Pub Culture

Elise Harris talks to Al Murray about his new series for Sky - Time Gentlemen Please

Al Murray is Pub Landlord. But then again (to quote Elton John) no. In real life he's a genuinely good bloke who's in it for the laughs. Unless that's another act.

Al was nominated for the prestigious Perrier Award (at the Edinburgh Festival) four times before he finally won it last year, paving the way for his new show on Sky One.

He is also Big Brother Alan (on The Harry Hill Show - he was the idiot with the curly wig), and the winner of the 1996 British Guild of Beer Writers Award For Humorous Writing About Beer.

In the past Al Murray Pub Landlord (as opposed to real-life-Al) has been compared with Harry Enfield. Publicists called the Landlord character the Loadsamoney for the Nineties.

But if you're going to compare him with anybody, Al thinks it should be Barry Humphries, "He's kept that going for ever and no one goes this guy is Dame Edna doing the same old joke' - they just love it and they know where they are with it as well. And that's the sort of creation one would hope to emulate."

When he won the Perrier Award he suddenly became the darling of a lot of intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals. Which was a little bit bemusing for him. Germaine Greer even described him as a visionary.

"I think they got bit excited on the Late Review," he says.

Despite what everyone says Al insists he's not being satirical. "It's just done for a laugh, I get all these funny reviews saying oh it's a take on this, and he's parodied the Loaded generation - when that review was written I had never read Loaded."

And he's certainly not a cultural commentator. "I'm not grinding an axe or anything and in one way that's what I've tried to do with it - deliberately grind stupid axes.

I find the idea of comedian telling everyone what political decisions to make hilarious. He's a comedian you know - nothing else he's said is sensible so why should him telling you how to vote be sensible?"

In his new show, Time Gentleman Please, the Landlord gets to interact with the pub regulars. Al admits he's had to learn to adapt after playing to the audience for so long.

"It's quite tough because I have to be generous with the punchlines. In standup I do it all myself - I get to say the funny thing at the end, but sometimes you have to give it to someone else - it's a culture shift."

But he seems to have adapted quite well so far - proving that hell isn't necessarily other people. The show was written with Richard Herring, Stewart Lee's comedy partner in This Morning With Richard Not Judy and Fist of Fun. Al describes him as a genius.

He continues, "The cast is just brilliant we've got Phil Daniels, Julia Sawalha, Rebecca Front and Roy Heather who's in Only Fools as well, Andy Mackay who's worked with Richard before and Mark Bannerman who's in Eastenders is going to be a guest star, and Paul Reynolds who was in Press Gang."

So, caring-sharing Al is nothing like Pub Landlord, "If people don't realise it's an act I think they've got problems. I'm like the landlord in that I like the sound of my own voice but that's about it."

And he's nothing like Big Brother Alan either, "I get to play all these idiots - it's some sort of cosmic joke."

Of course there's always the chance he'll grow into his the Landlord persona, "I must admit when I started doing it about five years ago there were some times when I'd think I can't quite carry this, I'm a little bit too young - but I'm past 30 now so certainly in 10 years time he'll be horrible.

You never know it might take me over. But I doubt that."

Time will tell.

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