The Best Sitcoms of the 21st century so far: Toast of London (2012-?)

Chris Hallam's World View

Just after he appeared in The IT Crowd but before he started appearing in TV’s What We Do In The Shadows, Matt Berry played jobbing actor Stephen Toast in this enjoyably zany Channel 4 sitcom written by Father Ted co-creator, Arthur Mathews and Berry himself. Although the third and most recent series ended in 2015, it is rumoured to be back soon.

Arrogant, humourless and vain, Stephen Toast is a man totally convinced of his own genius. Pompous, clearly lacking in any talent and totally out of touch (he has never heard of ten-pin-bowling or Benedict Cumberbatch), Toast is nevertheless unafraid to take any job going, a tendency which along with his perpetual womanising, often lands him in deep water.

The first series sees him constantly castigated for performing in the worst play in the world on a nightly basis. He also ends up working with a vicious director notorious…

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The Best Sitcoms of the 21st century so far: Toast of London (2012-?)

Just after he appeared in The IT Crowd but before he started appearing in TV’s What We Do In The Shadows, Matt Berry played jobbing actor Stephen Toast in this enjoyably zany Channel 4 sitcom written by Father Ted co-creator, Arthur Mathews and Berry himself. Although the third and most recent series ended in 2015, it is rumoured to be back soon.

Arrogant, humourless and vain, Stephen Toast is a man totally convinced of his own genius. Pompous, clearly lacking in any talent and totally out of touch (he has never heard of ten-pin-bowling or Benedict Cumberbatch), Toast is nevertheless unafraid to take any job going, a tendency which along with his perpetual womanising, often lands him in deep water.

The first series sees him constantly castigated for performing in the worst play in the world on a nightly basis. He also ends up working with a vicious director notorious for murdering uncooperative actors on set, appearing in a dubious film funded by a wealthy Arab businessman intent on destroying the Duke of Edinburgh, briefly being buried alive and very nearly being assassinated by musical star, Michael Ball after refusing to pay a gambling debt owed to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

And then there are the voice overs. Like Berry himself, Toast is happy to lend his unique voice to all manner of commercial endeavours. These include, reading out the names of every place name in the UK for use on a sat-nav system, recording phrases to be used on a military submarine (including “fire the nuclear weapons!”), saying “YES!” over and over again with increased vigour over and over again for an unspecified reason and providing the dubbing for an all male pornographic film. These sequences, always featuring the line, “Yes! I can hear you Clem Fandango!” usually occur at the start of each episode and are often the funniest bits in it.

Berry is great and is backed by a fine supporting cast. Doon Mackichan is excellent as Toast’s long suffering agent, Jane Plough (pronounced ‘pluff’) while Robert Bathhurst plays Ed, Toast’s amiable but perverted landlord, living off royalties and permanently wearing a dressing gown. That’s not to mention the impressive range of cameos (Brian Blessed, Jon Hamm, Amanda Donohoe), other rising comedy stars (Morgana Robinson, Tim Downie, Tracy-Ann Oberman) and Toast’s nemesis, Ray Purchase (Harry Peacock), whose wife Toast is openly shagging.

Toast of London is not a show afraid to deploy a silly name (Ken Suggestion, Jenny Spasm and Dinky Frinkbuster are just three) or to bend reality for it’s own purposes (does the Globe Theatre still exist? Is Toast old enough to have been an adult in 1969? Is Bob Monkhouse still alive and married to a zombie?). It is often very silly indeed, making Berry’s usually melancholy musical intervals somewhat out of place.

But otherwise, this is a first class performance.

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The Best UK sitcoms of the 21st century so far…Spaced (1999-2001)

Chris Hallam's World View

Spaced is the story of Tim and Daisy, two young people in need of somewhere to live.

Daisy is a frustrated writer, keen to escape life in a squat. Tim is a small-time cartoonist who has been forced to move out after discovering his girlfriend has been having an affair with his best friend.

