To All Critic Readers,
I wish to respond to some of the unfortunate recent coverage that has surrounded the investigation into The Critic’s occasional sketchwriter and so-called “funnyman”, Robert Hutton.
As you may have read elsewhere, the Standards Committee of the Union of Sketchwriters, Satirists and Yahoos (SCUSSY) has for some months been investigating allegations that Hutton has been using his position for profit. This seemed implausible, given what we pay, but it appears that, unknown to us, Hutton had been acting as a “consultant” to Glenrandox Distilleries, the Croydon-based maker of well-known brands such as The Famous Paint Stripper and Laphraargh.
It is entirely within the Union’s rules for sketchwriters to act as consultants. The Guardian’s John Crace has, for instance, for years offered advice to Tottenham Hotspur FC, although the club’s performance over those decades makes it hard to argue that it has enjoyed any benefits. However sketchwriters are clearly forbidden from directly promoting their clients within sketches.
Thus, recent Hutton lines such as “after a gulp of the tasty reviving tonic that is Laphraargh, the prime minister was back on his feet and hitting Starmer for six” and “the entire front bench seemed energised, like a racing car running on Scotch-type drink product Taliskaargh”, while subtle, crossed ethical lines that have been established for centuries.
Hutton had argued that these and 287 other mentions of Glenrandox products were covered by a “whistle-blowing” exemption, because he was “blowing the whistle on the low, low prices set by the company, and alerting the public to the miracle drain-cleaning benefits of its whisky-alike chemical beverages”. However SCUSSY concluded this was, in their words, “bollocks”.
Hutton had tried to call 17 million witnesses to testify that no one reads his sketches, and still insists that had he been given this opportunity, the committee might have given up in despair. Controversially, the committee told him that it was not going near the question of whether sketchwriters were read, ignored or even the subject of regular complaints from subscribers to their publications.
Instead, it decided that Hutton’s case was one of the worst it had ever come across and merited severe punishment, ruling that he be required to sketch only the Welsh Affairs Committee for a period of 30 days. This was the most severe punishment handed out to a sketchwriter since The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon was ordered to write a twice-weekly column in the style of Auberon Waugh. The only other comparable case came in 2019, when The Times’ Quentin Letts was sentenced to review provincial revivals of An Inspector Calls until further notice.
It was at this point that one of my staff explained to me that I had for decades been very concerned about the entire system of sketchwriter oversight, and had apparently long wanted to reform it.
However, my plan to abolish SCUSSY, which I had been informed would be universally popular, seems to have been interpreted as an effort to return to the bad old days of sketchwriting sleaze, when jokes were sold to the highest bidder in the cash-for-gags scandal.
I wish to assure everyone that nothing could be further from my mind. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I abhor paying for anything. My only concern was to ensure that Hutton, who I’m told is a treasured member of my staff, didn’t experience a carriage of justice.
It is unfortunate that in the wake of this scandal, a spotlight has been shone on various other sketchwriting practices which, while long accepted, are now coming under question. Some have asked, for instance, why for the first six months of the year Hutton turns out to have been not, as he led us to believe, sitting in the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, but instead attending something called a “Recovery Spa” at the Steve Baker Centre For Brexit Survivors in Singapore.
Others have suggested that sketchwriters should be forbidden from taking outside work. I feel this would be a mistake, as without their book contracts they would have little to talk about over lunch.
In any event, I’m informed that I have now apologised, and consider the matter closed. I wish that I could be with you to discuss this in person, but unfortunately I am on a long-planned trip to lunch.
Putin Holdings, Grand Cayman
(written and signed in his absence)
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