Tracey Breaks the News

Tracey Breaks the News is a British topical comedy series starring Tracey Ullman. The programme premiered on BBC One on 27 October 2017,[1] and following a pilot episode that aired on 23 June.

Tracey Breaks the News
Also known asTracey Ullman's Show
Written byTracey Ullman
Directed byDominic Brigstocke
StarringTracey Ullman
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series2
No. of episodes7 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s)
Producer(s)Caroline Norris
  • Nigel Williams
  • Joseph Haughey
  • Justin James ("Pilot")
Running time30 minutes
Production company(s)
Original networkBBC One
Picture format16:9 (1080i HDTV)
Audio formatStereo
Original release27 October 2017 (2017-10-27) 
present (present)
Preceded byTracey Breaks the News
Related showsTracey Ullman's Show
External links

After the success of the one-off special, on 13 September 2017, the BBC announced that it had ordered three new episodes of Tracey Breaks the News. Like the pilot, the three new shows would "tackle topical stories and current issues in a sketch show written and filmed right up to the day of broadcast." It was also reported that Ullman would impersonate French First Lady Brigitte Macron and Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn.[2]

On 15 May 2018, it was formally announced that the show had been picked up for a second series, which began airing in June on BBC One.[3]

The show has been re-cut and sold internationally under the Tracey Ullman's Show banner.


Tracey Ullman and her roster of characters, including impersonations of world leaders, put their spin on both domestic and global affairs.



For years, Ullman made a concerted effort to steer clear of doing straight-up impersonations of celebrities, believing it was delving into Saturday Night Live territory.[4] She instead opted for "amalgamations" - combining elements of well-known people (look, voice, mannerisms, profession) thereby creating original characters.[5] However, by the dawn of the new millennium, she felt that the world's celebrity-driven culture called for her to finally add celebrities to her character repertoire, and she did this with her show Tracey Ullman's State of the Union. Critics noted a shift in the usually not overtly political Ullman.[6] Union took on such lofty topics such as healthcare, immigration, gun culture, war, and the 24-hour news media. Impersonations included political figures including the then House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the former First Lady Laura Bush, the former First Lady of France Carla Bruni, the congressman Barney Frank, political talking heads Arianna Huffington, Rachel Maddow and Meghan McCain, and the television news journalist Christiane Amanpour.

When the BBC approached her in 2014 with the possibility of returning to the broadcaster and creating a new show, Ullman was keen on doing a show about modern-day Britain and "national treasures", "which I think we have in England."[7] Political figures such as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would be impersonated. She saw Britain as a global hub, a melting pot, and she wanted to make a show about it. However, by 2016, Brexit loomed and the United Kingdom was voting to break itself away from the European Union. The irony wasn't lost on Ullman when it came to the show's original conception.[8]

Two days before filming the second series of Tracey Ullman's Show, the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom took place, forcing the show's writers to do quick rewrites for its Angela Merkel sketches.[9] The show had been filming six months ahead of transmission, which was proving not to be conducive to doing topical comedy.[10] So when the BBC ordered a Tracey Ullman post-election special for the summer of 2017, Ullman came up on a new format and production schedule: the show would be written, filmed and transmitted close together, keeping the material fresh and up to the minute. "We've decided to shake it up with a more topical format because things move so fast these days – it's like, every 10 minutes I'm voting for something."[11] The show aired on 23 June.

Whilst promoting the first two series of Tracey Ullman's Show, Ullman began petitioning for the return of the British satirical puppet show Spitting Image, feeling that there was a satirical gap in British comedy. In an interview with Rolling Stone she further explained, "I mean I came [to the United States] in Reagan's era. I grew up with Spitting Image being on in England at that time, a really political satirical show with puppets. We used to have the ‘President's Brain Is Missing...’ for Reagan. And they tried to stop that show in America. We have always turned to satire with Private Eye and go back to Beyond the Fringe, and that's what the week was [sic]."[10]

The special (also the pilot episode) proved very successful, drawing a total of 4.2 million viewers: 2.4 million viewers for its premiere and an additional 1.8 million during its encore showing.[12]

Unlike its predecessor, Tracey Breaks the News does not feature a laugh track.