Together they hatch a plan. Despite not being a couple or even friends really (they have met by chance in a café), having spied a reasonably priced flat to rent advertised as being only available to “professional couples only,” they decide to present themselves as a happily married couple to the apartment’s landlady.

This in essence is the premise of Spaced. Although as Tim himself would say, “it’s a bit more complicated than that.”

Spaced ran for two series on Channel 4 in 1999 and 2001 and proved the perfect calling card for its two writers…

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The Best British sitcoms of the 21st century so far: The IT Crowd (2006-13)

Chris Hallam's World View

Jen, Roy and Maurice make up ‘the IT Crowd,’ the IT support team located in the basement of a large London corporation. Jen (Katherine Parkinson), is the boss. Hopelessly out of her depth having bluffed her way into a job she knows nothing about, she is even unsure how to pronounce the word, ‘computers’ correctly. Roy (Chris O’Dowd), meanwhile, is nice but lazy. He tends to answer every IT enquiry with the question, “Have you tried switching it off and on again?” Finally, there’s Maurice Moss (Richard Ayoade), an intelligent geek.

As with Graham Linehan’s other sitcoms, Father Ted and Black Books, The IT Crowd’s main characters arguably adhere to a comedy formula: an inept boss who would rather be somewhere else (Ted Crilly, Bernard Black, Jen), an amiable subordinate (Dougal, Fran, Roy) and a weirdo (Father Jack, Manny, Moss). But if it is a formula, it’s pretty loose: none…

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The Top 20 Best UK sitcoms of the 21st century so far…Alan Partridge

Chris Hallam's World View

Alan Partridge

I’m Alan Partridge (2002), Mid Morning Matters With Alan Partridge (2010-2016), This Time With Alan Partridge (2019- )

Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge with Jennie played by Susannah Fielding. Photograph: BBC/Baby Cow/Colin Hutton

Like the great man himself, Norwich’s finest broadcaster makes a slightly awkward appearance on any best 21st sitcom century list, partly because many of his finest offerings occurred well before this millennium began (he first appeared on BBC Radio 4 in 1991) but also because he has switched formats so many times. Happily, whether accidentally outing his interviewer during an ‘Anglian Lives’ interview, berating his co-host ‘Sidekick Simon’ (Tim Key) on North Norfolk’s Mid Morning Matters, attempting to flirt with fellow presenter Jennie (Susannah Fielding) on The One Show-like This Time or asking the questions that matter (“just why did Herbie go bananas?”), Alan has remained as consistently a brilliant comedy creation as Alan the presenter…

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The Best Sitcoms of the 21st century so far: Friday Night Dinner (2011 – ?)

Chris Hallam's World View

Despite a surprisingly funky theme tune and title sequence, Robert Popper’s long running sitcom works on a deceptively simple premise: a family of four, Martin, Jackie and their two unmarried grown-up sons, Adam and Jonny, meet up for their regular Friday evening meal.

Dad Martin (Paul Ritter) is the most eccentric of the four; endlessly taking off his shirt (“so bloody hot!”), recycling the same lame jokes (“a lovely bit of squirrel, love!”), reacting with confusion and terror if anyone attempts to ‘high five’ him (“Jesus Christ!”) or hiding from his wife, Jackie (Tamsin Greig). Although in their twenties, the sons (Inbetweeners’ star Simon Bird and Ton Rosenthal from Plebs) revert to their childhood selves whenever they visit, putting salt in each other’s drinks or feuding over such trifles as the possession of a childhood cuddly toy.

The meal is also reliably interrupted by oddball neighbour Jim (Greig’s old Green…

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TV review: The Stranger

Chris Hallam's World View

2020. Available on Netflix.

Seemingly happily married with a nice house and two children, Adam Price (Richard Armitage) has a good life. Or at least, he thinks he does. That’s until ‘the stranger’ (Hannah John-Kamen) turns up.

