible for. Malcolm is further infuriated when Nicola accidentally lets go of the data loss in the presence of a freelance journalist. He makes Nicola call the journalist in and remedy the situation by sacking a scapegoat.
At a party conference in Eastbourne, Malcolm is tipped off by Angela Heaney's enquiries that health statistics that Tom is going to announce in his speech are actually fake numbers lifted from an online blog. Forced to change the speech at the last minute and desperate for any material; he convinces a civilian, Julie, with grievances about a construction negligence scandal originally brought in by Glenn for Nicola's speech to instead go with the prime minister. When Glenn tries to resist; Malcolm punches him in the nose in the ensuing struggle. After Malcolm apologises; he decides to help Nicola fill the hole he created in her speech. However, the punch story is leaked and shows up on internet blogs and Malcolm has to send Julie away from the conference to avoid her talking with the press and he suspects an inept party press officer, John Duggan, is responsible for the leak; but he eventually discovers that it was Julie who tweeted about it. When she has had enough of their flip-flops, she insults the party and decides to leave. In retaliation; Malcolm swiftly tricks a blogger into spinning a story that it was actually them who decided to drop her because of her "extremist views"; actually just the fact that she supports allowing vendors the freedom to use any measuring system.
During a visit from the shadow Social Affairs department, Malcolm must deal with Murray's daughter's reputation for being a school bully from leaking to the press and so threatens an eavesdropping Phil Smith. When Nicola Murray and Peter Mannion go head to head on BBC Radio 5 Live, breaking news means Malcolm must descend to the studio where he must battle Stewart Pearson and the Radio 5 workers to stop the broadcast. When rumours of a leadership challenge from Nicola Murray surface, Malcolm has to drop everything and ensure that the rumours stop spreading. When DoSaC try to get Andy Murray to sponsor their new Healthy Eating campaign Malcolm is no where to be found. He is on holiday, however everyone knows that Malcolm doesn't take holidays. He quickly returns however when Steve Fleming comes back. Tucker's predecessor, Steve Fleming returns and does to Malcolm what Malcolm did to him, forces him to resign by leaking it to the press before telling him, leaving Malcolm no choice but to go. As he leaves Downing Street he warns, "You will fucking see me again!" In the final episode, ministers and civil servants alike have grown tired of Fleming after only a week and realise that Malcolm must return. He receives help from long standing rival Julius Nicholson and leaks career harming material to the press about Fleming. Malcolm swiftly descends back onto the scene to hand Fleming's resignation letter to Fleming. He regains his position and gives a foul mouthed battle speech to ministers and civil servants about the impending election.
In Series 4 he returns, bored of two years in opposition, working for the new Leader of the Opposition Nicola Murray MP. In episode 4 of Series 4, he launches a concerted attack on Nicola's leadership, forcing her to resign as Leader and allowing Dan Miller to take her place. When the Prime Minister announces an enquiry into the culture of leaking after the death of Public Sector worker, Nurse Douglas Tickel, it is revealed that Malcolm had Tickel's medical records and mobile number during the inquiry after an accidental admission by drawing attention to a photograph that he helped organise to bring down Nicola Murray. It is strongly hinted that Malcolm was responsible for the leaking of private details about inquiry member, Baroness Sureka when she began to question his bullying tactics. She was missing from the panel for several days because of this. At the end of series 4, an accidental admission at the Goolding Inquiry into governmental leaks makes him susceptible to possible perjury charges. He gives a final foul mouthed rant to Ollie, that Ollie calls, "the kind of video that you leave on Youtube after you've blown your brains out," that reveals some personal thoughts and feelings from Malcolm. He insists that Ollie will never be him and that he will not survive the job of replacing him. He tells him that he will witness a master of spin go out "with my head held fucking high." He goes to get arrested at a police station while he sent Dan Miller to get some publicity at another station, to make the Government look unresponsive at the police backlog crisis and to divert attention from himself. Ollie however leaks that Malcolm is going to give himself up and soon the media are waiting for Malcolm outside the station. He and his lawyer try to escape without being seen, but are spotted fleeing the station. He asks Ollie to find another station for him, begging that "I need my dignity". When he arrives at the new station the press have been informed that Malcolm will be there. Malcolm looks on as he realises that this is the end. Ollie leaked to the press the new location of Malcolm's arrest. As he prepares to leave he station, his lawyer reads a statement that says he resigns as Director of Communications. Malcolm looks on with sadness and bitterness in his eyes. Reporters shout whether he has anything to say, he says he wants to say something, but says, "it doesn't matter". The Master of Spin has nothing left to say. As he leaves he looks out of the taxi window solemnly.