Writing and filming

The series is filmed close to transmission and then ten minutes of topical material is filmed 48 hours before each episode goes out, "[W]hich is as close as all to Saturday Night Live as anyone in England gets at the moment," revealed Ullman to Rolling Stone magazine. "So if [Jeremy] Corbin [sic] or Theresa May, or something extraordinary happens, we can go in and do a piece about that."[10]

"Now we are doing a more immediate format, which is great fun. I always used to shoot shows and then they would go out six months later. But everything's so fast in the world now... I couldn't do an Angela Merkel piece or a Theresa May piece and put it out six months later. What we do now is we do three shows – which is what we are doing now - and we'll shoot for two weeks and try to do stuff that’s going to resonate for a while. Then we go in for three consecutive weeks when we write on the Friday and the Monday then we'll shoot on the Tuesday/Wednesday then on the Thursday as well if we have to, and it goes out on the Friday so it's really current. That's been so much fun – it's like doing my own little Saturday Night Live. I love it and the writers love it."
— Tracey Ullman to Claire Fordham[3]

On 13 September 2017, the BBC formally announced that it had ordered a first series of three episodes. In a press release, it was revealed that along with Angela Merkel, Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May, Ullman would be adding her take on the current First Lady of France Brigitte Macron and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. "I am thrilled to be allowed to Break the News again with my fantastic team of writers and performers. It’s wonderful that there is so much comedy to be found in the world’s current terrifying doom spiral. These are uncertain times, but I have my money on Angela Merkel to win the German election - don’t let me down Angela, you are like my Dot in EastEnders. Theresa May - hang in there, I’m not done with you yet, and Nicola Sturgeon - all power to your elbow hen, I promise my accent will be 10% better this season. I can’t wait to play new characters including the glamorous FLOF (First Lady of France) Brigitte Macron and a certain Labour leader, who we imagine has a marvellous sense of humour and will no doubt be delighted to see himself depicted by a middle aged woman (please don’t shave your beard off Jeremy, we’ve just had one made). Onward!"[13][14][15]

Location filming began on 25 September.[16] Writing and filming continued the week of transmission.[17]

In February 2018, Ullman revealed to writer and broadcaster Claire Fordham that writing on the second series had already begun.[3] Filming on the new series commenced 30 April 2018. On 15 May 2018, it was confirmed that the show would return to BBC One on 1 June with a new series consisting of three episodes.[18] A photo of Ullman made up as a British Conservative politician, and current Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, was released by the BBC on 16 May. It was further revealed that British politician Jacob Rees-Mogg, played by actor Liam Hourican, would be added to the show's long roster of impersonations. Mogg, presented as one-half of a double-act, is accompanied by his "very long-suffering Nanny."[19] Also returning to the series is Ben Miller as Rupert Murdoch playing opposite Ullman as wife Jerry Hall.[20]


The show encompasses a wide variety of world leaders and figures portrayed by Ullman. "I don't really impersonate them, I just try to interpret them, really."[10]

Critics found the show’s take on British Prime Minister Theresa May both biting and sympathetic. The results of the 2017 general election have left an already beleaguered May searching high and low for any sign that she’s about to be ousted. Husband Philip (played by actor Laurence Rickard), is always on hand to lend an ear and offer emotional support whilst partaking in online gambling, betting on how much longer his wife will be prime minister for. Ullman describes May's voice as always sounding hysterical.[21] "I know that English woman so well. She sort of talks like that. It's all very [as Theresa May] 'Well, let's get on, shall we?' She's a vicar's daughter from Maidenhead. And I know exactly where she’s from. My sister's the same age as her. We grew up near her. And you couldn't be more different me or Theresa May."[22]

