Comedian Al Murray (St Edmund Hall, 1987) shares his experience of standing against Nigel Farage in the guise of his character ‘The Pub Landlord’, and starting off his career on his first day at Oxford.
With his persona, The Pub Landlord, Al Murray has created numerous hit television series, and won comedy's most prestigious accolade, the Perrier Award
By Alice Bloch
Al Murray was barely through the gate when, arriving at Teddy Hall to read Modern History, when he was fast-tracked into a career in comedy. On his first day, after lugging his drum kit to the music room, he found Richard Herring and fellow Aularian Stewart Lee working on a sketch show. Al Murray formed the parody Free United Kingdom Party to contest the General Election against UKIP's Nigel Farage (left)
'I asked them all about it', Al remembers, 'and that's the moment when I discovered there was a comedy scene that was totally accessible.' Most famous for his alter-ego The Pub Landlord, he has been filling arenas for over twenty years and has the awards to prove it. Al Murray as his alter ego The Pub Landlord
When it came to picking a place to call home as an undergraduate, Al knew where he wanted to go. 'My father went to Teddy Hall, and his father, so it seemed to make sense.' Also important was the Hall's encouragement for life beyond books alone. 'I liked the cut of the place's jib... It was still very, very rugby-orientated when I got there, but the fact that the college had an outlook beyond the academic really appealed to me.'
Al remembers his first gig at the University being with the Oxford Comedy Revue Workshop, where one could perform every two weeks but only with new material. Al and a few friends took to the stage and were encouraged by the reception.
His big break came when working with Harry Hill in the early 1990s. It led to the accidental birth of The Pub Landlord in 1994. For a gig in Edinburgh, Al had said that he would act as a compere, but on the opening night he still had not worked out quite what to say. Then the brainwave came. Al suggested that they say the compere was a no-show and that the barman had offered to fill in. It went rather well.
'The next day I asked him to cut my hair off - he had clippers you see - and then we went on a big tour and by the end I had an act, a fully formed all, all completely worked out'.
After years of success with The Pub Landlord, in 2015 Al stood against the UKIP leader Nigel Farage for South Thanet. This was partly a response to comments from fellow comedian Russell Brand, who was encouraging people not to vote. By contrast, Al wanted to 'engage with the democratic process rather than just pooh-pooh it'. It was also, he says, a great chance for satire.
Reflecting on his satirical journey, the lessons learned about politics are plentiful. The most surprising perhaps is that his sympathy for politicians grew. 'I know everyone says that they're lining their pockets and we can't trust them and that they're lying to us...but no one's compelled them to be a politician and when they do become one, everyone waits for them to make a mistake and treats them the standards of the lowest of their number'.
So what advice would Al give to students almost thirty years on from his own matriculation? 'If you're at Oxford, you are somewhere where the opportunities are simply spectacular and you should drink deep, and you shouldn't worry about anything else but that'.
Al Murray was interviewed by Alice Bloch, journalist and DPhil candidate in Social Policy. The full article can be found in the most recent edition of The Aularian.
Images: Oxford University Images, Avalon, BBC