Al Murray: An Interview

Pint-pulling comedian Al Murray talks to about getting political, the importance of history, and the joys of being a student

Al Murray is most famous for his pub landlord persona, but is often not distinguished from that character. In this interview however, speaking at some length about his interest in history, he showed a side of his personality that some of his fans may be less familiar with.

I know that you’ve said before that you’re very interested in history, especially considering you studied it at Oxford, and that that interest stems, partially, from an interest in people. I think we live in a time where, socially, there’s a lot to take in: Occupy Wall Street, various financial crises- do these issues play into that combined interest?

“Well… Yes. Although, with a lot of it, I’m amused by it as much as I’m interested in it. The interesting thing about history is that you can look back at a time and say: ‘well, those are the important events.’ The problem with living in the right-now is, you don’t know what’s really going on. You can’t tell what the important things are- and the noisy things often turn out to be not important at all. The quiet little things though, that you don’t hear about at all, going on in the background… They are actually the things that are shaping the direction of the world.”

“The Occupy stuff is fascinating, and interesting, and in lots of ways amusing- in a pure sense, you look at it and think ‘wow’. But, probably, the decisions that are going on in the Chinese politburo right now- about what to do with exchange rates and releasing the dollar and the euro and all that- how to underwrite European borrowing and American borrowing- they’re probably the history events. But who knows, who knows… the interesting thing about history is that you can look at 1960 and go: right. That, that, that and that are the key events; that looked like it could have been but it wasn’t really- it looked like a key event but really that’s just where the heat and the noise and the light were- but actually, the important decisions were being made here.”

“And sometimes it’s the simple things that are important. You know that Greece, in the last fifty years- in the last hundred and fifty years- has spent half its time defaulting or restructuring its debt? Why did no one know that? No one spotted that before they were included in the Euro. And there’s another reason to learn your history: there’s an opportunity to make mistakes if you don’t know it. Every moment in history was once a present moment with an unknown future. It’s a trite thing to assert- but it’s obviously true. Just like I don’t know what question you’ll ask me next- but when it’s written up as an interview, it’ll look like an orderly conversation.”

Well, hopefully we’ve already attracted the attention of York’s history students- but is there anything you would say, maybe, to the student body more generally?

“What would I say to you students? Well… Make the most of it! The student education, the student life I had was very different: we were right on the tail-end of grants, and we marched against getting rid of grants and structured loans- and look how well that worked out. I would say, yeah, it’s difficult today. But at least you’re not at work- you’ve got chance to live, and enjoy life, and meet interesting people and have a fantastic time-and that’s more important than anything else. But that’s easy for me to say: I’m from a different era, when we were paid for, and there weren’t as many graduates- so the pressure on graduate employment was very different. So… well, the only thing that’s changed since I was a student is the entire bloody world.”

If you could say anything to the people of York about The Landlord’s upcoming appearance at the Grand Opera House- because, of course, you’re not the pub landlord, but you do seem to know him very well and to have attended all of his gigs since 1994. Murray laughs, and I ask him earnestly how he would sell the new tour, and what its USP be?

“Well, by the end of the show you’ll have done things that you never imagined doing in a theatre, and between us we’ll have saved the country.”

Al Murray will be at performing as part of his UK tour at York Opera House on Friday 25th November.