Ullman describes May's look as if Nosferatu and Oscar Wilde had a child. "She looks like the vicar from The Barchester Chronicles, the [Anthony] Trollope novel. She's just Dickinson looking."[22]

Ullman admitted to being hesitant playing May right after the election and Grenfell Tower fire, feeling that it was the last thing she (May) needed. “I thought, can I do this? There's suddenly so much suffering this woman can go through and then Tracey Ullman impersonates her in primetime. It's like, leave her alone, you know? But then we did it and it was just fabulous fun and the nation needed it."[22]

Ullman’s Angela Merkel has moved on from her crush on former United States President Barack Obama and has now set her sights on new world leaders such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron (played by Ben Willbond), who she Skypes multiple times a day. "[A]nd his eye for the mature sex machine is of no relevance, Birgit, nein.” The one leader Angela does not relish conferencing with is United States President Donald Trump, or Herr Trump, as she refers to him. “He hates me, and I hate him more!”

Ullman was thrilled to get actor Anthony Atamanuik to play Donald Trump for the show. "I saw him during the election and I just thought that he was the best Trump. I mean, Alec Baldwin is amazing, but I love Anthony’s take [...] We wanted to have [German Chancellor] Angela Merkel and [British Prime Minister] Theresa May interacting with Trump and Anthony's like always in character as Trump so it’s perfect. He's been fantastic with what we’ve done so far. I'm going to have all sorts of people talking with him."[23] His wife, First Lady Melania Trump is portrayed as a Westworld-style robot created by the Russian government who continuously malfunctions and has to be flown back for repairs.[10]

Nicola Sturgeon, a Bond-like type villain, along with her henchmen, Mhairi Black (dubbed Wee Mhairi) continue in their quest for Scottish independence at any cost. Both the real Nicola Sturgeon and Mhairi Black have shown support for their portrayals in the show (as have Sturgeon's political rivals).[24][25] Ullman did raise the ire of several online SNP supporters.[26] While the show pokes fun at Sturgeon's repeated calls for referendums, Ullman says she admires her.[27]

The show lampoons the entire political spectrum. Ullman, a lifelong Labour supporter, has been openly critical of the party in recent years, citing herself as feeling "party-less".[28] The show’s 2017 post-election pilot episode features a sketch in which a newly elected Labour MP is sent to a "voluntary mandatory reeducation program" at Labour headquarters to be brainwashed into believing that current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (portrayed by Ullman in series one) has "defeated Toryism" and the number of seats won by the party are larger than they appear. A torture technique: sending Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell (portrayed by actor Laurence Howarth) in.

Jeremy Corbyn is portrayed as a politician keen on giving the impression that he's a man who understands the plight of "the worker" whilst reveling in his newfound celebrity. John McDonnell, evermore resentful of Corbyn who is making decisions without consulting him, fears what he's turning into.

On 25 October 2017, two days before the show's series premiere (and after photos of Ullman transformed into Jeremy Corbyn had been made public) the real Jeremy Corbyn joked, "Don't worry, Tracey Ullman's coming" at Prime Minister's Questions as they awaited the arrival of Prime Minister Theresa May.[29] Upon seeing himself and Corbyn parodied in the series premiere, John McDonnell tweeted: "Absolutely brilliant. Even I thought it was me and Jeremy for a while. Satire at its best."[30]

