Full disclosure: I am a fan of ‘The Thick of It’, Armando Ianucci’s award-winning political satire, so I was always going to enjoy an app that featured Malcolm Tucker, or the ‘Gorbals Goebbels’ as he’s occasionally known, swearing and conniving in the way that only Malcolm can. But as with any spin-off from a brilliant original, there’s also a risk of disappointment, a chance that it won’t come close to replacing the real thing.
Faber and Faber and Agant’s new app for iPhone, ‘Malcolm Tucker: The Missing Phone’ not only avoids this disappointment, it puts you right at the heart of the Thick of It’s universe in a way that even the TV show can’t. Because now, instead of bullying bug-eyed, brow-beaten ministers in Government offices and TV studios all around Westminster, Malcolm is after you. You’ve come across his lost phone and hacked into it (the app invites you to enter a four digit PIN code – no prizes for guessing the four letters I chose – after which you gain access to his private email, voicemail, Twitter feed and SMS). In the context of recent revelations about Glen Mulcaire’s hacking of phones for the News of the World, it is a scenario that seems ever more plausible.
The app comes pre-loaded with several hilarious text message and email exchanges, voicemails and the infamous PULSEFINGER’s Twitter timeline, which is worth the price alone. But before long you start to get new alerts and messages. The app mimics the appearance of genuine iPhone notifications and text messages so you feel you are really getting calls from Malcolm, Nicola, Olly and Glenn, even when the app is not running.
You also get (in the form of .pdf attachments) some of Malcolm’s indispensable tactical manuals: his ‘How to Bury Bad News’, and ‘How to Leak Stories’, full of such gems as: “Journalists have massive professional egos to feed. You can use this to con them into thinking they’re doing their job properly for a fucking change by pretending to suppress something you want leaked”. But, for me, the Piece de Resistance comes in his teasing of Jamie MacDonald, his protégé, over a short stint he once put in as Arts correspondent for the Glasgow Herald: “Re: Darling, you were exquisite.”
My only complaint about this brilliant piece of interactive storytelling is that it didn’t seem to last for very long. After a flurry of messages in the first few days, I started to receive fewer alerts, and after a week I stopped getting any. By that stage I had already had more than enough fun to justify the price of the app, but it would have been even better if the story had carried on for another week or so and finally come to a glorious, expletive-laden conclusion.
It felt as though only part of the story had been told, and hopefully future updates will continue the adventure, as the master media manipulator bargains and bullies you into giving him back his precious phone and its secret data.