Tag Archives: Al Murray

Who are the British? Or are they at all?

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

Nigel Farage (left), comic Al Murray (centre) & Thanet South winner, Conservative Craig Mackinley

During last night’s General Election coverage – with the Scottish National Party effectively wiping out the other three parties in Scotland, Labour just-about holding the North of England and the Conservatives (except in London) dominating the South – someone on BBC TV talked about a three-colour layered cake of a nation. Yellow at the top, red in the middle and blue at the bottom.

The line between red and blue is somewhat skewed by Wales being red, but it is a fairly good image.

The result of the 2015 Election

The constituency result of the 2015 Election

I think to people outside the UK – particularly to people who have always referred to the UK as “England” – the extent to which the UK is and always has been a hotchpotch has never been realised.

My blog yesterday headed Maybe the Scottish Nationalists should move the border south into England? was about nationality.

Five years ago – in November 2010 – I wrote a blog headed The British have always been a violent race 

That was about what the people on the island of Britain – England, Scotland, Wales – were arguably like, not about the individual nations.

There were a couple of interesting comments about that November 2010 blog – one made in June 2013 and one made in October 2014 – and, yesterday, an unknown (to me) person called Dean replied to both of those comments. Below I reprint the comments and Dean’s responses as an interesting insight into some people’s thinking, which is perhaps relevant in view of the strong support the UK Independence Party got in yesterday’s election.

I have to say I think some of Dean’s facts are a tad suspect – and I think he confuses “British” with “English” – but his views are interesting.

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it

The Union flag without the Scottish St Andrew element in it


COMMENT BY RONNIE (June 2013)

I think all Germanic countries are more violent than Southern European countries. It’s strange because they tend to be richer and more successful than the Southern European countries. There is a big drinking culture and that only makes things worse. England is worse than other Germanic countries like Germany and Holland when it comes to violent behaviour. There is a big difference here between working class and middle class people. The working classes are often undereducated and this leads to poverty, child pregnancy, unemployment which in turn leads to frustration and violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

England is not a Germanic country in the very least… England is a pre-Celtic origin country. Germanic invaders had little impact there unlike the myth usually tell us… Germanics like Dutch or German are cold with the outsider but gregarious with their family and close friends…They are direct, can appear rude as being too direct but are in reality very honest and civilized people, who rarely will fight. They have respect for human beings and love to discuss like civilized humans.

Britons like to cheat… They are polite, which means they always will show you fake acceptance… but they do nothing else but backstab you… The Brits are not direct people… and that can grow a big bad enviroment… People don’t really know how to communicate in England… so every frustration comes in form of physical aggression. Brits love to fight and have no sense of human aesthetics or style.

Dutch, Germans, Swedish, Danish, Norwegians, etc – true Germanic people – are very civilized people. They can be colder but once you get to know them well they will accept you and they will be honest to you; they have sense of human aesthetics; they like to appreciate human life and love to look good.

Britons are animals. They don’t care about people but only about their own instincts.


COMMENT BY ALAN (October 2014)

Britain is made up of 3 countries: England, Scotland and Wales. The Scottish and Welsh are Celtic and the English are Germanic. The Welsh are the native Britons, the Scottish are Gaels and Picts from Ireland and the English are Anglo-Saxons. Britain has always been a violent place, its culture is based on violence.

RESPONSE TO THAT COMMENT BY DEAN (May 2015)

English origins aren’t Germanic. English look the same as Irish or Scottish. The Anglo-Saxon impact in England was tiny. Most English roots (as much as 80%) come from pre-Germanic/pre-Celtic inhabitants, which were of neolithic origin.

That’s why there are so few natural blonde and Nordic/Germanic looking people in England or the UK compared to Scandinavia, Holland or Germany. Most Brits have dark hair, pale skin and hazel eyes and their stature is mediocre at best.

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The Eccentric Party: is it a surprisingly sensible choice for the General Election?

I proudly wear an Eccentric Party rosette

I very proudly wear an Eccentric Party rosette

When I chatted to comedian Al Murray in this blog last year, he told me he was writing a book about medieval fools.

“Fools were very important,” he told me, “because they spoke the truth. There are examples of them giving the king bad news because no-one else dared. The fool had a licence to speak truth to the powerful.”

And now, of course, Al – and/or his comic creation The Pub Landlord – is standing for Parliament in the General Election next month. The fact Al also has a national tour to publicise is, I am sure, totally coincidental. Al Murray is no fool.

Nor, it seems, are members of the new Eccentric Party.

Yesterday afternoon, I went to see them launch their latest Parliamentary candidate in Uxbridge.

Lord Toby Jug. leader of the Eccentric Party

Lord Toby Jug. leader of the Eccentric Party

The Party leader is Lord Toby Jug.

“I was named Toby Jug,” he told me, “by our late great spiritual leader, Screaming Lord Sutch. I was in his Monster Raving Loony Party for 27 years and contested four General Elections.

“But the Monster Raving Loony Party has been pulled in different directions. I wanted it to stay true to the founder, Screaming Lord Sutch, which was getting a serious message with a bit of fun. Whereas now they’re middle aged men in fancy dress more concerned with standing in a local pub reading the jokes out of the Beano and using them as policies. But I wish them well. That’s life.”

The Eccentric Party’s policies include:

  • putting super glue in lip balm to fight obesity
  • a 10% phone bill discount for people who stutter

The Monster Raving Loony Party says: “the reason for Toby’s dismissal from the party is his continued personal attacks on members of the party and on other groups while claiming to be representing the Loony Party.”