One day, while he’s watching one of his kids play football, a young woman in a baseball cap approaches him and starts to make troubling and damaging accusations about his wife (Dervla Kirwan). Upsetting though this is, the stranger’s allegations cannot be easily dismissed. She clearly has insider knowledge and her claims seem to have the ring of truth about them. What should Adam do?

This is just the starting point for Netflix’s British-set crime drama, The Stranger which is based on US author Harlan Coben’s 2015 novel. And while never hard to follow, there’s a lot going on in this intensely plotted, incredibly gripping thriller.

Coben isn’t Albert Camus but his story…

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Book review: Viz: The Trumpeter’s Lips 2020

Chris Hallam's World View

As the rosette emblazoned (or, at least, drawn) on the cover reminds us, Viz has been doing this for forty years now.

Yes, that’s right. There have now been four whole decades of the popular British adult comic, which is ‘Not For Sale To Children’. In theory, this should mean it has now reached middle age or at least some semblance of maturity?

Has it though? Well, as Viz’s longest running character, the foul-mouthed TV personality, Roger Mellie, The Man on the Telly would say: “Hello, good evening and bollocks.”

In other words, “no”. As another publication which lasted in print for roughly half as long as Viz’s 40 years to date once memorably put it, this is a magazine “for men who should know better.”

This edition of the Viz annual, promises “a brassy fanfare of crowd pleasing blasts from issues 262-271.” So what’s included?

Roger Mellie appears opposite…

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ComicScene Issue 12 preview

ComicScene UK

ComicScene Issue 12 comes out in stores across the U.K., Ireland, Australia, Canada and the USA from 20th February and you can ore order it now in print or digital at http://www.getmycomics.com/ComicScene

Order in print before 31st January and we will also send you a free copy of the 64 page Starblazer inspired Sentinel (while stocks last).

With any purchase in our ComicScene online shop before 29th February we will donate 50p to Little Heroes, the charity who make comic kits for kids in hospital.

Harley Quinn takes front and centre of Issue 12 with a beginners guide to her history and comics inside.

We go back to the 70’s and a look at the classic U.K. comics of that era including 2000AD, Battle and Action.

Also from Rebellion is The Trigan Empire and Ken Reid World Wide Weirdues and we feature two significant articles on both in Issue 12…

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Book review: Why We Get The Wrong Politicians

Chris Hallam's World View

Book review: Why We Get The Wrong Politicians, by Isabel Hardman. Published by: Atlantic Books.

As British voters prepare to go to the polls for the fourth time this decade, it is well worth bearing in mind: the way we select our politicians is awful.

You don’t actually have to be rich to become an MP, but as Isabel Hardman’s book highlights, the process of standing for parliament is so expensive, time consuming and arduous, it’s a wonder anyone ever does it in the first place. Most candidates in the current general election campaign will never become MPs. And even if they do, the labyrinthine world of Westminster offers so little support to new members, that many of them will find themselves falling victim to alcoholism or marital breakdown. Of course, many also often find themselves subject to personal abuse, on Twitter, on nastier versions of blogs like this or…

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Veganuary 2020 Restaurant review: Comptoir Libanais, Exeter

Chris Hallam's World View

Written with the assistance of Nicky Hallam

Guildhall Shopping Centre, Queen St, Exeter EX4 3HP

Three months after our last visit, my wife and I were happy to return to the Exeter branch of Lebanese restaurant chain Comptoir Libanis on a special trip in honour of Veganuary.

Although neither of us are practicing vegans, we are both sympathetic to the vegan cause. My wife, to her credit, at least, had a fully vegan meal. I caved and chose to have some meat. But I won’t dwell on that.

The restaurant is, as before, welcoming and pleasant to visit. Staff are friendly and attentive. Even the toilets are nice with paintings of Hollywood stars of yesteryear adorning the walls. As a writer for Yours Retro magazine, I appreciated this.

