World of Pub

Sunday, July 8, 2001 by

Barry, Gary and Phil are sitting around in their quiet and empty pub, The Quiet and Empty. They bemoan the lack of custom and how the East End is in decline. “This town,” says Gary, “it’s coming like a ghost town.” Barry agrees, “All the clubs have been closed down. Bands won’t play no more.” Why, even the tumbleweed shop has closed down. Cut to a shop surrounded by tumbleweeds.

As you can probably guess from the above, World of Pub is not a challenging, deep or dark series. But it is a hugely likeable and very, very funny sitcom. The great thing about the programme is it’s simplicity. The programme revolves around a crap East End pub, hence the name, situated in – of course – Pub Street. Phil Cornwell plays stupid landlord Barry and Peter Serafinowicz plays stupider landlord Gary. Kevin Eldon is their mate Dodgy Phil – a great character name, as it tells you all you need to know about him. Each week Dodgy comes up with a new idea to increase custom. Oh, and every episode ends with the pub being burnt down. And that’s it, plot-wise.

This means that the programme is free to fill mostly all of its running time with jokes, and most of them are brilliant. Writer Tony Roche has come up with an absolute tour de force of relentless gags, from the title sequence, featuring a map of all the other pubs in the area (including the gangster’s pub The Horse’s Head, and the children’s pub The Red Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe) to the final, normally ludicrous, fire-based scene.

This week’s episode sums up the series brilliantly. “Famous film star Julia Robbins” announces on television that she really loves the East End, and is going to move into the area. This causes the East End to turn into “the new West End”, becoming the most sought-after area of London. The local news highlights the changes to the area; there’s a new dog track – Les Cheins – and the premieres of many new East End-inspired musicals, amongst them Joseph And His Amazing Well Colourful Puffa Jacket. We see a market-trader, shouting “Sunflowers! Irises! Get your Van Goghs here! Come on, show me your Monet!” The police receive reports of someone finding a horse’s head in their bed – pickled in formaldehyde.

Dodgy reckons that to cash in on the current boom, Barry and Gary should turn the pub into a bookshop-cum-pub. This they do, and they’re soon coining it in at The Boozer and Bookshop. The new pub has a fruit machine that pays out in book tokens, a Quiet Hour at 6pm, a man selling Jane Austens for the lady, and a range of cocktails including a Catch 22, a Bloody Mary Shelley and a Thomas Hardy Wallbanger. Julia Robbins soon enters the pub, and Dodgy starts to go out with her in an attempt to generate some extra publicity. Sure enough, soon it’s popular enough to gain attention from the multinational bookshop-cum-pub corporation McStarbooks, run by a Blofield figure who sits in a swivel chair and strokes a book about cats. They make a derisory offer – “I’d like to make a derisory offer for your pub. Do you want to accept?” “No.” “I could have phrased that better.”

Later, Julia Robbins dumps Dodgy when she realises she’s been exploiting him, and says “I don’t want to be near you again. In fact, I don’t want to be near anyone again. I’m going to move to … Feltham!” Within minutes, Feltham is now the place to be. Still, Gary and Barry aren’t worried, as the pub was so popular they’ve got money to burn, and they roar with laughter while lighting cigars with burning banknotes – banknotes that go on to burn down the pub, spreading via books with such ironic titles as Firestarter, Inferno and What To Do When Your Bookshop Catches Fire.

Alright, so most of the jokes are basically puns and groaning one-liners, but there are so many that some of them are bound to hit the spot. Also, the performances are consistently great. The main trio are hugely likeable and funny performers, and Cornwell and Serafinowicz are able to use their skills as impressionists to appear as a number of other characters in each episode. As a long-time admirer of Kevin Eldon, it’s good to see that he’s found a role where he can recreate the same manic energy that he put to such memorable usage as Rod Hull on Fist of Fun. He’s ideally suited to this wild script. The regular cast of extras are also versatile enough to portray a number of funny characters as well.

Furthermore, all of the actors seem to be having a great time making the programme. Tamsin Grieg was excellent as Julia Robbins in this week’s episode, and her delivery of the final “I’m going to live in … Feltham!” line was brilliant. All the lines are delivered with real energy and an ear for funny dialogue. And, unusually for a radio adaptation, the visual side is also well looked after – the pub had a sign up saying “Why not try an EM Forster?” which appeared in shot for all of about five seconds, and could only be spotted by watching the programme a second time.

There are also lots of fine running jokes in the programme – the pub only has one regular, who, depending on the script, can be called Optimistic Bob, Pessimistic Bob, or this week, Literary Bob. Dodgy has a huge number of mates he phones up to do deals with (“Yes mate. No mate. Cheers luv.”) all called things like Paparrazzi Paul, Tribute Tom and Telephone Joe. Of course, this week’s episode took the opportunity to spoof Notting Hill, which it did via some great sequences – Dodgy attempted to seduce her by spilling coffee over her (“It’ll give us something to talk about, and she might confuse the warm feeling with love”) but he was so hyper the coffee shop wouldn’t let him have anymore, so he had to throw orange juice on her instead. Later, the paparazzi (organised by Dodgy’s mate, of course) turned up at his house, and Dodgy did a striptease for them, which made them all run away. Later Dodgy walked around a market through the seasons of the year, all blatantly filmed on the same rainy day – on arriving at the pub, Barry asked “Dodge, have you been wearing the same clothes all year? Pooo!”

World of Pub (a great title, as well) is very much like Father Ted in tone, utilising surreal situations and often stretching logic for the sake of a good joke, and like that series, it’s well-acted, brilliantly written and great fun. It’s particularly telling to watch it immediately before BBC2′s other Sunday night comedy, the sketch show Velvet Soup, which is very much an attempt to create something dark and unsettling like The League of Gentlemen or jam, but is basically just a bog-standard sketch show with irritatingly “knowing” performances. But what would you prefer, Morris-by-numbers, or Kevin Eldon arsing around?

I laughed out loud at World of Pub, many times, like I haven’t laughed at a sitcom for absolutely ages. The programme is an absolute breath of fresh air, moving away from the “dark”, “moody” atmosphere of other comedy programmes and just being a genuinely funny half hour. It’s had very little publicity, and is in a not particularly great slot at around 10pm on midsummer Sunday nights, but I guarantee that you will laugh. A lot.

World of Pub – the best sitcom in the world. Probably.


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