Yesterday, Lord Toby Jug told me: “I left because they didn’t like my stance – as told to national newspapers – on Nigel Farage and UKIP. I said UKIP claimed to be fruitcakes, loonies and crackpots but that’s our area. They tried to nick our Holy Grail of loonies. Another reason I left was because I met Nigel Farage and some of his sick-you-fonts and I thought they were closet racists and decided that should be put in the public domain. UKIP are far too eccentric, far too potty. Extremists.”

Some of the Party in Uxbridge High Street yesterday

Some of the Party parade in Uxbridge High Street yesterday

“You’re standing for Huntingdon,” I said. “Was that (former Prime Minister) John Major’s constituency?”

“It was, yes. Now it’s Jonathan Djanogly’s, a Conservative, a very wealthy man. They live in a different world. The only Tory worth voting for is a lava-tory. These people who live in mansions are nothing to do with the ordinary people.”

“You consider yourself a normal person?” I asked.

“Compared to them, yes,” said Lord Toby Jug. I’ve met many politicians over the years and they’ve asked me to join their so-called sensible parties and I’ve said No because I would lose my whole identity as an independent free thinker and eccentric.”

“Why,” I asked, “did they want you in their party?”

“They wanted some of the publicity I got.”

So why is Chris Dowling standing – the man the Eccentric Party were launching yesterday – the Eccentric Party candidate for Uxbridge & South Ruislip?

Spot The Loony - Chris Dowling and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls

Play Spot The Loony – Chris Dowling and the Labour Party’s Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls

“I’m standing, basically,” he told me, “because I’m a musician, a singer-songwriter. I’m doing this for publicity. With my £500 deposit, I’m going to get more publicity than you can shake a stick at – just by standing against Boris Johnson. Also, I stood against Boris as a Monster Raving Loony Party candidate for Mayor of London. I played guitar with Screaming Lord Sutch for ten years. Now the Chairman of the Monster Raving Loony party is standing in this constituency so I’ve jumped ship and gone with Lord Toby Jug.”

“Have you any policies?” I asked.

“When I stood last time,” Chris told me, “in Barking, against Nick Griffin of the BNP – I stood with no policies at all. This election, I’m standing on one policy: the virtual Parliament.”

“Eh?” I asked.

“MPs have robbed us for so many years now with their expenses and all that. We should leave them all in their own constituencies and do it all on Skype and online. They can have video conferencing and that would negate all their expenses. Politicians are always saying they want us to make cuts, so let’s start with them.

“I mean it when I talk about a virtual Parliament. It would save millions of pounds each year to have them in their own constituencies – where they should be anyway – instead of coming down to Westminster and sponging off of us.

Didgeridoo Pete, Minister of Didgeridoos

Didgeridoo Pete, Minister of, yes, Didgeridoos

“Almost everything is already online now. Why not have government online as well? You watch. In a few years time, what we’re talking about now is not going to be that far-fetched. We phoned up a video-conferencing firm and asked how much it would cost. There are 650 MPs and we could do it for less than £1,200 a year each. Online in their constituencies, debating everything. They don’t need transport to London and hotel expenses every week.”

“Automatically,” I told him, “I am thinking that’s a ridiculous idea but, of course, in 50 years time, there may not be office blocks – most people may work from home.”

“We’re always ahead,” said Lord Toby Jug.

“I was a Raving Loony for years,” said Chris, “and there are already five Raving Loony policies that have come to fruition:

  • Passports for pets
  • All-day pub-opening
  • Scrapping the 11-plus
  • Votes for 18-year-olds (it was 21 at the time)
  • Commercial radio

I asked: “Doesn’t commercial radio pre-date the Monster Raving Loony Party?”

“No,” said Chris. “The Monster Raving Loony Party has been going 50 years.”

Screaming Lord Sutch (in hat) (Photograph by Colin Dale, Radio Sutch)

Screaming Lord Sutch (in hat) in his heyday (Photograph by Colin Dale, Radio Sutch)

“Since 1963,” said Lord Toby. “It started as the National Teenage Party.”

“Some of the policies,” I said, “don’t sound that loony.”

“The policies ain’t that loony,” said Chris.

“We want more money spent on mental health,” said Lord Toby Jug.

“To have less of it?” I asked.

Lord Toby Jug ignored me. “That’s a very serious subject,” he said. “The same with addiction.”

“Diction?” I asked, genuinely surprised.

“Addiction,” said Lord Toby Jug.

“Even though this is still the greatest democracy in the world,” said Chris, “the political system in this country is outdated and it needs to be revamped. I’m gonna win by a landslide majority here.”

“Against Boris?” I asked.

“Yeah. He’s a bigger loony than I am.”

“I do wonder,” I said, “who is going to be next Mayor of London. Because people voted-in Red Ken, who was a bit eccentric, then Boris, who is more eccentric. They seem to vote for interesting people to be Mayor of London, not for parties.”

Njambi doorsteps London Mayor Boris Johnson at Westfield, Stratford

Boris – a future Prime Minister? (with comic Njambi McGrath)

“Sooner or later,” said Chris, “Boris Johnson will be the Prime Minister of this country.”

“I think so too,” I agreed.

“Everything I’ve seen about Boris Johnson,” said Chris, “he’s just seemed a buffoon and I quite like that about him.”

“Well,” I said, “he’s a buffoon who, at one time, was simultaneously editing The Spectator AND being an apparently quite good constituency MP AND being a TV personality on things like Have I Got News For You. He’s no fool.

“Red Ken – eccentric – Boris Johnson – eccentric – Maybe you should not be standing for Parliament, but as Mayor of London. “

“Well,” said Chris. “I went for that last time, but there’s so much red tape involved and you have to put up £10,000, because they don’t want the likes of me and you there.”

