Lording it on a stage near you

EMMA OUTTEN Fresh (if that is the right word) from Hell's Kitchen, Perrier Award winner Al Murray comes to Norwich and King's Lynn, giving it both barrels as The Pub Landlord.


Fresh (if that is the right word) from Hell's Kitchen, Perrier Award winner Al Murray comes to Norwich and King's Lynn this week, giving it both barrels as The Pub Landlord. He spoke to Emma Outten about how playing himself on Bognor or Bust has become easier since his stint with Gordon Ramsey.

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"Could you let me know if you wanted to do the interview in or out of character," the nice PR person has asked prior to my 10-minute phone interview with Al Murray.

Seemingly, there was to be no either/or with the man. You either get his alter ego, The Pub Landlord, "giving it both barrels", or you get the Al Murray we know as one of the celebrity chefs in Hell's Kitchen and latterly from Bognor or Bust.

The Perrier Award winner and double Olivier Award nominee will be reviving his character The Guv'nor, star of the TV series Time Gentlemen Please, to impart his wisdom to us all in his latest stand up show Giving It Both Barrels. He comes to Norwich Theatre Royal tomorrow and King's Lynn Corn Exchange next Friday, October 8.

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But there was to be no lapsing into How It Used To Feel To Be British style Landlord lingo during the interview.

The Landlord's words of wisdom over the past 10 years have become legendary. Phrases such a "a glass of white wine for the lady" have entered modern pub parlance and the British psyche slowly but surely over the past decade.

Take the Landlord style comments on the locations some of the extra tour dates on his sell out tour. Southend, where he played the Palace Theatre back in the summer, for example, is "Brighton for normal people," according to the 'lord.

Under Norwich Theatre Royal there was a glaring blank space, however. Was the city, so prolific with pubs after all, not on the Pub Landlord's list of places to lampoon? "That's a dreadful oversight," said Al, "that's nothing to do with Norwich."

It would be fair to say that the Landlord does seem to have taken on a life of his own (he even has his own biography: he was born "some time in 1968, on the stairs by where they keep the crisps.")

He explained the Landlord's appeal. "Everyone has been in the pub and everyone knows idiots." In other words, The Pub Landlord, well and truly Made in Great Britain, hits on two levels (giving it both barrels indeed).

Beyond that, Al found it difficult to explain The Pub Landlord's success: "I've no idea!" All he knows is his ambition was always to stop playing Jongleurs Comedy Club in London, and he has succeeded, thanks to his comedy creation.

"It's been 10 years since I started doing the Landlord, and five years since he popped up on people's radar."

"I love doing the shows," said Al.

This year, we are getting used to seeing Al on TV as himself, rather than on stage as the Landlord, following his reality TV debut in Hell's Kitchen. "I didn't want to do it at all, because it was reality TV," said Al, but he had watched Ramsey's Kitchen's Nightmares and his interested was peaked. "I thought what an fascinating, interesting bloke." "He's not the loudmouth bully chef. There's more to him than that." Plus, as Al added: "I really love food."

The reality of doing the TV series was that the celebrity chefs were confined to the kitchen more than he had hoped – he was expecting to be taken to Bishopsgate to learn how to buy fish or to the butchers to learn how to buy cuts of meat. So was it a hellish experience for him? "I got very paranoid," said Al, but he added: "I didn't actually go mad."

"I didn't expect anything to happen to me in there, I didn't think I was going to crack up."

Al concluded Gordon was a "very, very genuine." "He is actually a really nice man, unless you have ruined a risotto right at the minute he needs a risotto."

Hell's Kitchen has also helped Al get a table in Gordon's restaurant.

Bognor or Bust, the new ITV show presented by Angus Deayton, came about because Al is now on "ITV's radar."

In it, he looks happy to be himself. Besides, he added: "Doing the Landlord on Bognor or Bust would be quite difficult. It might not work."

He joked that the only danger of being himself was if he had a "bad hair day" as he put it, and wasn't funny.

But he said of Bognor or Bust: "It's really good fun. It's really 'loose'," he added, wondering if it was more "free form" in the scripting department than Angus Deayton's previous programme, Have I Got News For You.

Angus, said Al, was "really, really droll."

All these appearances on TV as Al Murray as Al Murray rather than The Pub Landlord, might come as a surprise to the "odd person" who doesn't realise that the Landlord is supposed to be a joke.

"I really don't know why on earth that would be…" said Al, who added: "Having done Hell's Kitchen I'm much more relaxed about being myself."

He sounded much less dependent on his alter ego in that respect. So how long with the Landlord live on as a comedy creation? "Forever," said Al. When it comes to the longevity of The Pub Landlord, there seemingly is no bottom of the barrel.

t Al Murray is The Pub Landlord, Giving It Both Barrels, Norwich Theatre Royal, Saturday October 2, 7.30pm. Box Office 01603 630000, and King's Lynn Corn Exchange, Friday October 8, 8pm. Box Office 01553 764864. www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

t On Sunday October 10 Al Murray And Friends present A Comedy Gala evening in aid of the Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal's Restoration Appeal, 7.30pm. Box Office: 01284 769505.

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