A sketch featured in the series 2 premiere episode (broadcast on 1 June 2018) drew considerable ire from Labour Party members on social media. The sketch featuring Ullman as current Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn references the political leader's ties to Gerry Adams, former Leader of the Sinn Féin, a friend of his from Hamas, and focuses on the public debate surrounding antisemitism in the Labour Party and Corbyn's reaction to it.[31] Conspiracy theories and erroneous claims arose on Twitter from Labour supporters that Jewish comedian David Baddiel wrote the sketch's script, that Ullman was Jewish, and that the bit was part of a "Zionist conspiracy" against the party. Politicians such as George Galloway were also responsible in pushing the claims. Baddiel, who is an outspoken atheist, who is not a Zionist, and has nothing to do with the show, responded on his Twitter account: "Been told, hilariously, that Corbynistas like @jigsawman2014 have assumed that I wrote Tracey Ullman's JC sketch on her show: a brilliant example of how they truly eschew the idea of a Jewish conspiracy." Baddiel followed up, "This is the literally the weirdest conspiracy theory I've ever seen. I've now seen it stated as fact that I wrote that sketch. Maybe I should ask for royalties. Or will that confirm the stereotype for the antisemites?"[32] Ullman, who is not Jewish, is a long-time Labour supporter, like Baddiel. Producer Caroline Norris added, "I have no idea where [this idea] came from. He'd be on the credits if he'd written a sketch for the show." In reality, the Corbyn sketch was written by Laurence Howarth who also wrote a series of sketches for the show's second series mocking Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg. Entertainers such as David Schneider, Al Murray, Emma Kennedy, Mitch Benn, a number of journalists, and actress Tracy-Ann Oberman, who's appeared on the show a number of times, came to the series' defense and condemned the antisemitic smears launched against Ullman, Baddiel and the show itself.[33] Shane Allen, the head of BBC comedy commissioning, defended the Corbyn sketches because "attacking the left, right and centre is part of the whole point of satire." He went on to say that comedians and writers shouldn't be afraid of Twitter controversy because "Twitter is a playground for bullies, arseholes and cowards."[34]



SeriesEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
Special23 June 2017 (2017-06-23)
1327 October 2017 (2017-10-27)10 November 2017 (2017-11-10)
231 June 2018 (2018-06-01)15 June 2018 (2018-06-15)

Special (2017)

No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateU.K. viewers
1"Pilot"Dominic BrigstockeGemma Arrowsmith, Kevin Cecil, Andy Riley, Jeremy Dyson, Laurence Howarth, Katherine Jakeways, Georgia Pritchett23 June 2017 (2017-06-23)2.4[35]
A post-election, one year anniversary of Brexit comedy special.

Series 1 (2017)

An unaired sketch was released exclusively online by BBC Comedy on 1 November 2017 with the caption "So THAT's how they name hurricanes..."[36]