“£10,000?” I said, shocked. “It’s only £500 to stand as an MP! But you’re quite serious about the politics…”

“Not really,” said Chris.

“Well,” I added, “in an anarchist way.”

“Yes, in an anarchist way,” agreed Chris.

“It’s not a case of winning,” said Lord Toby Jug. “It’s a case of standing and putting your policies forward. “

“But a lot of people won’t do it,” said Chris. “It’s like they’re sofa referees: you watch the football and you shout at the TV screen but you don’t play. At least we stand up and do it.

Russell Brand says Don’t vote,” I prompted.

“Yeah,” said Chris. “But Russell Brand is a prick.”

Lord Toby Jug added: “He is to politics what King Herod was to babysitters. Politicians are just actors to get publicity for themselves and will do absolutely anything and lie about anything to get your vote. We ain’t like that. We are an honest political party. Peace and love through the medium of humour. There’s enough hatred in the world. We’re very lucky to live in this democracy.”

“We are,” agreed Lord Toby Jug.

Joshua Francis, Eccentric Party’s Minister for Ovine Philosophy

Joshua Francis, Minister for Ovine Theology

The Eccentric Party are recording a campaign song this Friday – Eccentric Guitars, written by Joshua Francis, their Minister for Ovine Theology. It will be released on iTunes and YouTube, probably next week.

They are also having a fund-raising party this Saturday at their party HQ – the Crown & Treaty pub in Uxbridge.

I have a suspicion that the Eccentric Party knows how to party.

And, lest we forget, to quote Al Murray: “The fool (has) a licence to speak truth to the powerful.”

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British political party promises 15% off phone bills for people who stutter

Al Murray - future MP

Al Murray – future MP? Or scuppered by bureaucratic rules?

Politicians? Comedians?

Eddie Izzard seems to keep saying he may or may not stand as Mayor of London.

And Al Murray – brighter than most politicians – has said he is standing in the upcoming General Election.

But will he?

Lord Toby Jug, leader of the new Eccentric Party of Great Britain (a protégé of the late lamented Screaming Lord Sutch’s Monster Raving Loony Party) says:

Lord Toby Jug launches his new party

Lord Toby Jug is on the look-out for floating voters

“Al Murray may end up crying in his beer. His Free United Kingdom Party (FUKP) has not yet been registered with the Electoral Commission nor approved. It takes 30 days and, if it sounds similar to other parties’ names, he will have to find another name.

“It took me four months to register my party; they deemed my previous names too similar to other parties. Al won’t be doing much canvassing in South Thanet either, as he’s on tour – and will be doing a gig in Dartford on election night. I personally think it’s a massive publicity stunt to promote his tour.”

Lord Toby Jug’s new Eccentric Party includes, as its Chairman and Minister For Inventions, Sir Dusty Wells-Fargo – otherwise known as mad inventor John Ward.

John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

John designed the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. and was previously Minister for Inventions in Screaming Lord Sutch’s Monster Raving Loony Party.

Already-announced policies of the new Eccentric Party include the nationalisation of public toilets, building taller buildings for higher education and getting dental charges capped. Their controversial immigration policies include putting giant photos of Russell Brand, Katie Hopkins and Jeremy Clarkson at airports to discourage people from settling in Britain.

An inaugural Eccentrics Party meeting was held two days ago at Party HQ –  the Oliver Cromwell public house in St Ives, Cambridgeshire. I am told it was “packed to the rafters with prospective candidates and party members from all over the UK.” The new party’s policies were discussed.

I quote from the minutes of the meeting:

The Eccentric Party launched yesterday

The very first members of the Eccentric Party & some seagulls

We will stop alcohol abuse in our cities and town centres by introducing an unhappy hour with one drink for the price of two to stop drunken yobs making them no-go-zone areas at weekends. 

All swimming pools will be drained once a week for all non-swimmers.

We will make the British climate more temperate all year round by tapping into the natural resource of hot air around Westminster.

We will paint Britain’s sea limits so that British fish know where they are at all times.

15% off of phone bills for people who stutter.

The Eccentric Party launch

The Eccentric Party’s literal launch on the River Great Ouse

TV Debates… All participants in the TV debates will be made to wear suits colour-coded to their party. David Cameron will be in a sober-looking midnight blue suit. Ed Miliband would wear a pillar-box red suit. Nick Clegg would be in canary yellow. The Green Party’s Natalie Bennett would be in bilious green. And Nigel Farage of UKIP would wear the purple-and-yellow stripes of a seaside entertainer. This solution will allow viewers to easily differentiate the parties without reference to their confusingly similar policies.

It was discussed that fuel tanks in motor vehicles would be converted from accepting gallons to the now poplar litre versions over a slow phasing-in period.

Approaches would be made to the Heinz food company to change their product range to Heinz 60 as opposed to the present Heinz 57 so as to go to the nearest square figure as this would help with auditing processes and saving a small amount of ink.

John Ward and Rev Pedro Perrnackerpan

John Ward (left) and the Very Reverend Pedro Perrnackerpan

This motion was carried although the Very Reverend Pedro Perrnackerpan wondered if it was possible to enquire at the same time if they were considering manufacturing tins of beans on toast as his grill was in need of repair as the gasman had missed three appointments so far.

Guest speaker Baron Giles Fromhome of the St Ives and Huntingdon District Mountain Climbing Club was present to enquire as to the Party’s feeling about handrails being fitted on the local mountains and, after much discussion, it was agreed in principle that this would be possible but only on the left hand side going up, due to lack in resources. But it would be possible to use this facility coming back down by walking backwards though using caution with respect of possible bumping into those going up.