The restaurant was also as good as it was before in catering for my nut allergy, removing all pistachios from the first…

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TV review: The Crown. Season 3, Episode 3

Chris Hallam's World View

On October 21st 1966, after a period of heavy rain, 30,000 cubic yards of coal sludge collapsed on 19 houses and a primary school in Aberfan with predictably devastating results. Episode 3 of The Crown focuses on he disaster and its aftermath. The Queen herself reacts slowly to the tragedy, forcing her to confront her own apparent tendency to react with the traditional stoicism and reserve to such events, rather than the public show of emotion which might be expected or even needed by the watching public in the media age. The monarch would, of course, fall foul of similar issues following the death of Diana, 31 years’ later.

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TV review: The Crown. Season 3, Episode 2

Chris Hallam's World View

Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) articulates an interesting theory in the second episode of the third season of Peter Morgan’s The Crown.

The theory states simply that just as there is a clear pattern of steady, reliable, generally boring Royals, such as Queen Victoria, George V, George VI and the Queen herself, there is equally a parallel lineage of wild, reckless and hedonistic rebels. Consider: Edward VII, George V’s brother Prince Eddy or the notorious Duke of Windsor. Just as the older Queen, played by Helen Mirren in Morgan’s 2006 film, famously held back from shooting a stag, the other bunch would probably have ended up riding it roughshod over the hills and far away.

The Royal couple here are clearly thinking about the Queen’s own naughty little sister, Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter), glamorous and popular, but also increasingly wayward as she tours the mid-1960s USA. Viewers at home will, of…

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Exeter 2019 General Election Hustings Debate

Chris Hallam's World View

With the General Election just ten days away, around 300 people chose to brave the cold December Monday evening air to see four of the six candidates competing to be Exeter’s next MP answer a selection of selected questions submitted by the general public inside Exeter Cathedral.

Two of the candidates were absent: Former pantomime star Daniel Page who is running as an independent and the Brexit Party candidate, Leslie Willis did not attend.

The Liberal Democrats (who performed very poorly in the 2015 and 2017 elections in Exeter) also did not attend as they are not fielding a candidate in this election. The party agreed to step aside to the give the pro-Remain Green Party candidate Joe Levy, a clear run. The Labour candidate, Mr. Bradshaw is also very pro-EU. However, Labour’s overall position is seen as less unambiguously pro-Remain than the Greens. (This paragraph has been amended as…

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TV review: The Crown. Season 3, Episode 1

Chris Hallam's World View

The Crown is back. We rejoin proceedings at the dawn of a new era.

For after two glorious seasons with the marvelous Claire Foy playing the Princess and young Queen in her twenties and thirties, we now give way to the new age of Olivia Colman. The transition is neatly symbolised by a tactful discussion of a new Royal portrait for a new range of postage stamps. It is 1964 and the monarch is in her late thirties, what might normally be seen as her “middle years.”

“A great many changes. But there we are,” Colman’s Queen remarks. “Age is rarely kind to anyone. Nothing one can do about it. One just has to get on with it.”

Other changes are afoot too. Then, as now, a general election is in progress, resulting in the election of the first Labour Prime Minister of the Queen’s reign, Harold Wilson. Jason Watkins…

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TV review: The Crown. Season 3, Episode 2

Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) articulates an interesting theory in the second episode of the third season of Peter Morgan’s The Crown.

The theory states simply that just as there is a clear pattern of steady, reliable, generally boring Royals, such as Queen Victoria, George V, George VI and the Queen herself, there is equally a parallel lineage of wild, reckless and hedonistic rebels. Consider: Edward VII, George V’s brother Prince Eddy or the notorious Duke of Windsor. Just as the older Queen, played by Helen Mirren in Morgan’s 2006 film, famously held back from shooting a stag, the other bunch would probably have ended up riding it roughshod over the hills and far away.

The Royal couple here are clearly thinking about the Queen’s own naughty little sister, Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter), glamorous and popular, but also increasingly wayward as she tours the mid-1960s USA. Viewers at home will, of course, be wondering how this theory applies to Prince Harry. And Prince Andrew.

