INTERVIEW: Pub Landlord star Al Murray asks ‘Why does everyone hate the English?’ in new HISTORY series
Al Murray, the man behind Britain’s funniest patriot comedy act – The Pub Landlord – is back for a new series asking a timely question: why does everyone hate the English?
In his new series on HISTORY, Murray exchanges the pint for perspective as he travels to Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Germany and France in a bid to learn more about the feuds they share with England.
Joining up with comics Antoine de Caunes, Henning Wehn, Fred MacAulay, Elis James and Andrew Maxwell, Al Murray: Why Does Everyone Hate The English? explores some of England’s most fascinating international rivalries.
We sat down with Murray in London for a chat about how Britain’s bloody (and weird) history has shaped its international relations to present.
Does everyone hate the English?
[Laughs] Some people certainly do. One of the interesting things about the programme was looking at it and thinking ‘I can see why people might be bothered about that’ and other bits thinking ‘why on earth are you bothered about that – it was a million years ago’.
In the first episode of Why Does Everyone Hate The English?, we learn about controversy of over the burial of Napoleon. Could you tell us a bit more about it?
That’s really interesting, because when Napoleon died they buried him in three coffins – a lead one, a tin one and a wood one. The people who buried him all signed off on how he’d been buried and what he was wearing. When they brought him back to Paris to bury him, they opened the coffin again and thought that his clothes were not arranged as they had been when he was buried -something was disturbed. They got into this idea that in fact the body had been swapped and it wasn’t Napoleon in the coffin. And in fact it was a French conspiracy theory that Napoleon is buried in Westminster Abbey because King George IV was such a fan of Napoleon that he wanted him in London.
There’s also a lot of contentious debate over who invented what, especially with France.
The invention stuff is really funny. It is contentious, but it’s also surprising. For instance, we argue over who invented television. I had no idea there was a French contender. You go to the Musée des Arts et Métiers and there are plenty of things in there that say they were invented by French inventors. You think they must be making it up, or stretching the fabric of whether it’s true or not, or lying – as Antoine called it. It’s one of those things where you think – do I really know the truth about any of this?
Who of the five countries hates us the most?
If I had to rank them from least to most, it would be Germany in fifth place, France fourth, Wales and Ireland joint second and Scotland first at the moment. It pains me to say that, I’d rather no one did.
Who has the most reason to?
Honestly, Ireland every day of the week – if it had to be anyone.
Do you have a favourite England rivalry?
The thing about France is that the rivalry felt very much like equals. It felt like two old rivals, who had been in this situation for a really long time – rather than in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, where it’s basically your big bully next door. In France it feels more like level pegging, so the rivalry has a very different texture. It doesn’t seem to be full of grievance – which you will see in Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
There’s so much scope for more series with countries that hate England. Where would you like to go next?
Australia would be brilliant, because that’s another one of those relationships – they’ve got the big brother/little brother thing. And of course Australia becoming a country and finding itself and all that. Australia one way or another is a product of this country, so that would be a really interesting place to go to. The thought that a lot of them really are English. Be interesting going around putting that to Australians and seeing what they make of it!
Why did you decide to include the pub landlord in the series?
He’s sort of the elephant in the room with this, because he’s this super patriot. We thought we’d have a little sprinkle of him across. Also, it gives me the opportunity to show people that it is a character and what he says has to be taken with a bucketful of salt.
It’s a timely series. What are you hoping the audience will get out of it?
Ideally, particularly the Irish episode – you hope people watch that and read a bit of Irish History. At least go on the Wikipedia page for four or five events we talk about in the programme and have a bit of a look at that and maybe understand why right now the Irish government is going ‘no, you can’t just have you want – we’ve had hundreds of years of that, and now the EU has got our back.’
One of things thats a recurring pattern in the history between England and Ireland is that whatever’s going wrong in England eventually gets settled in Ireland. So you’ve got Oliver Cromwell and the end of the English Civil War gets fought in Ireland. And then you get the Glorious Revolution, William of Orange fights the end of the Glorious Revolution in Ireland. You look at Brexit as an internal problem for the English mainly, and you could argue that there’s a border problem – with that being settled in Ireland. It seems to fit that pattern. I think if people knew a bit more Irish History they’d be a bit smarter about how they didn’t land everyone in those situations.