Lord Toby Jug’s letter to the papers

Lord Toby Jug’s letter to the newspapers was much admired

The Party Leader, Lord Toby Jug, was congratulated by the honourable members on having letters printed in the Independent, Daily Mail, and Daily Mirror, giving his unique take on the Battle of South Thanet… Murray v Farage.

Copious amounts of jelly and ice cream were then consumed before legendary politician and party leader, Lord Toby Jug, took to the stage and told all prospective candidates to return to their constituencies and prepare for government.

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Comedian Al Murray on the origins of The Pub Landlord and why he performs for only £5 at the Edinburgh Fringe

Al Murray in Soho last week

Al Murray in London’s Soho last week

In this blog a couple of days ago, comedian Al Murray was talking about the Second World War. And yesterday he was talking about a book he is writing on medieval fools. This is the third and last part of the conversation we had last week.

“You’re actually writing two books simultaneously?” I asked.

“I’m trying to write everything all at once, yes.” he replied, “I’ve got another chunk of World War Two to deal with – Why has it stuck to us culturally? Although it’s beginning to fade: there’s now a whole generation of people who don’t know what Two World Wars and One World Cup means, which is brilliant – and healthy.”

“And,” I said, “you’re also preparing your new live stand-up comedy show as The Pub Landlord.”

“Yes, I’m trying to lay down the stuff that will be in the new show at the end of the year,” explained Al. “I always try to work well in advance so I can bed it in properly. I’m touring from September to Christmas, which means final previews at the Edinburgh Fringe in August, which means knowing in July what’s going to be in the show, which means writing it in June, which means thinking about it in April and May.

“The last few years,” I said, “you have performed in £5 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe…”

“That’s me trying out new material,” said Al.

“But why £5?” I asked. “You’re an established star.”

“I’ve always thought,” replied Al, “that, if you get to the… erm… the level I’m at, you should not to go to the Fringe and play massive venues for £25. You should go and play a small venue for £5.”

“Why?”

“Because the point of the Fringe is for people starting out and trying to figure themselves out and creating what they’re doing rather than audiences and money being sucked-off to bigger shows. At £5, it’s not taking a lot of money out of the system and normally I play somewhere small in the afternoon so I’m not in anyone’s way. Twenty years ago, when I was doing the Fringe, if someone had turned up and played a big venue for a long period at high prices, I’d have thought You fucking cunt!

“The Pub Landlord started at the Fringe, didn’t he?” I asked.

Harry Hill and I met writing on Week Ending for BBC Radio 4,” said Al, “back when they had a non-commissioned writing thing, and we hit it off and shared a flat in Edinburgh. He was getting me to do voices and bits and pieces in his Fringe show and I was also performing with Guns ’n’ Moses that year, so I had my drum kit up in Edinburgh and Harry’s mate Matt had brought his keyboards and we started playing together in the flat with Harry singing. I said Well, let’s do a gig at the Fringe Club. We did. It went really well. So we said: Alright, next year we’ll come back and do a show with this band in it at the end of the show. 

Al Murray (top) with (from left) Andre Vincent, Brenda Gilhooly and Harry Hill in Avalon’s 1992 Comedy Zone show at the Edinburgh Fringe

Publicity photo for Avalon Enteetainment’s Comedy Zone show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1992 with (from left) Andre Vincent, Brenda Gilhooly, Al Murray and Harry Hill.

“That’s what we planned to do. And I wanted to do a character act – like a sort of entertainer who’s shit – but I couldn’t make it work. So, on the opening night in Edinburgh, we were in the Pleasance Cabaret Bar and Harry said: We still haven’t figured out how we’re going to link this show together. What do you want to do?

“I said How about we say the compere hasn’t shown up and the bar manager has offered to fill in and cover the gaps? and Harry went Yeah, OK, whatever and I went on and did that and it worked. By the end of a fortnight, I knew how The Pub Landlord spoke and, when we went on tour at the end of it, I had an hour’s material.”

“Ridiculous, isn’t it,” I said. “Just one throwaway idea and a career gets built out of it.”

“Tell me about it,” said Al. “In a way, that’s one reason I’m so fond of The Pub Landlord, because it came out of nowhere. I never planned it. The first year in Edinburgh when it was getting reviewed, they said It’s a dissection of this, that and the other and he’s put in this-and-that and I thought Really? OK. If you say so. I’ll run with that, then.”

“You changed the act to fit the reviews?”

“No, no. I just thought: Oh, I suppose that IS what I’m doing.

“And now you are consciously putting in all the intelligent, intellectual things.”

“Yeah.”

“Before, you mentioned the frustrations of television – commissioning editors changing and all that. What do you want to do that the TV people haven’t let you do?”

“Basically everything!” laughed Al. “Well, the talk show I did as The Pub Landlord (Al Murray’s Happy Hour)… that came to an end at the very moment I thought I was getting really good at it – That was very frustrating. It was a thing I really loved doing. We were not doing a normal chat show. We didn’t tell the guests what we were going to talk about. So they were having to react, rather than go through their glib stories.”

“You could do an Edinburgh Fringe chat show,” I suggested.

“Well,” said Al, “what Tim Vine’s done with his chat show in Edinburgh means there’s no point doing it. What he’s done is so brilliant. He’s a brilliant interviewer and he is so sharp.”

“So you’ve shown all your talents, haven’t you?” I said. “You’re a historian, you’re a comedian, a chat show host. What have you not shown? What don’t I know you can do?”

