The Man behind the Man behind the Bar
An interview with Al Murray
In between his very hectic schedule of tour dates, writing, rehearsing for a gig and podcasting, Al Murray very kindly agreed to a quick chat.
We have followed your career with great enjoyment since the early days of comedy with Harry Hill. Stand up aside though, your historical recall, associations and repositioning are quite unique. Have you always had the ability to weave such narratives? (Al has a history degree from Oxford University)
AM - Yes, when I studied history at University I was not able to focus on the history that interested me, in fact I really couldn’t bear a lot of it, so when I could return to it later on I was able to choose exactly what I liked. I am fascinated by the Second World War and I think understanding it, and History in general, is really important. History and exploring world events and how they impacted people is a cultural phenomenon; it affects everyone differently so being able to use facts to retell stories which prompt people to then question what they think is amazing.
Many people know you best as The Pub Landlord – over the past 10 years, you have more than dabbled in music, politics, theatre, writing and presenting – does the Landlord persona ‘get in the way’ at all?
AM - Not at all, in fact I use him and me to show two sides of the same coin. In my recent series “Why Does Everyone Hate the English’” I was able to have The Pub Landlord character make his rather over the top observations and then I, as Al Murray, was able to explain in a more measured way the facts behind the headlines.
You did a battlefield tour with James Holland at Arnhem and Nijmegen, have you any others planned and which would you most like to do next?
AM - My tours and subsequent podcast with James (”We Have ways of Making You Talk”) have been amazing for me. I thought I was very knowledgeable about the Second World War (ed. He is VERY knowledgeable) but as James and I talked through the series I realised just how much more there is to know. I think knowing and understanding the Second World War is very important; we can learn so much about who we are now by looking back on where we were then.
Looking ahead, the plan is that with international travel available next year we will be having more tours across other battle sites and hopefully another series of the podcasts.
The Pub Landlord character is very open in celebrating Britishness; since the Brexit referendum, do you think audiences have changed in declaring their English/British nationality?
AM - No, not all all. In 2016 the Brexit referendum was a single question asked of people on a topic, the EU, that would normally rank about 7th or 8th in their list of important things to think about. They voted and then went back to their lives and allowed the politicians to begin fighting about the details. It didn’t change how we felt about ourselves and didn’t really feature in our everyday conversations until very recently, so how British we felt then is still pretty much the same now.
The Covid pandemic, however, has been very different – that has come into everyone’s homes, lives, thoughts and as such there is a much more specific reaction to what is happening. Looking back on a previous question, in a way, Covid has been much more like the Second World War in it has affected everyone immediately, far more than Brexit.
Have you managed to get back to drumming with a live band since restrictions have been eased ?
AM - Yes, we have started rehearsals a few weeks ago and have a gig planned for later in September. It’s been a great relief to get back playing live with the band. (ed. It is clear Al is very excited about performing again)
What can we expect of this current tour (Al Murray; Landlord of Hope and Glory)
AM – The Pub Landlord will be back doing what he does best, tackling current issues head on, enjoying the ‘banter’ with the audience and hopefully making people feel good. There has been a lot of things happen since the last tour so we have a lot of new ground to cover.
What do you think the Pub Landlord makes of the recent influx of craft gins ? is it just a fad ?
AM - Al laughs – the huge range of new drinks is great, it gives people choice and with choice comes happiness. I think the Pub Landlord, however would still think the traditional white wine/fruit based drinks should be a staple go to option.
My granddaughter (5) would like to know, if you were a potato, how would you like to be cooked?
AM - Baked, every time.