Laureation Address: Armando Iannucci OBE FRSE FRSL

Graduation Office
Thursday 13 June 2024

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters
Laureation by Professor Stephen Gethins, Assistant Vice-Principal (International)

Thursday 13 June 2024

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Armando Iannucci.

Armando is one of the most consequential writers to have emerged in the UK for a generation. As a director, producer, performer, and showrunner, it is difficult to overstate his profound impact on stage, screen, and public discourse for almost four decades.

Armando was born and brought up in Glasgow. His father was from Naples, while his mother was born in Glasgow to an Italian family. As a boy, Armando attended St Peter’s Primary School in Glasgow – the same school as another generationally significant Scot, Billy Connolly, albeit some years before Armando. From there it was on to St Aloysius’ College, the University of Glasgow, and the University of Oxford. Armando says his father instilled in him the value of education and a free and enquiring mind. He once asked his Dad ‘why don’t you vote?’ to which his father replied, ‘the last time I voted, Mussolini got in, so what does that say?’

An inclination to question both the nature and the peculiarities of our democratic functions have marked much of Armando’s writing and comedy, earning him a reputation as one of the most important satirists of our time.

Armando’s first shows were for radio, with BBC Scotland commissioning No the Archie Macpherson Show in 1988. He found more widespread fame with On the Hour, which was broadcast on Radio 4 in 1994, before finding a new audience when it transferred to television as The Day Today. I am sure that Armando’s vast body of work will be well known by most of us in the hall today, especially those who have been brought up and educated in the UK and the US. With the actor and comedian Steve Coogan, he is responsible for creating broadcaster Alan Partridge, a much-loved character who first appeared in On the Hour, followed by The Day Today, before getting his own shows Knowing Me, Knowing You and I’m Alan Partridge.

Also, for television, Armando devised, wrote, and directed political TV satires on both sides of the pond – The Thick of It and Veep. He is also the mastermind behind The Armando Iannucci Shows, Avenue 5 and Time Trumpet.

His films have been met with critical acclaim, including the Oscar-nominated In the Loop, multi- awarding-winning Death of Stalin and, most recently, The Personal History of David Copperfield. So acclaimed are Armando’s films that our weekly University e-newsletter is even named after one of those films. I am sure you can guess which one.

We all have our favourite pieces of his work, and it may not surprise you to learn that mine is The Thick of It, which satirised the inner workings of government. Running for four series, it has often been ranked as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. Winner of multiple BAFTAs, it has become a cult classic, watched, and re-watched by millions of people, including me.

Filmed in the cinema verité style, with improvisation from the cast on top of its sizzling script, The Thick of It shaped not only the way we view politicians, but also the way politicians view themselves. It has elevated our public discourse about politics, and our awareness of the power of unelected advisers.

For few characters can have had as much impact on our collective consciousness as Malcolm Tucker, the fearsome Director of Communications and anti-hero of The Thick of It, master of the dark arts of media manipulation and political coercion, outstandingly portrayed by Peter Capaldi.

Vice-Chancellor, as you know, staff and students must clearly source their material, so I hope this passes muster. A very reliable source, in the UK Cabinet, informed me ahead of this ceremony that, having rewatched The Thick of It, they now describe the series as ‘instructional and no longer entertainment’. That comment is probably why colleagues across the political spectrum enjoy Armando’s work.

His high level of satire is important, and even crucial, in a democracy. The ability to poke fun at those in power and to use comedy as a mirror to hold up to our institutions and political functions is critical to us as a society.

But of course, Armando has other strings to his bow besides making our elected representatives hot under the collar. He has appeared as a guest on Radio 3 talking about classical music, one of his passions, and presented three programmes for the station, including Mobiles Off! a 20-minute segment on classical concert-going etiquette.

In July 2023, Armando announced that he was working on a stage adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s classic Cold War satire Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. His long-time collaborator Steve Coogan will be starring in multiple roles and the play will premiere this October at the Noel Coward theatre in London.

Armando’s work has been hugely influential, enrichening our public discourse, shining a light on governance, informing the viewer, always whip-smart but never self-congratulatory, always entertaining and, above all, always funny. That he can make us think while making us laugh is, on its own, worthy of the highest honour.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to entertainment and our national discourse, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, on Armando Iannucci.

Posted in

Related topics