“The thing I would like to try to do is some acting,” said Al. “I haven’t really done any, so it would be nice to find out if I could do it. That was why I did stand-up in the first place: to see if I could do it and it looked like a lot of fun and it might be really interesting. Though there was a big bit of me which also thought It would mean I don’t have to get up in the morning. The dilettante in me was coming out. The other attraction of acting is you don’t have to write it; you don’t have to originate it.”

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Comedian Al Murray has a chat about his Pub Landlord character, TV satire and mentally sub-normal medieval fools

Guns ’n’ Moses were the new schlock ’n’ roll

Guns ’n’ Moses (from left) Mike Cosgrave, Al Murray, Dave Cohen and Jim Tavaré

In yesterday’s blog, Al Murray talked about his interest in history, Britishness and World Wars.

“You were also a drummer in the group Guns ’n’ Moses with Dave Cohen and Jim Tavaré,” I said when I met him last week. “But you’re not a frustrated drummer and a frustrated historian. You must be rolling in dosh. So you’re not thinking I should have taken a different career path?”

“No,” said Al. “I remember on a school report a very long time ago they called me a dilettante and I had to ask my dad what it meant. He said It means someone who dabbles in different things and doesn’t really specialise and I remember thinking That sounds brilliant! That sounds like a good job option.

“Polymath might sound better,” I suggested. “You’re in an ideal position now. I imagine you don’t desperately need to work.”

“Yes and no,” replied Al. “I really love doing the stand-up side. This is the 20th year I’ve been doing the Pub Landlord character. Each time I sit down to write a new show, which is what I’m doing right now, I always realise there’s a whole load of things I could do with it which I haven’t explored yet. The character is the same but, if you watch the shows, they’re all very different from each other, with different textures.”

“With Alf Garnett in Till Death Us Do Part,” I said, “I thought maybe he was a role model for people who agreed with his bigoted views. I never believed he would change people’s views.”

“The problem is,” said Al, “if you go too far along that road, you start to argue against irony. The opposite of irony is everything being taken literally. If you’re going to be literal about everything, you’re gonna have to have figurative paintings; you can’t have Impressionism… The thing that’s happening in stand-up comedy at the moment is you’re supposed to be sincere. Why?”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because it’s prescriptive,” said Al, “and art suffers when you get prescriptive. On stage, I don’t talk about me – ever – because I’m not interested and I’m not interested in anyone else being interested. I’d rather talk about the world or ideas. If people really do agree with what the Pub Landlord says then they’re mental, so there’s nothing I can do about them. And isn’t it like a cosmic prank? If people think he’s real, that’s fucking hilarious. I think our job as comics is to be pranksters. We’re not supposed to agree. We’re supposed to cause confusion.”

ITV publicity shot for Multiple Personality Disorder

ITV publicity for Al Murray’s Multiple Personality  Disorder

“In 2009,” I said, “you did do an ITV show Multiple Personality Disorder in which you played lots of different characters and I genuinely thought the range of characters was wonderful and…”

“ITV didn’t think that!” laughed Al. “Dealing with TV people! The guy who had been championing me went elsewhere, so we ended up with someone new as commissioner. I loved making that programme. The fun was doing different things and seeing if they’d work. But, for stand-up, the Pub Landlord is… I’ve got him… When people say Why don’t you do something else? I say Alright, I’ll do that when Jack Dee does his ‘I’m Not Grumpy Any More’ show or Harry Hill does observational comedy or Michael McIntyre talks about American foreign policy.”

“So,” I said, “your two big interests are, let’s say, history and comedy. And they come together in this book you’re writing about fools.”

Will Sommers, fool to the Tudor monarchs

Will Sommers, a fool to the Tudors

“Well, I’m trying to write it,” said Al. “I’m trying to draw the stuff together and see if I can make it cohere. I found out about Henry VIII’s fool Will Sommers. He survived as a fool through Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and through to Elizabeth I. He survived all four reigns in court.

“The traditional reading of that period is it’s a roller coaster politically and religiously. So how did he survive? The answer is either he wasn’t saying anything dangerous at all OR that having him there saying awkward things at the right moment was SO important you could not get rid of him. The Tudor fools were the last of the classic old-fashioned fools.”

“You mean men with funny hats?” I asked.

“No,” said Al. “There’s fools and there’s jesters. Jesters are people pretending to be fools. Fools were – although it’s unpalatable for us – essentially people with behavioural and learning difficulties. In the medieval theology of the time, if that was your intellectual capacity, you were regarded as ‘innocent before God’ because you couldn’t understand theology. So you had a Get Out of Jail card. Literally.”

You’re an idiot, so we won’t burn you at the stake,” I said.

“Exactly,” agreed Al. “So you could say what you liked. Most of the fools were called ‘naturals’ and they fitted this mental category. Then, separately, you had jesters – ‘artificials’ – who were pretending to be like that and they’re the people who get in the shit because everyone knows they’re pretending – so, when they say the terrible thing that shouldn’t be said, the assumption is You knew what you were saying so you’re for the chop.

“A lot of what we think fools were comes at us through art and stage plays. So we think fools were like the fool in King Lear, but that’s Shakespeare’s dramatisation of what their function was. In fact, you had these people essentially gigging up and down the country and there was a circuit. If you were a man of status, you would have your own fool saying stupid things or juggling or farting. Farting was very big in the 12th century.”

Al Murray writing in Soho last week

Al Murray writing new ideas in Soho last week

“And there was a circuit?” I asked.

“And a career structure,” added Al. “This was an era when mentally ill people were not locked away. That didn’t happen until the 18th century. Before that, you had ‘village idiots’ and everyone knew who they were and what their problems were and they had a role. And they were innocent before God.