- In the spin off feature film, In the Loop Tucker, Jamie, Sam and Angela Heaney are the only four characters to stay the same from the TV series. In it Tucker has to deal with an incompetent minister who has told the press that war is unforeseeable, causing more strain to the hot and delicate topic. Tucker is sent to be a willing and very active pawn in the efforts of a warmongering U.S. Assistant Secretary of State towards an intervention in the Middle East, which the British Prime Minister and American President want. This he does by fabricating intelligence in what could be a fictionalised version of the so-called Dodgy Dossier issued by Alastair Campbell and used by the British government to justify its involvement in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Two months after the airing of the final episode of series four, Peter Capaldi appeared on GQ magazine's front cover as Malcolm Tucker and recorded a Christmas message to fans. This has so far been the last appearance of the character.
Armando Iannucci stated in 2012 that series 4 would most likely be The Thick of It's last, but could return for a few specials or something in the future. Following Capaldi's casting as the Doctor in Doctor Who, Iannucci revealed that the show is definitely over for good. He joked that he has no plans for Tucker to appear in Veep as Tucker is either dead or in prison.
For his portrayal of Malcolm Tucker, Peter Capaldi has been critically lauded by critics and was nominated for the BAFTA award for Best Comedy Performance-Male at the 2006, 2008 and 2013 awards. He won the award for Best Comedy Performance-Male at the 2010 awards. He also won the British Comedy Award for Best Actor in 2010 for his portrayal. He was nominated for the Royal Television Society Award for Best Comedy Performance in 2006. For his portrayal of Tucker in, In the Loop Capaldi was nominated for the British Independent Film Award for Best Actor, the Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor, the Evening Standard British Film Awards: Peter Sellers Award for Comedy. He came second place in the International Cinephile Society Award for Best Supporting Actor. He was also nominated for the London Film Critics Circle Award for British Actor of the Year, he came second place in the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor, he also came in third place in the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor and was nominated for the Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Hana Glasser of American magazine Slate said that, "The character of Tucker is reason enough to elevate The Thick of It over Veep...The brilliant Peter Capaldi, who delivers profanity of the highest imaginable caliber". Empire magazine placed one of Tucker's rants in, In the Loop as the 6th greatest movie insults of all time. Alex Fletcher of Digital Spy said, "Malcolm Tucker remains one of the most incredible TV creations of all time". Hollywood actors husband and wife Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are self-confessed fans of Malcolm Tucker and his foul mouthed rants according to Peter Capaldi who co-starred with Pitt in World War Z.
Influence on culture
In episode 1 of series 3, the word "Omnishambles" was coined by Tucker to describe Nicola Murray. The word was created by Thick of It writer Tony Roche. Following this many notable politicians used the phrase, e.g. Ed Miliband used it during Prime Minister's Questions on 18 April 2012 to criticise the Government's 2012 budget. The British media used the phrase to describe US Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney upon his UK tour, when he said that he didn't believe Britain would be ready for the 2012 Summer Olympics. Due to its adoption by real life politicians, the word was entered into the Oxford English Dictionary on 13 November 2012.
When Capaldi was cast as the Doctor in Doctor Who, his incarnation of the character shared certain personality traits with Tucker, specifically “a certain acid wit... the attitude, the wisecracks and the energy... he can be edgy, volatile and dangerous".
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