If you’re wondering whether Al Murray, The Pub Landlord can throw any light on current Brexit negotiations, here’s your answer.
“Far away from Blighty in the sandbox you’re going to need periodic updates on the current state of common sense in the UK,” says Murray, whose comic creation will appear at Dubai Opera on 19 November. “And who better for this than the Common Sense Ambassador himself, the Pub Landlord?”
Brexit looms large in the words and deeds of The Pub Landlord. He stood against Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party, as a joke candidate in the 2015 General Election, winning only 318 votes in the parliamentary constituency of South Thanet. His Free United Kingdom Party had campaigned on a platform of 13 election ‘pledges’, one of which was to revalue the pound at £1.10.
Murray, who has been doing the comedy circuit for almost 25 years, clapped and cheered when Farage eventually lost to the Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay, having pledged that the UK would “leave Europe by 2025 and the edge of the Solar System by 2050”.
In a bizarre twist of fate, however, Murray now finds himself in the strange position of having created a comic persona who mirrors elements of the current political reality. Prior to Brexit, The Pub Landlord was simply a bigoted Little Englander with fantasies of British exceptionalism. Now he’s a manifestation of the UK’s rupture with Europe, all crisps, warm ale, and a distrust of both the French and the Germans. “Germany has been too quiet for too long. Just saying,” he said amusingly ahead of his election bid.
All of which means that current affairs and Brexit provide much of the inspiration for his current material.
“It’s unavoidable,” he says. “If Brexit is what its proponents say it is it’s going to change everything (though they did promise nothing would change as well). It’s the kind of thing a comic can’t avoid. The trick is not to bang on about it boringly.” Will a Dubai audience get it? “Well, it’ll figure itself as we go I guess,” replies Murray. “I’ve been to Dubai a fair few times so I think I’ve an idea of how to pitch it, though the intriguing thing about Dubai is how it’s different every time I go there. I think they
appreciate you’ve made the journey too, though not as much as the crowds in the Falklands.”
The convergence between the image of a pub landlord Murray created 24 years ago and the politics of the day intrigues, perhaps more so because Murray inhabits the persona of the landlord with such ease. Where does he stand on Brexit? Where does Murray end and The Pub Landlord begin? How much of his own beliefs are evident in the landlord’s?
“I like the sound of my voice a bit too much like he does,” says Murray. “And we go to the same barber. But we don’t really think the same way at all… or do we? To be honest, if there’s confusion about who is me and who is him I’m fine with that.”
In reality, of course, Murray is as far removed from his alter ego as it’s possible to imagine. Educated at Bedford School and an alumnus of St Edmund Hall, Oxford, his great-greatgreat-grandfather was the celebrated novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (best known as the author of Vanity
Fair), while his grandfather was the British diplomat and former governor of the BBC, Sir Ralph Murray. His ancestors also include the 3rd Duke of Atholl and the Bishop of Rochester.
It’s not something he really likes to talk about, which is understandable given the sensitives that surround the issue of class. How can a posh boy know what it’s like to be the working class owner of a pub? Or put himself in the mind-set of a downtrodden minority?
Then there’s the character himself. A garrulous and xenophobic ale guzzler born in the cellar behind the boxes of crisps, he is perceived by some as a bigoted stereotype and a parody of the British working class. So is this comedy or ridicule?
In the past Murray has argued against the belief that comedians, or artists, should not be allowed to imagine what others may think or say, stating that such a limitation runs against the grain of creativity itself. Besides, he is “resolutely downwardly mobile”, he once told Tatler, pointing out that his father worked for British Rail for 40 years and his mother for the Citizens Advice Bureau in Milton Keynes.
Whatever you’re take, The Pub Landlord was actually developed by accident. “He came about during a show at the Edinburgh Fringe to plug a gap in a show, but then I had to take him round the club circuit to knock him into shape,” says Murray. “Doing hundreds of gigs a year did the trick. Since I’ve done him on telly I’ve made sure that he knows he’s famous, and it’s gone right to his head.”
“Before a show I really like to chill out, drink some tea, read,” adds Murray. “Sometimes we have an exercise bike which we take on tour with us which I like to look at from the couch. At the end of the show it’s basically seeing how fast we can get out of the venue and onto dinner/the pub/wherever we are going next.”
What’s on his Dubai bucket list?
“Desert Safari,” he replies. “I have never got around to it yet. I’ve done pretty much all of the other Dubai experiences, eating in great places, gawping at the indoor ski slope, hanging out at Barasti, watching football with the Liverpool supporters club at my tour manager’s insistence. I’ve even been through the rite of passage of telling a plump Russian teenager he can’t jump the queue for the Leap of Faith and to get back in line.” Nov 19
Dubai Opera, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai, Mon 8pm, Dhs150 to Dhs250. Tel: (04) 4408888. Taxi: Dubai Opera. dubaiopera.com
“I’VE BEEN TO DUBAI A FAIR FEW TIMES SO I THINK I’VE AN IDEA OF HOW TO PITCH IT”