“In the Domesday Book, there’s a fool who was probably one of Edward The Confessor’s fools who has retired out to the Welsh Marches who has a big estate – so he’s really rich. But he’s been removed or exiled because he’s a previous king’s jester and we need a new one for the Normans.”

“Do you think fools were mentally sub-normal,” I asked, “or might they have been autistic, where there’s a mixture of high intelligence and social awkwardness?”

“That whole spectrum,” said Al. “Different people with different problems. I think we would now be incredibly uncomfortable about laughing at them. You only have to look at the response to Ricky Gervais’ TV show Derek where he’s pretending to be someone who would have had a role as a fool… The response to that is super-uncomfortable for a lot of people.

“Fools were very important, because they spoke the truth. There are examples of them giving the king bad news because no-one else dared. The fool had a licence to speak truth to the powerful.”

“Nowadays,” I said, “I suppose we have satirists.”

“Well,” said Al, “there’s this preposterous idea that people in the 1960s invented satire. They did it on TV and what was unusual about them was they were people who could have been in the Establishment taking the piss out of the Establishment. The Goon Show was a satire of Britain in the 1950s, but Spike Milligan was blue collar, so he doesn’t get that elevation as a great satirist because he’s not from the Establishment. He had not rejected something in becoming a satirist.”

“Is he a satirist or a surrealist?” I asked.

“Well,” said Al. “The Goon Show had the absurdities of National Service, was about rationing, was about Class. It’s all in there, but Spike Milligan dressed it up as something else. The 1960s satire boom, though, was… It’s a bit like me… My grandfather (Sir Ralph Murray) was a diplomat, my dad worked in management at British Rail, so he was a sort of civil servant and that’s where I was heading – or a lawyer or something. To do comedy was a bit of a departure.”

“You’ve got no showbiz background?”

The Navy Lark with (on left) Stephen Murray

The Navy Lark with (on left) Stephen Murray

“My great uncle Stephen Murray was an actor. I never knew him. He was in The Navy Lark on radio when his serious actor career mis-fired a little. But that was always like Your great uncle Stephen’s an actor… Phoah! That’s really weird!”

“I remember Stephen Murray always played authority figures,” I said.

“Which is what his brother was,” said Al. “His brother was an ambassador.”

(Al did not mention to me that he is a great-great-great-great-great-grandson of John Murray, 3rd Duke of Atholl nor that his great-great-great-grandfather was author William Makepeace Thackeray.)

“Most satire,” I suggested, “is sort of elitist, whereas what you’re doing with the Pub Landlord is populist. Are you sneaking in under the radar?”

“Maybe,” said Al. “Whenever there’s a round-up of what’s going on in satire, I always think: Why am I not on this list?

“Maybe,” I suggested, “because you are appealing to Joe Public in general and not exclusively to Guardian readers?”

“Maybe,” said Al. “It always makes me laugh. I think Oh, come on! At least give me a mention! Or at least print ‘some people say it is but it isn’t’ .

… CONTINUED HERE

 

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In a Soho coffee bar comic Al Murray – no longer as The Pub Landlord – gets serious about British wars and Germans

Al Murray writing at Bar Italia this week

Al Murray was writing at Bar Italia this week

When I first saw Al Murray’s comedy act, many years ago last century, during the reign of the middle-aged Queen, it was an audio act. He came on, a slim young chap, and made the sounds of assembling and dismantling Army automatic rifles and suchlike.

For the last twenty years, he has been performing comedy as the bigoted Pub Landlord.

When I arrived at Bar Italia in Soho to talk to him this week, he was writing down some comedy ideas. Or maybe not. They might have been some Pub Landlord ideas. Or maybe not. I forgot to ask. I have a bad memory. What can I say?

“So,” I said to Al, “you’re an intelligent, sophisticated man.”

“Yes,” he said.

“But,” I continued, “everyone thinks you’re a thick East End or Essex barman. You’re a young Alf Garnett.”

“Yes, isn’t that fantastic?” he replied. (He must have been asked the question hundreds of times.) “I get to be who I really am off-stage, no-one knows who I really am and I get to talk about the things I want to talk about elliptically. I think that gives me great freedom.”

“Though, as yourself,” I said, “you get to do TV documentaries on the Second World War like Road To Berlin. Was that a difficult sell to the TV company?”

AlMurray_RoadToBerlin_Wikipedia

Al’s ten-episode 2004 documentary series

“I was on Frank Skinner’s TV show,” explained Al, “and he said Oh, you’re really interested in World War Two and the woman commissioning programmes at the Discovery Channel saw it. It was a long time ago and I haven’t done one since. In TV, there’s this thing that the person who commissioned your programme moves on and you’re left high and dry and that happened then. We went back to Discovery saying We wanna do Road To Rome next, the desert campaign and then up through Italy – and the new commissioning editor said Oh, I think the whole World War Two party’s over.

“We’re British,” I said. “It’s never going to be over.”

“Exactly,” laughed Al. “For you the War is over! – It couldn’t be any the less true. We like to think we won it.”

“Did I miss something?” I asked. “I thought we did win it?”

“With a little help from our friends,” said Al. “Obviously The Pub Landlord thinks we won it on our own with no-one else.”

“Well, we almost lost the Battle of Waterloo,” I said. “It was the Prussians who won that.”

“No, no, no,” said Al. “Wellington only fought it when and where he did because he knew the Prussians were turning up at teatime. That was the bigger thinking that was going on which, essentially, Napoleon fell for.

The charge of the Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo

The iconic charge of the Scots Greys at the Battle of Waterloo. (But did the Prussians really win? It depends what you read.)

