It’s such a powerful presence on the Radio 4 landscape that it comes as a surprise to realise that Dead Ringers only has one series a year, which means that leaving aside Christmas specials there have only been 17 series of the brilliant topical impressions show since it first aired in 2000.
Maybe that’s part of why we value it so much. The 2017 series begins tonight [Friday 16th June], proving once again that it has an uncanny way with its timing. “In 2015 we coincided with the general election,” lead Dead Ringer Jon Culshaw told me, “and in 2016 we coincided with the EU referendum. Now we’ll be coming in straight after the 2017 general election. These moments give us such rich material and when they happen you get a real sense of the audience turning to the show.”
I spoke to Culshaw before the Grenfell Tower disaster, and clearly Dead Ringers – which is recorded only 24 hours before transmission — is going to have to tread a careful path in the wake of such a catastrophic event. But it is also a deeply political event and I’d expect the show to have important things to say.
Culshaw will be ready with his Jeremy Corbyn, who he described as having “a new-found swagger and self-assured zing that gives him a whole new feeling”. Then there’s Michael Gove — “an adult Artful Dodger”, in Culshaw’s words, and old favourite Boris Johnson. “The more Boris Johnson supports the PM in such gushing terms, the more it shows he wants the job — ‘Bwah, bwah bwah, Thereeeezah May has our full support, blah’,” Culshaw said. May herself gives us Jan Ravens at her finest, Culshaw describing his co-star’s performance in the role as a “tour de force”.
But what new names might we expect? Culshaw picked out Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell — “a combination of Emperor Palpatine and Reg Holdsworth” — and White House press spokesman Sean Spicer. As Culshaw was speaking to me he went into his Spicer impression and I can tell you it will be worth tuning in just for that.
Culshaw fans will also be delighted to know that in the autumn he’ll be touring a live show for the first time, called the Great British Take-Off. “During the interval,” Culshaw told me, “I ring up a local pizza place and order in pizza in the voice of whoever the audience has chosen and at the end of the show the audience comes on stage and has pizza.”
If you want to order in pizza for the first of the new Dead Ringers, it’s on tonight at 6.30pm.
Dead Ringers begins on Friday 16th June at 6.30pm on BBC Radio 4