At any rate, Margaret, at this point, gets an opportunity to restore Anglo-US relations which have been damaged by the new Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s (admirable) refusal to join America in the disastrous quagmire of Vietnam. The princess is thus dispatched to the White House in use her charms to win over President Lyndon B. Johnson (Clancy Brown) in the hope that L.B.J. will go all the way in resolving a British balance of payments crisis.

Thatcher didn’t save Britain: and other myths of the era dispelled

Chris Hallam's World View

Myth 1: Margaret Thatcher “saved Britain”

Whatever else you may think about Margaret Thatcher’s legacy, David Cameron and the Daily Mail are clearly wrong. While Lord Nelson and Winston Churchill arguably saved Britain from invasion and President Kennedy’s actions may have saved us from nuclear destruction over Cuba in 1962, Thatcher cannot claim this. Without her, you might argue we might have lost the Falklands, still be strike-bound or a poorer nation than we are currently. Or alternatively, you might think, we would have a fairer, wealthier society, fewer homeless people, less crime and free prescription charges. Either way, Britain would still exist.

Myth 2: Margaret Thatcher “won the Cold War”

Thatcher famously identified Mikhail Gorbachev as “a man she could do business with” early on (in 1984) and this is to her credit. But the thaw in East-West relations had little to do with US President Ronald Reagan, even…

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Victoria vs. Poldark

Chris Hallam's World View

Reproduced, with thanks, from Bingebox magazine (2016):

VICTORIA

Send her victorious? As
the dust settles, ITV’s Victoria is widely seen as the winner of this autumn’s
big ratings battle with BBC’s Poldark. But whatever the outcome, both are
likely to be big sellers on DVD this Christmas.

In retrospect, with its
attractive cast and sumptuous period setting, it might seem hard to see how
Victoria could have failed. But fail, she very easily could have. A few months
ago, Jenna Coleman’s post-Doctor Who credentials were unproven. But as the
teenaged Queen assuming leadership of the greatest empire the world has ever
seen, Coleman has triumphed, her decision to forsake the TARDIS, totally
vindicated.

Her on screen romances with
her first Prime Minister Lord Melbourne (played by aging sex symbol, Rufus
Sewell) and more famously German aristocrat, Prince Albert (Tom Hughes) were
also well received. Although given that Coleman is already…

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Book review: Who Dares Wins: Britain, 1979-1982, by Dominic Sandbrook

Chris Hallam's World View

Published by: Allen Lane, Penguin. Out now.

I am writing this in a time of acute political crisis. It is easy to lose all sense of perspective when assessing a situation while it’s still happening. Even so, the year 2019 is unlikely to be viewed as a happy one for nation when we remember it in forty years time.

Despite this, the fifth volume in Dominic Sandbrook’s history of Britain since Suez, reminds us, the period, 1979-82 was very eventful indeed.

To briefly recap:

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher became the first woman prime minister in British history.

By 1980, she was already hugely unpopular as unemployment and inflation rocketed. There would probably have been a recession around this time anyway, but Thatcher’s dogged commitment to monetarism made things worse. Not for the last time, Labour blow the opportunity to replace the Tories in power by electing the decent but unelecttable…

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Book review: Quentin Tarantino – The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work

Chris Hallam's World View

Quentin Tarantino – The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work, by Ian Nathan. Published by White Lion

One day, nearly thirty years ago, a young bearded man in a black suit ran across a road and was immediately hit by a car. Despite flying into and breaking the car’s windscreen, the hoodlum is soon on his feet again and pointing a gun at the unfortunate driver. As the scene is filmed from the driver’s perspective, it almost feels like we, the ones in the audience, are the ones being carjacked.

The carjacker was one ‘Mr Pink’ played by Steve Buscemi. The film was Reservoir Dogs and with its release, the career of film director, Quentin Tarantino had begun.

The years ahead would see the film’s director, Tarantino become so cool that for a while, it seemed possible that the name ‘Quentin’ might actually become cool in itself. In the end, despite…

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