British Protests are Funnier Than American Ones—Hugh Grant Just Proved it

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Hugh Grant screws his face up in an enthusiastic laugh alongside a female companion. The pair are sitting behind several rows of serious looking men.
Hugh Grant shares a laugh with Anna Elisabet Eberstein this week, right before very publicly unleashing the Benny Hill theme tune on the UK government. (Karwai Tang/WireImage)

The British people have always had a taste for absurdist comedy. (Think: Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The Young Ones and, more recently, The Mighty Boosh.) Now, worn down after seven years of near non-stop political turmoil, the Great British public have found a way to inject that humor into their protests—loudly.

For a few years now, industrious individuals have been curating music playlists to blast at London’s Houses of Parliament. The song choices generally offer commentary on the news of the day—or at the very least, make a mockery of it. And, because the prime location for these musical protests is also the prime location for television journalists to stand and report, sometimes these protests end up lending the news an unexpected soundtrack.

Take what happened this morning to a Sky News journalist who was attempting to report on the resignation of Boris Johnson. The U.K. Prime Minister was ousted after days of resignations within his government, prompted by a sexual assault scandal. All very serious stuff.

This is what viewers heard, however, when they tuned in to catch up on the latest:

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Round of applause for that very straight-faced journalist please.

Remarkably, the hilarious song choice came as a direct request from England’s leading chin-actor Hugh Grant. Grant used Twitter to reach out to Steve Bray, the protester behind the loudspeakers, and asked him to play “Yakety Sax,” a song most famous for being the theme tune to the Benny Hill Show.

Grant’s request was a game-changer in tone for the day. Bray’s earlier song choices had been considerably drier. (At one point, he blasted “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” at former Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Hancock was forced to resign last summer after kissing and hugging a co-worker, thereby violating his own party’s COVID safety protocols.)

Musical protests outside Parliament first gained popularity during the political chaos that followed the U.K.’s Brexit vote. Back then, viewers found their news reports soundtracked by glockenspiel renditions of ’80s classics. Here, for example, is a discussion about government leadership soundtracked by “Axel F.”

While these kinds of protests must undoubtedly be frustrating for journalists as they attempt to report on the news of the day, some certainly have a sense of humor about it. Like BBC News reporter Kasia Madera, who did a whole segment about “Glockenspiel Man,” referring to the protester as “light relief.”

The Brits have been attempting to bring levity to dark situations for a while now. The new music-blasting trend follows several years of “Milkshaking”—the act of throwing large McDonald’s milkshakes on far-right public figures. Some particularly unpopular campaigners, including outspoken Islamophobe Tommy Robinson and anti-feminist YouTuber Carl Benjamin were doused by members of the public repeatedly.

As low energy, high impact protests go, it’s clear now that you can’t beat a clever song on a loud-enough-speaker in a strategic location. And if one of England’s most famous actors wants to join in, well, the more the merrier.