*There is some swearing in this article, as is appropriate.
Don’t let the article title fool you. There are more than 50 facts in this list. I’m sure you’ll find at least ten you didn’t know before.
1. The Thick of It is the modern Shakespeare
Aside from perhaps science fiction, which has popularized words like “frack” and “shiny” in whole new contexts, The Thick of It is one of the TV shows responsible for bringing new verbiage into regular use. One of the writers of the show Tony Roche says he often created words using the “omni” prefix, but show creator Armando Iannucci usually took them out before the script was finalized. The one time he didn’t, the word omnishambles was immediately picked up by popular culture, then Ed Miliband in politics, and finally the dictionary in 2013. In fact, omnishambles was the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Year.
The show coined other words like upper-classholes, and even had to invent five new signs in sign language to accommodate the unique swearwords Thick writers come up with. The swearing is what made The Thick of It so famous. It even holds the world record for most number of “fucks” said in an episode (averaging every twelve seconds for episode 7 of season 3).
2. In the Loop takes place in a parallel world, but not without crossover
The film In the Loop came out shortly before season 3 of The Thick of It. It is created by the same team and stars many of the same people, although some of them are playing different characters. For example, Chris Addison is no longer playing Ollie but instead Toby, a very similar character who has it off with Liza, played by Anna Chlumsky. Now, you may remember Chlumsky as a child actress playing the lead role of Vada Sultenfuss in My Girl. During post-Loop episodes of The Thick of It, there is a magazine cut-out of Vada Sultenfuss stuck on Ollie’s desk.
In The Thick of It, Lucinda Raikes plays Ollie’s ex-girlfriend journalist Angela Heaney. Although it’s never said that Raike’s brief appearance in In the Loop is meant to be Angela, and we can assume she isn’t, Angela Heaney does get name-checked in In the Loop in this Malcolm Tucker quote: “See when I tell your wife about you and Angela Heaney at the Blackpool conference, what would be best?” It’s possible it isn’t meant to be the same person, as many of the character names were taken from athlete names.
Although I haven’t seen it myself, the commentary track of The Thick of It claims that there is a DVD of In the Loop among Malcolm Tucker’s DVD collection, while some misc. people on the interwebs claim that they spotted The Thick of It there. This, according to the commentary, is because they were borrowing someone’s home and didn’t notice that they had it on their shelf.
Contrary to what some people have suggested, the post-Loop casting of Tom Hollander in The Thick of It as “the fucker” doesn’t have anything to do with his lead role in In the Loop. The character of “the fucker” was introduced to show that the opposition had hard men on their side, too.
3. They do not have a mole in government
While it may seem that The Thick of It has someone in government feeding them ideas that are just around the corner for public policy, it isn’t true. The Thick of It makes its policies up based on what’s funny and what’s plausible, and sometimes they are eerily on the mark. Right after they filmed the scene where Mannion botches an address to high school students about making apps in schools, the government launched an in-school digital network program. The throw-away ideas like pet passports and more quiet carriages on innercity trains also came into effect shortly before or after broadcast.
That isn’t to say they never take their ideas from life. Jo Scanlan, who plays Terri Coverly, was once paid thirty pounds as an actress in a real focus group. This informs the episode where they gather a focus group, decide to just pick one person from the group as their representative, and discover that she is a paid actress.
4. Veep is The Thick of It in America
Armando Iannucci’s U.S. TV series Veep takes place in a third parallel universe to The Thick of It and In the Loop. Anna Chlumsky is back, but this time as Amy Brookheimer rather than Liza. That doesn’t mean that it takes place in the same universe as The Thick of It because Justin Edwards is back but as Rob rather than Ben Swain. The show is written by all the same people: Iannucci, Simon Blackwell, Tony Roche, Sean Gray, Will Smith, etc. It is directed by Iannucci, as well as a couple people who got to direct in Thick season 4: Chris Addison and Becky Martin. The style and humor translates transatlantically, but not everything does. For example, The Thick of It has a wealth of cramped car scenes where you get three politicians crammed in the back seat of a car. It makes it awkward and changes the power status of the characters. It’s also ridiculous. You can’t really get away with it in America because the politicians’ cars are much wider.
In 2007, America actually piloted a remake of The Thick of It. It had no swearing, one big sign it was never going to take off. There was also no improvisation. Much of the Thick script came from improv by the actors during the rehearsal stage, another reason it was so successful. Although Iannucci was involved, it was directed by Christopher Guest and starred Michael McKean, Oliver Platt, John Michael Higgins, Alex Borstein, Wayne Wilderson. Ollie was cast as a girl. Henry Winkler played Cliff Lawton, who appears in episode 1 and Spinners and Losers in the original. Iannucci was appalled at the result and is glad it didn’t get picked up for a series.
5. Each season has a new set
This isn’t always planned. Season 1 was shot in the Guinness Brewery, which was torn down after they finished shooting, making The Thick of It the last show ever to shoot there. Before them, Batman Begins was shot there. For season 2, they move to a working office in the BBC Media Center. They also shot a season in a building in Harefield, and later even re-created the BBC location as a set when they knew they wouldn’t have access to the Media Center.