“Historically, that’s a real bone of contention. If you read German history, that IS what happened: the Prussians won the battle. But, if you read our history… although our army at Waterloo was probably 60% made up of German soldiers anyway…”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Al. “It was a multi-national army. Soldiers from Nassau, Hanovarians, people from all over Germany, Dutch soldiers, everything. It was a coalition army against Napoleon.”

Culloden,” I said, “fascinates me, being Scottish, because it wasn’t a battle between Scotland and England, it was a battle between Catholics and Protestants; and Highlanders versus Lowlanders and the English and their Hanovarian royal family.”

“And it was a Franco-German dust-up,” said Al. “The French Germans versus the Scots Germans.”

“And the best fighters on Bonnie Prince Charlie’s side,” I said, “were the Wild Geese, who were Irish.”

“Yeah,” said Al. “These are the kind of conversations I can have all day, to be honest.”

“And you wrote a book about…”

Al’s book: Watching War Films With My Dad

Al’s book about growing up in the 1970s

“It was a book,” said Al, “about growing up in a family where this sort of stuff got talked about a lot, where it was regarded as interesting and important. And, at the same time, about growing up in the 1970s when it’s Action Man toys, Airfix models and Where Eagles Dare type films. That very post-War part of our entertainment culture. And realising that the thing which you think is a big adventure when you’re a boy is actually a vile, disgusting thing, but nevertheless fascinating.”

“It could be argued,” I said, “that the Second World War is the only totally justifiable war – concentration camps and all that.”

“But that’s not why we went to war in 1939,” said Al. “It’s interesting now there’s this current debate about whether the First World War was justified or not. In fact, the Germans invading Belgium (in 1914) is a better traditional British casus belli than the Germans invading Poland (in 1939)… Poland is a lot further away from here and the Belgian coastline is close. Though the 1939 Germans were bigger bad guys than the 1914 ones. Arguably. It’s all very complicated. There’s a way we need to see it and there’s what probably really happened.”

“So what’s the way we feel we need to see it?” I asked.

“That we were fighting the evil nasty Nazis. What really happened in the politics of the late 1930s was the collapse of diplomacy – again – and Britain being run ragged too many times and, on a raw level, a loss of face and prestige and Britain having to do something about that. I reckon. But what do I know? I am but a humble comic.”

“But…” I prompted.

“Well, I was talking about this the other night,” said Al. “I’d managed to inveigle my way into dinner with a couple of real historians and they were saying, in Europe, World War II is regarded as the most gigantic calamity, a hideous thing… whereas we seem to regard it as character forming and it gave us all sorts of good things.”

“Well,” I said, “we’ve always been at war. There’s that statistic that, in the last 100 – or is it 150 now? – years, there’s only been one year…”

“…only one year,” said Al, “supposedly 1968, when no British soldier has been killed on active service.”

“You studied History at Oxford University,” I said. “So really you wanted to be a historian…”

Al as The Pub Landlord

Al as the Pub Landlord

“No, no, no no,” said Al. “When I got to Uni I was thinking What the hell am I gonna do? History was the subject I found easiest. But, once I got there, my academic career became very dismal very quickly, because I got involved in doing comedy.

“I thought I was going to end up playing in bands and I remember unpacking my drum kit on my first day at Uni in a music room in my college and Stewart Lee and Richard Herring were in there planning their sketch show that they were going to do the following week.

“They had been at the Edinburgh Fringe that summer and they didn’t tell anyone their sketch group had sometimes outnumbered the audience, so they came back to Oxford University in great glory and did a big sell-out run and I remember thinking This is the thing I’m looking for – doing comedy. It had never occurred to me before…”

… CONTINUED HERE ..

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Why comedian Richard Herring thinks creating free comedy will make money

A ‘selfie’ taken by Richard Herring last week

A ‘selfie’ taken by Richard Herring last week

Richard Herring’s career and credits are a bit like Irish or Balkan politics or his hair – you could go mad trying to disentangle it. Go read Wikipedia.

But, between 1992 and 2000, he first became famous (or arguably for a second time, if you count radio) as a double act with Stewart Lee for their TV series Fist of Fun and This Morning With Richard Not Judy.

He has been writing his weekly Metro newspaper column for two years – he wrote his 100th last Friday. And he has written his daily blog Warming Up for 11 years. He recorded The Collings and Herrin Podcast 2008-2011 with Andrew Collins and has been podcasting solo since then.

He also co-wrote Al Murray’s 2000-2002 Sky TV series Time Gentlemen Please.

Next week, he records the second episode of his self-financed online TV series Richard Herring’s Meaning of Life at the Leicester Square Theatre.

Last June, he wrote in a Daily Telegraph article that he thought the world was “approaching a revolution in entertainment similar to the one a century ago that led to the explosion in film-making… We are our own media moguls, and as such are denting the power and influence of those who have traditionally held the reins.”

He says: “I am increasingly excited about the artistic possibilities of the internet”.

“After Time Gentlemen Please, I had a bit of time,” he told me last week at Bar Italia in London.. “So I thought if I wrote a blog – Warming Up – every morning it would get my brain working, then I would do the proper work I was meant to be doing.

“I wasn’t doing stand-up at the time. I’d done a couple of one-man shows. I wasn’t looking to create stand-up material from the blog. But, when I started doing stand-up again in about 2004 I found, having written something every day, you could look through it and there might be a routine in it you would never have thought of doing if you hadn’t already written the stuff.

Richard’s new project - his own TV series

Richard’s current self-made online project – his own TV series

“Even now, when I’m writing Meaning of Life, I can type PARANORMAL or GHOSTS into the search engine and 20 or 30 blog entries will come up. So quite a lot of things in the second episode come from my blog of 5 or 6 or 10 years ago: it’s a great resource. There’s so many things in there I can’t remember writing which might make good routines. I’ve just passed the 4,000th entry and I’ve written something like 2 million words. The blog’s been a really great way of getting good at writing succinctly. Often, when I really hit form, a blog will be almost perfect as a routine; then, if I take it on stage and play around with it…’

“Good forward planning?” I asked.

