THE big television event of the week was not the Sunday shows – terribly old hat by now – but the return of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads.

The first series of monologues aired in 1988 when the coat of one Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was on a shoogly peg.

When the next series came along a decade later, there was a newbie premier called Tony Blair in Downing Street.

Here we are, 2020, and another PM, Boris Johnson, is in office, future unknown, despite that thumping majority. His immediate task? The further easing of the lockdown in England without causing a surge in new cases.

Ahead of the main act announcing something this week, Downing Street sent a warm-up man in the shape of England’s Health Secretary, Matt Hancock. On the dove-ish side of the lockdown easing debate, he was perhaps better placed than some to reassure the public that it would be safe to get back out there into pubs, restaurants, and schools.

Sky News’s Ridge on Sunday was first to run the rule over the numbers with Mr Hancock. By presenter Sophy Ridge’s reckoning, the contact tracers were only reaching two people a week.

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Far from being a sign of failure, said the Minister, this was a good thing. It showed there was spare capacity in the system, and that was because the number of new cases was falling.

So to the much hyped app, meant to be the jewel at the centre of what the PM promised would be a “world-beating” system of track and trace. With the failure of the Isle of Wight trial and still no date as to when the software will appear, the app has become a Bennettian “chip in the sugar”, a sign of standards not being met and promises unfulfilled.

Asked when the app would be ready, Mr Hancock said he was not going to put a date on it (unlike his boss, who had said the system, of which the app would be a part, would be operating by the start of June). “I’m highly confident it will happen,” said the Minister. By the time he reached The Andrew Marr Show this had become “We’ll get there with the app.”

Nick Robinson was standing in for Andrew Marr, whose father has died. The Today presenter was among those who deputised for the Scot after his stroke in 2013. Robinson would have found the format much the same: start with the papers, end with a Minister, and pause in the middle for something lighter, in this case interviews with Kristen Scott Thomas, who stars in one of the Talking Heads, “The Hand of God”, and Nicholas Hytner, who directs three of them.

One major change Robinson could not have predicted are the by now regular slots on Marr for experts. Both Professor Sir Ian Diamond, the UK’s National Statistician, and Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine stressed that coronavirus had not gone away and there was no room for complacency.

Professor Piot, described in his introduction as something of a star in the fight against viruses – the “Mick Jagger of microbes” someone had called him – said he would be okay with a relaxation of the two metre rule as long as masks were worn in public places. He also called the quarantining of people entering the UK “useless” and urged the UK Government to appoint a Covid-19 tsar at Cabinet level.

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In all his answers he was as clear as day, unlike Mr Hancock who had to do the usual thankless ministerial task of talking about a subject while not giving anything away before the official announcement.

In lieu of detail Mr Hancock had come bearing a new word: “mitigations”. Besides mask wearing this appeared to include adopting the New Zealand system of asking people for contact information when they go to a pub or restaurant. Expect “sign here for a pint” headlines in England.

Robinson was not going to let Mr Hancock go without bringing up the Minister’s breach of the social distancing rules, as caught on camera last week when he patted a colleague on the back in the Commons. “It was just totally natural,” said Mr Hancock. “This shows how difficult social distancing is. All I can do is say I’m incredibly sorry for this momentary breach. It’s because I’m human. We’re all human.” It sounded like another headline in the making.

One person determined not to make the headlines was Iain Stewart, the new Scotland Office Minister, making his first appearance on Politics Scotland.

Mr Stewart, the MP for Milton Keynes South, got his job because the previous incumbent had resigned over Dominic Cummings’ dash to Durham. But Mr Stewart had little to nothing to say on that to host Gordon Brewer. Nor was he keen to share his thoughts on extending the furlough in Scotland save for telling the Scottish Government to be “more ambitious” on reviving the economy.

“All you’re doing is telling us things we already know,” said Brewer. Mr Stewart was still not for budging. He survived his baptism of fire, or baptism of Brewer, by sticking ruthlessly to his lines. Anyone would think he fancied a part in the next run of Talking Heads.

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