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateU.K. viewers
21"Episode 1"Dominic BrigstockeKevin Cecil, Andy Riley, Jeremy Dyson, Laurence Howarth, Giles Pilbrow, Georgia Pritchett, Laurence Rickard, Brona C. Titley, Tony Cooke, Tracey Ullman27 October 2017 (2017-10-27)2.38[37]
Theresa has figured out a way to make the universal credit helpline free - she'll be taking the calls herself. Brexit negotiations - does Europe wish to keep anything British? Why viewers watch The Great British Bake Off. Reporting on President of the United States Donald Trump. John McDonnell sees a change in Jeremy Corbyn. Oxbridge admissions committee are seeking diversity. Hollywood studio heads meet to discuss new code of conduct in the wake of Harvey Weinstein. Reporting on Robert Mugabe - for goodwill ambassador? Theresa readies for a Halloween party. Appealing the licence termination in London for Uber. The Macrons take a trip down memory lane. Reporting on Catalonia threatening to leave Spain - "Do you reckon he'll go through with it?" Nicola and Mhairi begin brainstorming how to get Britain interested in Scotland again after the DUP stole the SNP's thunder. Camilla Parker Bowles goes shopping for her new "grand-sprog". Reporting on something about China. Liberal Democrats headquarters brainstorm how to turn Leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable into the President of France Emmanuel Macron. Alexis Teenage Edition. Angela works on her poker face.
32"Episode 2"Dominic BrigstockeGemma Arrowsmith, Kevin Cecil, Andy Riley, Jeremy Dyson, Laurence Howarth, Giles Pilbrow, Georgia Pritchett, Laurence Rickard, Brona C. Titley, Tony Cooke3 November 2017 (2017-11-03)2.38[38]
Jeremy and John watch "Tracey Breaks the News" on Gogglebox. Theresa organises the Conservative Christmas party. Dame Judi Dench discusses her latest film. The Kremlin devises a new plan of attack on Western democracy. Reporting on further allegations on sexual misconduct. John doesn't agree with Jeremy's new celebrity-style politics. Angela meets with Emmanuel Macron. Reporting on the indictment of Paul Manafort. An app brainstorming session. Camilla pops over to the chemist. Sexual harassment claims advert. Reporting on Gemma Collins. App brainstorming continues. Jeremy and John watch The Apprentice. Claire Balding discusses presenting the 2018 Winter Olympics. Reporting on Gordon Brown's memoir. The Liberal Democrats try to persuade Tim Farron to do a reality television show. Nicola's plan to turn golfers off of using Donald Trump's golf courses in Scotland. Reporting on Prue Leith leaking the winner of The Great British Bake Off. Alexis Long Term Relationship Edition. A twist on university debt. Nicola's plan fails. Jeremy and John watch Question Time.
43"Episode 3"Dominic BrigstockeGemma Arrowsmith, Kevin Cecil, Andy Riley, Jeremy Dyson, Lawrence Howarth, Giles Pilbrow, Georgia Pritchett, Laurence Rickard10 November 2017 (2017-11-10)2.35[39]
Theresa returns from her "cross party sleaze meeting". Sharon Osbourne tries to understand the new X Factor rules. Angela feels jaded after topping Forbes' World's 100 Most Powerful Women list. Reporting on Priti Patel's resignation. A very unprepared, unqualified Gavin Williamson Secretary of State for Defence. Camilla is pulled over for erratic driving. New from MP Games: Guess Who's Next? The first day for a new hire at HM Revenue and Customs. Reporting on Lewis Hamilton's alleged tax avoidance. Theresa Skypes with Donald Trump. Alexis Senior Edition. The Chair of Public Works begins detonating potentially offensive statues in London. Reporting on copied and pasted articles from BuzzFeed. Nicola already has an operation going to protect Scotland when the "Brexshit" hits the fan. The Some Sort of Therapy Centre. John attempts to prep Jeremy for Prime Minister's Questions. An editorial meeting. Reporting on the Paradise Papers and Her Majesty's investments. The Chair of Public Works deems Eros as potentially offensive. Debate over female led television drama.

Series 2 (2018)

