“Did you know that the Queen is something of an impressionist and it’s a feature of Christmases at Sandringham that she will do excellent impressions of public figures?” I didn’t know this. But after the week that Kieran Hodgson has had I’m all ears. His short, sharp, brilliant online parody of season four of The Crown has proved as much a must-watch as the real thing, racking up 3.4m views in its first five days - the numbers still rising.
This time last week the 32-year-old comedian’s main calling cards were his zestily curious and intellectually ambitious stage shows, each displaying the expressive malleability of his good-looks and uncanny gift for impressions. His most recent, ’75 - a Brexit-framed look at the 1975 European Community referendum - was made into a Channel 4 comic documentary (co-starring Liza Tarbuck and Harry Enfield). But in terms of traction, it doesn’t compare with the spoof he fast-concocted in his recently adopted Glasgow flat.
A solo tour de force, the two-minute sequence crams in a deft and daft precis of the 10 new episodes. Well-known royal faces sit alongside ‘cameos’ such as Mountbatten, Thatcher and palace intruder Michael Fagan. Wit and on the nose caricature are in breakneck evidence from an absurdly stooped Charles moaning “What am I going to do in this series, Mummy? I’ve already learned Welsh, there’s nowhere else for me to go” to the final, tartly feeble ‘Oh dear” – the running gag of his head-scarfed HM.
The feedback on social media has been ecstatic – with praise from Python Eric Idle and historian Simon Schama, who said he choked on his porridge with laughter. Hodgson, who hails from Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, is particularly pleased with the Tweet (‘genius’) from Gillian Anderson, The Crown’s Mrs T. He guys her stiff (some might say wooden) account of the Iron Lady to a tee. “I’m impressed at her being such a good sport about it. The fact that she could see it for what it was [suggested] I hadn’t been too cruel to the actors.”
Covid has kiboshed live comedy and forced our stricken japesters to turn online. Hodgson has studied hard. “I’ve spent the last eight months observing what makes for successful videos on the internet. A huge element is succinctness: speed of editing, speed of ideas, and not being afraid to throw a great amount of content into a small amount of time. That suited The Crown perfectly.”
There was little premeditation, though. “It was instinctive.” He says he wrote the script last Friday morning in about 45 minutes and performed, edited and uploaded it in roughly three hours.
Did he suspect he had a viral hit on his hands? “I had the collywobbles as I was doing it. I had a feeling that if it worked, it could go pretty decently but my expectations have been incredibly surpassed.” As for monetising it, he smiles wanly. “There’s zero return, which in a way is fair because the budget was nothing.”
The son of teachers, he manifested a talent to amuse in infancy. “I did a take-off of The Six o’ Clock News at the school talent show in year seven. I’m not sure about the quality of my William Hague and Tony Blair impressions but people laughed. Doing voices gave me kudos in the playground.”
Having studied History (and gained a first) at Oxford, he has watched all of The Crown. “I love it. The one thing I’m really grateful for is the investment - on a Netflix scale - in events like the Suez Crisis and the Aberfan disaster – that unglamorous piece of post-war British history that was completely left out of my school curriculum and yet is completely fascinating and vital for our understanding of where we are now. Any TV programme that gives us something other than Queen Elizabeth I is all to the good.”
But what about the purported inaccuracies? He smiles.
“Not to be insufferably grandiose about it, but all history is really a story and an understanding in the minds of the people in the present day. We can’t go back to the past – therefore I’m very easy-breezy about historical fiction, about making it entertaining and making it engaging, as a way of enticing people to look at it further. My main historical gripe,” he adds (affably enough), “is that we never got to see Alec Douglas-Home on screen. He was reduced to mentions – I was livid about that.”
He has snatched two minutes of victory from the jaws of a mirth-killing pandemic. “As the months have gone by, I’ve been saying to myself ‘Try and get one win - something you can say you did during this barren period’. This is it. It’s gratifying to have cheered people up. I’ll gladly take that from this terrible year.”