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Review: Jon Sopel – Inside Trump’s White House (Penguin Live)

Politics, eh?

What larks.

I heavily, heavily jest. But if like me, you’re fascinated by the goings on in that big White House across the pond, you can would have been equally fascinated by BBC North America Editor, Jon Sopel, as he talked about his new book A Year at the Circus.

Given a foot in the door to both the book and the Oval Office itself, via Penguin Live’s event, Inside Trump’s White House, at The Dancehouse Theatre, Manchester, we were all enthralled as Jon chatted candidly but never salaciously about what it’s like to be part of the media pack when the POTUS is one Donald John Trump.

And if Alec Baldwin ever falls out with Saturday Night Live, Jon does a mean Trump impersonation.

Touch wood he voices an audio of the book which, if his excerpts and anecdotes at the Penguin Live are anything to go buy, promises to entertain, enthral and indeed educate with what I perceive will be a balanced, fair but candied account of life at the BBC when posted to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Find out why the press require protection at a Trump rally;

Just what it takes to quote the Leader of the Free World on the BBC news, when that quote is,

I’m fucked

and what to do when you’re quietly having dinner in a D.C. restaurant and the Pres’ and his First Lady are at the table next up you having a frosty dinner in the wake of Stormy Daniels…

A Year at the Circus: Inside Trump’s White House is out now at all good book shops and websites, and is published by Penguin Books.

For more Penguin Live events, visit

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Preview: Writer and film-maker, Paul Mason in conversation with Stuart Maconie – 30 April 2019

Writer, film-maker and leading thinker, Paul Mason, is coming to Manchester on 30 April 2019, to discuss his latest book, Clear Bright Future: A Radical Defence of the Human Being, with BBC 6 Music’s, Stuart Maconie.

On the eve of publication, Penguin Live, will play host, at The Dancehouse, Manchester, to what promises to be a fascinating discussion about Mason’s latest work, which explores just what it is to be human.

The book argues that humans are facing a triple threat:

  • the rise of authoritarian politicians,
  • the possibility of intelligent machines; and
  • a spreading fatalism and irrationality, which has made millions susceptible to the mythologies of the new right.

Depressing times.

However, whilst many will share the view that this spells for a bleak future, Mason’s vision is that we are not merely cogs in the machine, and that we people are still capable of shaping our future.

During political unrest and trying times, such optimism is welcome and timely, but is it realistic?

Join leading thinker, Mason, and broadcaster and journalist, Maconie, for what promises to be an impassioned, through-provoking and lively discussion. See you there…

For more details and tickets, visit

Read about my last experience at a Penguin Live event: Penguin Pride – less a review, more a tribute

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Theatre review: Trial by Laughter at The Lowry

Following their previous stage success The Wipers Times, which sold out both in the West End and across the country, Ian Hislop and Nick Newman are back to entertain us with their latest sharply observed stage production, showing this week at The Lowry theatre, Salford.

Author’s own

Inspired by real life events and based on the critically acclaimed original BBC4 drama of the same name, Trial by Laughter, takes us back over two centuries to 1817, and tells the tale of bookseller, publisher and satirist William Hone (engagingly and energetically played by Joseph Prowen), who stood trial for parodying religion, the despotic government and the lustful monarchy.

Author’s own

As Ian Hislop himself highlights in the programme notes. he’s been the defendant in a number of libel trials in the past in his capacity as Editor of Private Eye.

Political, satirical and let’s add hysterical cartoonist Nick Newman, is equally qualified to tell this tale of whether humour sees off libel when it comes to press freedom.


The play is fast-paced, snappy and as, you might expect, wondrously witty.

The stage is set up so that for courtroom scenes (frequently and cleverly interspersed by rapid location changes which punctuate the play), Judge, prosecution and defence face us, the audience, who find ourselves in the position of jury and public gallery.


This device works well although it should be noted that any reaction displayed to proceedings will be assisted by the brilliantly funny retorts from unseen attendees as piped through from the back of the theatre.


This historical romp takes us through Hone’s three separate court hearings held over three consecutive days, such is the insistence of Prince Regent (depicted brilliantly by Jeremy Lloyd – each of his scenes a living, breathing satirical cartoon) to have Hone punished for ridiculing his somewhat rotund appearance. publishing satirical versions of texts heard in church.

A charge of blasphemous libel is brought against Hone which carried potential sentences of a lengthy prison sentence or deportation to Australia.


It was even more impressive, therefore, that William Hone represented himself in court to fight off such weighty accusations.

Now, I went to see this fine play during the same week that I concluded a journey down the rabbit hole that is the Netflix Conversation with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.

Stay with me.

The only parallel I am drawing here is the wish for an accused to provide his own legal defence. History books and a visit to the theatre will tell you who was the more successful…Oh and Netflix.


In a post-Leveson Inquiry era, filled with super-injuctions and fevered attempts for the law to catch up with social media, this brilliant tale begs the question, can laughter outweigh libel (and should it)?

(I think yes, but don’t listen to me. I bring Bundy into everything.)

Trial by Laughter is showing at The Lowry until Saturday 2 February. For tickets and more details including cast and production, visit The Lowry website.

Photo credit: Philip Tull (unless specified otherwise).