'Charlie Brooker is not an angry crank'
He made his name with his excoriating TV reviews. Now the Screen Burn columnist is more likely to be the one making the programmes. Either way, Charlie Brooker hasn’t lost his sense of the absurd – or of the macabre
All his work shows an acute understanding of the mechanics of television. The first scene he wrote for Black Mirror started as a parody of 24. And the comic news analysis on Newswipe comes from studying the news cycle. “A story breaks, everyone panics a bit and there’s hot news,” he says. “Then, after about 72 hours, there’s a fork in the road, and the media takes a silly turn. Things just get surreal and weird, because there are so many hours to fill with bulls**t. Spotting those branches is what we do.”
The first series of A Touch of Cloth was adapted from a real unmade crime-show script written by the Messiah creator Boris Starling. The second was created with the help of specially compiled DVDs themed around cop-show tropes. “We’d watch a DVD that was just bank-robbery scenes and then a DVD that was just scenes where an undercover cop was being initiated into a gang. Typically he does that by being a cock. He walks in and is rude to everyone. And everyone’s in a strip club where they don’t look at any of the nudity. They just stare at each other humourlessly.”
10 O’Clock Live was one of his biggest challenges. Before it was commissioned he wrote a very funny column about how he once did “a wee” of fear when faced with doing a live broadcast. Is it still the same? “Oh, constantly,” he says. “I mean, not constantly weeing, but constantly scared.”
But this fear is usually superseded by baffled gratitude that he has a career at all. He recalls discussing the next day’s newspapers on 10 O’Clock Live. “There was an artist’s impression of a prehistoric bird on the cover of the Guardian, and without thinking I drew a cock on it. Then I sat there thinking, What the f*** have I done? Weirdly, I was concerned with legal issues. Did drawing a cock on it count as defacing or modifying the image? That’s what I was worried about, not, ‘I’m 42 years old and I’m drawing knobs on live television.’ ”
A Touch of Cloth II begins on Sky1 at 9pm next Sunday