No. in
TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateU.K. viewers
51"Episode 1"Dominic BrigstockeSimon Alcock, Kevin Cecil, Andy Riley, Laurence Howarth, Giles Pilbrow, Georgia Pritchett, Laurence Rickard, Brona C. Titley, Tony Cooke1 June 2018 (2018-06-01)TBA
A secure location? Angela worries about her image. The future of the Star Wars franchise. A woman applies to become Jacob Rees-Mogg's new housekeeper (or nanny). Reporting on Roseanne Barr's controversial tweets. A woman tries to explain the Me Too movement to her male office co-workers with little success. Donald Trump ships himself to England. Reporting on Jamie Oliver's lobbying to get Parliament to ban cartoon characters on cereal packaging. Nicola reveals her plan to use plastic to expand Scotland to Mhairi. Donald Trump, boxed up, hits the road. Nursing in 2018. Reporting on a heroic undocumented migrant who was granted French citizenship. Camilla hosts an Airbnb couple breakfast. Jeremy Corbyn has an awkward reunion with an old friend. Reporting on Raheem Sterling's machine gun tattoo. Paddy Passports. Russian government officials attempt to rig the World Cup. Reporting on WHSmith being voted "Worst Shop." Michael Gove takes part in a trust exercise.
62"Episode 2"Dominic BrigstockeSimon Alcock, Gemma Arrowsmith, Kevin Cecil & Andy Riley, Laurence Howarth, Will Maclean, Lucy Montgomery, Giles Pilbrow, Laurence Rickard, Brona C. Titley & Tony Cooke8 June 2018 (2018-06-08)TBA
Theresa learns that some people are saying that she should be replaced by Michael Gove. Fortnite Battle Brexit. A couple decides to hire Michael Gove as their babysitter. Reporting on H&M changing its UK women's wear sizes. Jeremy tries to sell tickets to Labour Live. A meeting to fix the problem with train timetables. Love Northern Ireland. Rupert Murdoch returns home from a meeting at Disney. Reporting on the government's approval for a third runway at Heathrow Airport and Boris Johnson stating he will lie down in front of bulldozers. A glamour model-turn dolly bird agent reveals the push back against the dolly bird industry. Theresa prepares for the G7 summit. Reporting on Qatar Airways CEO's sexist remark. The Russians fly to Washington, D.C. to repair the Melania Bot. Rupert discovers Jerry filling out a carer's allowance application form. The Overly-Woke Support Group. Angela wonders if she's being paid as much as her male political counterparts. Reporting on Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un meeting on Sentosa Island. Kirstie Allsopp aims to relocate a couple from Parliament. Jacob Rees-Mogg takes a meeting in a restaurant, along with some help from Nanny.
73"Episode 3"Dominic BrigstockeGemma Arrowsmith, Kevin Cecil & Andy Riley, Mike Hayley, Liam Hourican, Laurence Howarth, Lucy Montgomery, Giles Pilbrow, Georgia Pritchett, Laurence Rickard, Brona C. Titley & Tony Cooke15 June 2018 (2018-06-15)2.17[40]
Theresa's Brexit Fudge. Michael Gove helps an elderly woman cross the road. Jeremy prepares for Labour Live. Welcoming (and warning) foreigners to Russia for 2018 World Cup. Jerry and the kids surprise Rupert for Father's Day. Reporting on a raccoon who scaled a building. Britain's Last Shopper. Granny Camilla takes the royal sprogs to a play center. Coming soon to BBC One, Britain's Favourite Fatberg with Julie Walters. An Amazon representative confronts Gareth Southgate. Reporting on Mark Carne's CBE. It's bathtime for Jacob Rees-Mogg. A couple's smart home starts malfunctioning. Britain's Favourite Rail Replacement Bus Service with Julie Waters. Nicola still hasn't gotten over Scotland losing the curling competition at the Winter Olympics. Reporting on the Donald Trump and Kim Jung Un's treaty. A hipster infestation. Dame Judi Dench teaches Mark Rylance how to be a national treasure. Donations for Feminists Who Ruin Things Men Used to Like. Theresa is convinced she's living in her own version of The Truman Show.


The show has been met with positive reviews.[41][42][43][44]

Awards and nominations

Year Award Category Recipient(s)/Nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
2018 Royal Television Society Awards Make Up Design – Entertainment & Non Drama Vanessa White, Floris Schuller & Neill Gorton Nominated [45]

International distribution

On 30 August, American cable and satellite television network HBO announced that it would begin airing a third season of Ullman's former BBC show Tracey Ullman's Show on 28 September 2018. The network acquired exclusive broadcasting rights to the series in 2016. The third season will utilise episodes produced for Ullman's follow-up show Tracey Breaks the News.[46] The show makes its international premiere in the United States as the third season of HBO's Tracey Ullman's Show at the 2018 Tribeca TV Festival. The event will be held on 21 September 2018, with Ullman expected to take part in a Q&A session hosted by actress Meryl Streep.[47]

Aside from HBO in the United States, the show's international distributor, the UK-based DRG, has sold the show under the banner Tracey Ullman's Show to HBO Europe and ITV Choice in Asia as of September 2018.[48]


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