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Trevor Cooper, Sarah Hadland, Ben Miller and Hattie Morahan on the campaign trail in Ballot Monkeys.Trevor Cooper, Sarah Hadland, Ben Miller and Hattie Morahan on the campaign trail in Ballot Monkeys. Photograph: Nicky Johnson/Channel 4/PA

Channel 4’s new election comedy Ballot Monkeys has an awful lot going for it. Its cast is rammed with talent. It’s written by Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin, settling back into their political roots after the cosy time-out of Outnumbered. Its subject matter could barely be any more timely. Plus it’s set entirely on four buses, so it’s probably quite cheap to make.

And yet there was only one real reason why I watched Ballot Monkeys last night. I wanted to see the join. Portions of each episode are written on the day of transmission for topicality, and then scattered throughout the existing material. And, as unkind as it sounds, I wanted to see how badly these bits stood out.

Topical inserts are a high-wire affair. At least Hamilton and Jenkin are masters of the form – they did something similar with Drop the Dead Donkey, and often managed to come up with definitive jokes about current affairs at incredibly short notice. But it’s a slippery slope. Take your eye off the ball for even a second and you run the risk of turning into EastEnders, shoehorning in clips of Billy Mitchell running up to Minty in the laundrette during the World Cup quarter finals and going “Gor blimey, did you just watch Cameroon v Albania? Nil-nil, didn’t see that coming.”

Fortunately, for the most part, Ballot Monkeys pulled it off. In last night’s episode, there were jokes about John Major’s speech, about Nicola Sturgeon nicking the Lib-Dem slogan, about drowned migrants and Katie Hopkins and Paddy Ashdown’s inexplicable profusion of “bastards” on live TV.

There were moments that didn’t work as well, as you’d expect from a show with such an emphasis on topicality. The entire pre-written narrative of the Labour bus involved lots of people sighing hopelessly about Ed Miliband’s personal incompetence and general awkwardness, which didn’t match at all with the events of the past week; in fact, he’s been doing so well that one insert – where Daisy Haggard had no choice but to respond positively to Monday’s Evan Davis interview – stood out like a sore thumb.


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