6. It breaks the norms of filmmaking
There are certain conventions in filmmaking, such as the “180-degree rule” where the camera is not allowed to cross an invisible line down the center of the action. This is because doing so will make it look like the characters are suddenly facing the wrong way, which causes viewers to be confused. The Thick of It crew had a meeting to decide to consciously cross the line and break the 180-degree rule. This is partly because it’s meant to look like a documentary and not something that is staged. They also add post-grain to the edit to give it that feel. The episodes and scenes were shot in order to make any tiredness, five o’clock shadows, etc. look realistic. This is not typical of a TV show, where they usually maximize their time by shooting scenes and episodes out of order depending on which actors and locations they have available. Thick didn’t break this rule until season 4, where they filmed the episodes out of order. For example, the final episode was shot before the inquiry episode. They also shoot an enormous amount in a day. They can do 32 pages at once, which is unheard of in the industry, so much so that people on other shows assume that 32 is a typo.
Then there’s the shaky, handheld camera look. Unfortunately, BBC cracked down on the shaky cameras, fearing that it did not instill confidence of quality in its viewers, so The Thick of It had to adjust to fit broadcasting regulations. The inquiry episode (S4E6) is the first time they use a locked down camera. It’s also the first time they didn’t have rehearsal. That isn’t to say that they didn’t encourage improv in this episode, but instead of rehearsing in a room full of writers who added their adlibs to the script, the filmmakers sent the actors into the inquiry without practicing and without even knowing who was going to play the panel. The questions were also asked out of order to keep the actors on their toes and hopefully pull out some improvised performances. All of the actors are said to have been terrified.
As you might expect in a pseudo-documentary, there isn’t a ton of CGI in this show, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some. The one big CGI moment is splicing Ben Swain in with Jeremy Paxon on News Night. The rest of the digital effects surround erasing cameramen (they have a two-camera shoot) and booms, as well as occasionally things like blurring out Peter Capaldi’s lines that he’s cheated onto his bundle of papers.
7. Thick writer Sean Gray started as Iannucci’s assistant on Time Trumpets
Sean Gray, who now is a regular writer on Veep, began as Armando Iannucci’s assistant on Time Trumpets. He asked Iannucci if he could show him some of his writing. Iannucci was impressed at the humor and brought Gray into the writers room for The Thick of It. Gray was also a researcher for In the Loop, wrote some of Iannucci’s lines in Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle (The Red Button), and wrote and directed Bistro, a short starring Peter Capaldi (Malcolm) and Alex Macqueen (Julius). Gray also did a Radio 4 show called iGod starring David Soul and Simon Day.
8. The first edits were always extremely long
Another unconventional filmmaking technique is that the scripts started ridiculously long. Were everything left in, each episode would be feature length. That isn’t to say much was cut from the script. Actually, they filmed much of it and so the first edits of each episode were at least double in length of what they should be. They were whittled intensely after that, leaving many deleted scenes and subplotlines on the cutting room floor. Likewise, the script for In the Loop was so long, it had to arrive to the read through in two separate taxis because it was taking so long to print out. The first cut of In the Loop was over four hours long!
For example, did you know that the journalist Hewitt in episode 2 had run off with Malcolm’s lover? That Stewart converted an old bathroom into a home meditation room with waterfall? That the top of Nicola’s list of things to do after getting fired is to learn to make chutney? That Malcolm has never lost a game of Standy-Sitty?
Great scene where Ollie visits Nicola at home and she quickly deduces Ollie had gotten Glenn to do the leak and they have a little scuffle in the hallway where she threatens to get her husband, who’s conveniently on the toilet to avoid social calls, to come down and rip his appendix stitches out. It leaves Ollie on the doorstep behind frosted glass yelling, “You’re factually shit, Nicola!”
Glenn goes nuts and mimes shooting everyone in the office because he believes he’s a dead man now and can get away with anything. Ollie, Glenn, and Terri leaving their away messages on their phones, Glenn forgets his own cell number.
“This is monkey and typewriter stuff. There’s not even a fucking infinite amount of monkeys with an infinite amount of time with an infinite amount of typewriters will produce the words ‘Nicola Murray PM.'” –Malcolm Tucker
9. Will Smith (not that one) is both writer and one of the stars
Will Smith plays Phil Smith on The Thick of It, but he is also one of the lead writers. Deleted scenes contain a dozen or so adlibs about how he’s going to skiff Adam’ tea.
Americans may enjoy the anecdote that before Smith worked for Iannucci, he wrote for entertainment shows, one of which the production staff rented a live turkey for American Independence Day, and Smith was told to write some adlibs about the turkey, despite his protests that turkeys had nothing to do with Independence Day and that they are not, in fact, America’s national bird as they thought it was.
10. Armando Iannucci was afraid to give up the directing chair until season 4
Show creator Armando Iannucci directed the first three seasons of The Thick of It, worried to hand over the role of directing to anyone else. But in season 4, he took a big leap, not in just letting other people direct but in letting people direct who’ve never directed before. Chris Addison had never directed before until episode #5, but now he’s directed 9 episodes of Veep. Tony Roach had never directed before until episode #7, except a short film called How to Tell When a Relationship Is Over, almost ten years prior. Billy Sneddon had done very little directing prior to his episode #2. On the other side of the coin, Natalie Bailey had done a 24-episode TV series called Hotel Trouble just before her two episodes of The Thick of It, while Becky Martin had quite a few directing gigs under her belt by the time she got a hold of episode #4, including The Peter Serafinowicz Show. Iannucci is reportedly happy with the way this season’s directing turned out, and you can tell because out of 38 episodes of Veep, he’s only directed nine himself.
Sources: BBC Blog | The Thick of It commentary tracks and deleted scenes | The Guardian