“No,” said Richard. “I didn’t start the blog with any intentions other than thinking it would be a good way of getting people to come to my website every day. With all the stuff I’ve put on the internet the impetus, really, has been I’d rather get this stuff out there than just sit there either not doing anything or doing stuff which nobody ever sees.

Al Murray’s sitcom series actually got made

Al Murray’s sitcom series actually got made

“Over the last ten years, I’ve written quite a lot of scripts and, since Time Gentlemen Please, I’ve only had one that was actually made for TV – and even that was just a one-off thing which didn’t get to a series. I’ve probably written 8 or 9 different pilots. I got paid for them all, which is great, but it’d be nicer if they had got made as series because then you’d actually get paid some proper money.

“I’ve always felt like I’ve had a lot of ideas and TV and radio haven’t always been… I mean, I’ve always done OK, but they haven’t been desperate to employ me. So it’s kind of nice now you can go on the internet and just show you can do something. It’s hard work and I think a lot of comedians don’t get this about the business: there’s so many people trying to be comedians and writers now and a lot of them work really, really, really hard and, if you’re not prepared to work as hard, you’re not going to break through.

“It’s good to keep pushing yourself and I think, with the internet now, you make your own success. You can’t sit back now and say Ooh, if they’d let me on TV, I’d be amazing because you can just do it yourself now. You can write your own articles, you can make your own radio show, you can make your own online TV shows now.”

“But can you make any money out of all this hard work?” I asked.

“Well, I think you can,” Richard told me, “because, if you believe in yourself and you’re good… I mean, I would say I am giving away for free maybe 70% of what I do. And then I tour and then I do DVDs and I make money on that and doing bits and pieces here and there. I’m making more money now than I’ve ever made before and I can’t really sit down and work out why that is – apart from the fact that the podcasts I have done have trebled my audience.

Even after Fist of Fun, Richard Herring (left) and Stewart Lee were not getting enormous bums on seats

Even after their TV success with Fist of Fun, Richard (left) and Stewart Lee were not getting enormous bums on theatre seats

“Even directly after we were on TV with Lee & Herring, I might sell 30 tickets for live shows or, if I was lucky, I might sell 100 tickets. I would perform in London and 50 people might come and see me. That was directly after the TV series. People knew who I was and we had fans, but they weren’t coming out.

“Then I stopped stand-up; did the blogs; came back to stand-up; started to do the podcasts; did the Edinburgh Fringe pretty much every year doing different types of shows; then I started touring the shows; and, over the last 12 years, I’ve toured a show every year.

“We started doing the podcasts almost exactly six years ago. We gave the podcasts out for free but, if I said on the podcast Oh, I’ll be in Bristol this week, if there were 100 people listening in Bristol and 50 decided to come along, that would immediately double my audience.”

“What’s it like now?” I asked.

“I’m not like a TV presence,” Richard shrugged. “I can’t go out and do a 1,000 seater. I can play in 500-seater theatres and I’ll still get 100 people in some places, but I’ll probably average about 300 people which is a very good living. When you do 30-50 people, you’ll break even and maybe make a little bit of money. When you get 300 plus, you can make a lovely living touring the country if those people keep coming.

“If you get on TV, yes they’ll think Oh, it’s that guy on TV and lots of people will come and see you, but a third of them will not really know what to expect. The way I’ve done it, which is much harder work though more satisfying, is to do 12 consecutive years of touring on my own. So maybe people who have enjoyed that show will come the next year and bring a friend. And the people who have enjoyed the podcasts may come and maybe bring a friend.

“Audiences have definitely built that way. I figure all the stuff I’m doing online for nothing will bring in new fans.”

“And last year at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said, “you were giving away free DVDs to entice people in to your live show – because, quite rightly, you thought the big, expensive street posters have very little effect.”

“Well,” explained Richard, “people get sucked into what you supposedly have to do and, especially in Edinburgh, things get more and more expensive. I think those large billboard posters and lamp post posters are mainly ego for the performers. I just don’t think it’s worth £3,000… If it were £1,000, maybe. People think it shows a presence, it shows TV people that maybe you’re a name; but there are SO many of them that it doesn’t.

Tim Vine

Tim Vine’s 2006 Fringe poster announcing he was not there

“Ten years ago, if you were the only person doing that maybe – or if you were Tim Vine when he had that enormous poster saying he was not appearing at that year’s Fringe – That was worth its weight in gold.

“But what I’m saying is, if you have £3,000 to spend on publicity, try to think of an interesting way to spend it that will actually attract attention. People are not walking past those billboards any more thinking Ooh! He’s on a billboard. I’d better go and see him.

Richard: the big thing is attract attention

Richard: the big thing is attract attention

“People are wise to it and people are wise to the 5-star reviews all over the place: they know it’s just people putting up their own reviews from websites. It’s fine, but it doesn’t mean anything; it’s just one punter’s opinion.”

“And giving away the free DVDs in Edinburgh worked?” I asked.

“I’m not sure it completely worked,” said Richard, “but it didn’t make any difference. So rather than spending £3,000-£4,000 on posters, I had something to give away and we’ve sold 200 or so online which has got half the money back and I have some left over which I sell at gigs, so I will make the money back.”

… CONTINUED HERE

There is an interesting video on Vimeo showing the process of creating a poster for Richard’s 2013 show We’re All Going To Die

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