When Al Murray plays The Pub Landlord, he continues a long, not too dignified tradition of men who play at being a certain type of ‘character’, but ‘just for a laugh’.
Every amateur football team has a man whose obsessive joking about homosexuality usually involves play acting and, with grim predictability, some attempt at physical ‘comedy’.
In every televised charity fun run at least half the men involved take the opportunity to dress in women’s clothes. ‘For a laugh’, of course. I don’t resent them experimenting at all – but it’s a cheek that they ask us to pay for it while they get a day out and hog all the fund-raising kudos.
Some of the homophobic abuse of gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell – detailed in The Guardian – was quite revealing too. It was amazing the level of detail his abusers went into, in expressing their revulsion for gay sex. Some had an impressive level of understanding of a love that – they would have us believe – repulsed them.
Al Murray, who is standing in the Thanet South election, has been described in various newspaper profiles as a left wing comedian who wants to oppose Nigel Farage. He’s doing this by adopting the persona of his celebrated comedy character the Pub Landlord and launching apolitical party. So he says.
The character (who has never been given a name, in the decade or so Murray has been doing this act) is registered as the candidate for the Free United Kingdom Party, which (chortle) has a hilarious acronym that sounds a bit rude! The party logo looks a bit like the Ukip logo – only upside down! I haven’t laughed so much since I saw a charity fun runner put on some lipstick – only really badly! He obviously really hated the whole business of dressing up, putting on make up and showing off. The fun runner I mean. Al Murray’s motives will be explored below.
Al Murray clearly loves being the Pub Landlord. He’s obviously comfortable in those clothes and he’s never bothered trying to be anyone else. Maybe that’s quite liberating for him, but that psychological insight doesn’t clear the matter up. There are a number of other mysteries about this act.
Firstly, for a ‘stereotypical’ British pub landlord, the character is nothing like the managers I usually encounter. In my formative drinking years, the best pub managers seemed to be Irish and as aconsequence they ran every boozer worth visiting. When the marketing executives of the breweries finally caught onto this, they started trying to brand every pub as an Irish pub, letting corporate daylight in on the magic and destroying it.
That’s a trifling point though. Murray’s Pub Landlord is of course an attack on people who seem mildly patriotic. And we all know someone like that, don’t we? I’m sure you, like me, don’t know any bigots, or anyone who makes snap judgements about people they’ve never met, or puts words in their mouth that they would never use, or projects all the things they secretly hate about themselves onto other people. Yeah, but you know the type, don’t you? That’s what Douglas Carswell characterized as Lily Allen logic.
Other aspects of this comedy parody act are psychologically interesting too. Murray is supposedly a character comic. But he’s only got one character. He’s never created another. Is there no other aspect of the human condition that captures his imagination? Is he a bit like those homophobes who are nevertheless seemingly infatuated with their nemesis? When Al Murray dresses up in fancy clothes, there’s only ever one outfit he enjoys putting on isn’t there? Why is that?
Most character comedians give theircreations a name and flesh them out with other background details. The Pub Landlord seems to be called Al Murray. The character, it turns out, was initially based on Murray’s father, an ex lieutenant colonel who used to act up when young Alan’s friends came round and, being ‘in character’, would say things he wouldn’t normally come out with. Whether they were his real opinions or not, the profile in The Sunday Times didn’t say.
What can Murray’s motivation be? He says, in one interview, that people are intelligent enough to make their own minds up about politics and the issues that affect them. He’s clearly an educated, intelligent man. Surely he doesn’t think that any Ukip follower is going to undergo a Damascene conversion after one of his appearances on Newsnight.
I doubt Al Murray (or his alter ego, The Pub Landlord) will be doing any door stepping in the constituency but, if he did, what sort of returns would he get? How likely is it that even one householder would suddenly be convinced that Ed Miliband is the best man to bat for Britain on the international stage?
So, what can Al Murray’s motivation be?
Here’s some news just in. His publisher – Random House Penguin – is launching a new Al Murray product to coincide with the election publicity campaign. Given the long gestation period of a book, this must have been months in planning.
So if Al Murray is spotted in Thanet South, he’s more likely to be at a book signing event than a debate. So Al Murray’s Vision for Britain is about lining his own pockets.
These politicians are so cynical aren’t they? Only in it for themselves.
Not Al Murray though, obviously. He’s only having a laugh, isn’t he?