By Matt Berry and Arthur Mathews
Objective Productions for Channel 4
Monday, 3rd November 2014
This new series begins with Toast (Matt Berry) at Scramble studios, Soho, where he’s recording a version of the London Underground’s ‘Mind the gap’ announcement. Alongside producers Clem Fandango (Shazad Latif) and Danny Bear (Tim Downie) is ‘Boris Johnson’, who vexes Toast by asking him to say the famously brief phrase with ‘quite a long gap between the words the and gap.’* In the next scene Toast is at home and asks his thespy friend Ed (Robert Bathurst) what his ‘porn name’ is. Ed immediately replies that it’s ‘Posh Dong Minge-Muncher’, but then admits that he’s never heard that to arrive at one’s porn name, ‘you combine the name of your first pet with your mother’s maiden name.’† How nice to be back in the world of Toast of London, where it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between the surreal elements and those that only appear super-real because Theatreland in fact is.‡
In the first category (I think) is Ed’s annual ‘Celebrity and Prostitutes Blow Football Tournament’, in which Toast agrees to take part: ‘Blow football with prostitutes? This sounds right up my rue.’ His nemesis – in blow football as in life – is fellow actor Ray Purchase (Harry Peacock), who looks like a colonial-era military man, except for the white turtleneck and werewolf hair.§ Toast’s first choice of prostitute blow football partner is Mrs Purchase (Tracy-Ann Oberman). She’s already agreed to partner Ray, but Toast raises the ante by having sex with her while Ray is passed out next to them in the bed. (He’s hungover, having had a skinful with the anti-gays after a lecture about ‘rampant bum banditry’.‖) Toast and Mrs P’s slomo dog-style sex is hilarious, with the cross-eyed Toast oddly cartoonish and resembling a dwarf from the new Hobbit film.¶
However, he has some humiliation of his own to stomach: a part as Charles Dickens that his agent has secured turns out to be a tour guide job aboard an open-top Routemaster for ‘What the Dickens Tours’. For no congruous reason the tour is conducted in what is evidently suburban London, so we get to see Toast out of his Soho comfort zone.☞ Speaking through a megaphone for the benefit of his one passenger, he misidentifies a Belisha beacon as a lamp post, gestures off-camera at what apparently ‘looks like an abattoir’, and confidently asserts that ‘London was built in the thirteenth century, mostly made of straw, then a Great Fire came and knackered the lot.’ Toast’s mood is lightened, however, when he bumps into Purchase – aboard a rival bus, working for ‘Beefeater Anti-Gay Tours’ – and is able to slander loudly Mrs Purchase’s scruples (‘your wife’s a prostitute’).
Later, at the Colonial Club, the tournament is about to begin. Purchase is so confident of victory that he agrees, in the event of his losing, to do whatever Toast asks of him, ‘however disgusting or degrading’. The tournament final, when it comes, is a close-fought thing: Team Purchase wins 10–9, but is then disqualified on the grounds that Mrs Purchase is in fact ‘not strictly a prostitute’, thus handing the victory to Toast and his partner Wendy Nook (Louise Jameson). The episode ends with the forfeit of Toast’s choosing: a third and final bout of lovemaking and pleasure between him and Mrs P.** It’s much like the first, except that this time, instead of being unconscious, Purchase is tied to a chair with his eyes held open by a pair of specula oculi.
* ‘The brevity of the phrase is said to derive from the limitations of solid-state digital recording technology when it was first introduced in the late 1960s’ (Brewer’s Dictionary of London Phrase & Fable).
† Jimbob Cain, in case you’re wondering.
‡ The Toast type in this milieu is quite hard to pin down. He works in showbiz but tells his agent he’s never heard of Gary Barlow or Russell Brand. I think of him as a former Groucho rakehell, who swung from candelabra with YBAs in the ’90s, but never quite had the talent and is now looked upon as an also-ran.
§ The two of them greet each other like Seinfeld and Newman, by simply saying the other’s name through gritted teeth.
‖ The lecture’s thesis is similar to Keith Chegwin’s in Extras: ‘Men have knobs, women have fannies: pop knob in fanny.’
¶ The director must have been pleased with the effect too, because a few minutes later they’re at it again on a bed in Springleys, a soft furnishings shop in the Fulham Road. (This is the opposite of ‘then I got off the bus’ humour: instead of panning out to reveal the inappropriateness of the sex, the viewer knows from the off that we’re in a public place, and the joke is that the other customers pay the lovers no attention at all – almost as if Toast and his world don’t really exist.)
☞ The setting is identifiable as Cleveland Road, W13. The bus travels east past Cleveland Park.
** See ‘House Of Fools, S01E04’ (note §) for a comment on Berry’s pronunciation of pleasure.