TV review: Toast of London

Steven Toast (Matt Berry) is an actor. He is not a very good actor or, indeed, a very good person. He is arrogant, short-tempered and a womaniser. He has no real sense of humour and doesn’t even seem to fully understand what a joke is. He has odd gaps in his knowledge: for example, he has never heard of ten-pin-bowling or Benedict Cumberbatch. For these reasons and more, he sorely tries the patience of his agent, Jane Plough (rhymes with “fluff”), played by Doon Mackichan.

He is the creation of star Matt Berry and co-writer Arthur Mathews. Three series of the sitcom ran on Channel 4 between 2013 and 2015 and are now on Netflix. A fourth series is on its way.

Most episodes of Toast begin in the same way; with Toast in a studio where he reluctantly fulfils a range of voice over commitments. This is one thing the real life Berry and the fictional Toast have in common (aside from both having a surname which is also a type of foodstuff): Berry, previously a star of The IT Crowd and subsequently a regular in vampire-based TV mockumentary, What We Do In The Shadows, has a gift for projecting his voice in an unusual and comedic way. Although his voice is now very recognisable, he has been recording voice overs, both serious and funny, for years.

These studio scenes provide some of the funniest moments in the series. At one point, Toast is inexplicably required to say “YES!” over and over again into the microphone. This may not sound funny, but is: trust me, few people can infuse the word “yes” with as much fury and gutso than Matt Berry.

Toast’s other voice over assignments include recording orders for a submarine, (including the sinister, “fire the nuclear weapons” delivered in a variety of accents) and dubbing a gay porno film.

Toast’s world is peopled by many strange characters. He lives with Ed (Robert Bathurst), a retired actor, living off royalties and permanently in his dressing gown. Toast’s brother Blair Toast (Adrian Lukis) meanwhile, is extremely reactionary and has a military background. He always refers to Toast as “Toast” rather than “Steven,” even though he is called “Toast” himself.

Then there is Toast’s nemesis, Ray Purchase (Harry Peacock), also an actor who wears a white suit, in contrast to Toast, who always wears black. The two despise each other, no doubt in part, because Toast is openly sleeping with Purchase’s wife, always referred to as “Mrs. Purchase” (Tracy–Ann Oberman).

The cast is excellent. Berry’s House of Fools’ co-star Morgana Robinson appears at different times in three different roles and Vic and Bob make appearances. There are also an impressive range of cameos. Amanda Donohoe plays Toast’s faithless ex-wife while Brian Blessed, Timothy West, Jude Law, Jon Hamm, Peter Davison and Michael Ball all make appearances.

The series is not quite set in the real world: even the people sitting in the background in Toast’s pub are dressed bizarrely and the deaths of Bob Monkhouse and Francis Bacon, as well as the fact, the Globe Theatre burnt down in the 17th century, are deliberately ignored.

Personally, I could have done with fewer musical interludes from Berry. Although I enjoyed the theme tune (which he composed) and the version of Ghost Town by the Specials which he performs in one episode (now sadly removed), too many of his songs are too melancholy in tone for what is essentially a zany comedy series.

But this is essentially a class act from one of the leading British comedy acts to emerge this century. More please! Encore!

DVD review: Vic and Bob’s House Of Fools – Series 1

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Warning: if you don’t like silliness, look away now. For House Of Fools is very very silly indeed.
A typical scenario sees Bob deciding with Vic’s help, to sit in a warm tin warm bath on the stove. The bath seems too small for Bob’s dimensions but he initially seems comfortable enough. When the water eventually gets too hot. Bob falls off and ends up with the bath embedded on his back. He is soon scuttling around like a turtle with a tin shell before his housemates Vic and Bosh (Dan Skinner) are able to brutally remove him. You see what I mean? Ingenious but bonkers and often enlivened by bizarre animated sequences usually ending with someone’s head catching fire.
It’s also very good fun. And funny as Vic and Bob are (even if after 25 years on our screens, neither can act), House Of Fools would be nothing without its strong supporting cast. Morgana Robinson excels as nymphomaniac next door neighbour Julie, continuously obsessed with getting one of the boys to “buff her Barnaby Rudge” while apparently hallucinating someone called “Martin”. Vic and Bob’s old Shooting Stars colleague Dan Skinner plays Bosh, an ex-con who routinely ends almost every sentence with “you twat”. Daniel Simonsen plays Bob’s sulky hermit-like son Erik while the wonderful Matt Berry (The IT Crowd, Toast Of London) is great as ever, as Seventies-style lothario Beef.
All good fun. Hopefully, the second series later this year, will be just as much fun.

Release date: February 23rd
BBC Worldwide
2014 Christmas Special not included.
Bonus features: Bosh’s Tour Of The Prop Room, Behind The Scenes, Vic And Bob’s Set Tour. (Note: these are all rubbish).