Comedy writers Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin have to thank the Prime Minster for their new Channel 4 comedy series, Ballot Monkeys. Jenkin, who with Hamilton has previously created hit series like Drop The Dead Donkey and Outnumbered, explains: "Up until now it has been impossible to plan for an election sitcom because we never knew when it would be. But then David Cameron kindly introduced the idea of a fixed-term Parliament, so now for the first time it's possible. The Prime Minister has presented us with this great opportunity."
Ballot Monkeys observes the action on board the 'battle buses' of the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and UKIP. En route, viewers can observe the antics of the 'confederacy of dunces' who staff so much of contemporary politics. Ben Miller, Hugh Dennis and Sarah Hadland are amongst the recognisable actors taking on the roles.
The creators are confident their set-up will help them garner more than enough material to fill the five episodes. Andy explains: "We've worked on enough election shows before to know that you have to be balanced in your coverage. We couldn't feature just one bus, so we became intrigued by the idea of shooting simultaneously on four different buses. That's also a great way of generating material to go out that night."
Comedy will also stem from the fact that the characters are the put-upon foot soldiers, rather than the grandiose generals of the campaign. According to Andy, "Our buses go to key marginals, and our characters have to run around organising everything there. They're like middle management. We're not portraying the top spin doctors. We're depicting the people who have to carry out this nonsense, not the people who come up with it in the first place."
Many of the jokes will revolve around the panic that inevitably grips politicos in the run-up to an election. Andy reflects: "This is going to be the first very fast, social-media election. The atmosphere's going to be really febrile.
"The big fear for all parties is that out of the blue some obscure figure will say something stupid, the Twitter-sphere will instantly decide it's laughable and suddenly it will become the dominant news story of the day. You can see why all the parties are very frightened of the speed with which these stories take off. That's why they are desperately trying to stay on message."
Guy adds: "That sense of chaos is very comic and very good for us. But you do wonder how good it is for democracy or for politicians' mental states. Just a few years ago, politicians could have a string of mistresses and say terrible things about people in private and no one would ever know. But there's no private any more. What is alarming is that politicians have to make decisions so quickly. You have to get the rebuttal out within five minutes. But that's great fodder for comedy."
Another area the writers will be zooming on in is the plethora of foreign consultants in this election, with Episodes star Kathleen Rose Perkins playing an American field strategist for Labour. Guy says: "There is a mystique about people who have worked on campaigns abroad and a sense of 'They've got one, so we want one, too'. Everyone seems to have worked on Obama's campaign."
Back in the 1990s, Drop The Dead Donkey was filmed close to transmission to allow for Andy and Guy to drop in some topical gags. Ballot Monkeys goes one step further with as much as a third of each episode being filmed on the day of transmission. So are the pair at all nervous about the idea of producing a big sitcom on such a tight deadline? Not in the slightest it turns out. Andy laughs: "The nice thing about the ludicrously fast turnaround is that we won't have time for any nerves!"
Ballot Monkeys starts on Channel 4 on Tuesday 21st April at 10pm.