Toast Of London: the funniest UK sitcom nobody’s watching

Should you be watching Matt Berry comedy show Toast Of London on Channel 4? In the words of Stephen Toast... Yes!

Did you know that musical star Michael Ball has double the amount of blood in his body as that of the average human? It’s what allows him to belt out those big notes.

If you watched Series 1 of Toast Of London then you’ll already know that’s true.

But if you didn’t know and didn’t watch, then that’s entirely not your fault. After a strong pilot, Channel 4 took the first series of Matt Berry and Arthur Matthews’ comedy about failing actor Steven Toast (Berry) and buried it in the late hour soil of Sunday nights, in a time slot so obscure you’d need a TV guide, compass, shovel, and remote to find it.

Fortunately the Rose D’Or committee still managed to unearth it on 4OD – no doubt after that arsey sign-up process – and thrust a prestigious Golden Rose Award in its hands, while one member was forced to write down the password they’d created (RoseDO!61) in case anyone wanted to watch Green Wing later. Never mind that The Black & White Minstrel Show and Gogglebox have both been honoured in the past. It’s still a top award. Black Mirror, The League of Gentlemen, and The Paul Daniels Magic Easter Show have also won Golden Roses. It’s an indisputable sign of quality.

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In. Dis. Putable.

Deservedly, Toast Of London is back for a second series, and as befits its award-winning status it is located in the primetime slot of near 11pm on a Monday. In the words of Ray Purchase ‘I shit thee nay’; that counts as a promotion for it. 400,000 people watched the opening episode of series 2. We can do better than that, can’t we?

Time slots may not matter to some, especially when you can have shows beamed at your face on command, but we still associate a show’s time of airing with how successful it is, and how a channel treats it. And Channel 4 appears to be treating Toast Of London like comedy crumbs on its plate, which is a shame. Look at its trailer and then tut loudly at Channel 4…

The premise is simple, the execution surreal. It does for luvvies and the stage what Nathan Barley did for hipsters. Matt Berry plays the down-on-his-luck actor, Steven Toast. He’s a butter-tongued thesp. An aspirational RADA moustache with designs on more than laxative ads and repetitious voice-overs.

He lives with a rakish pervert, played rakishly by Robert Bathurst. When not shagging the wife of his voice-over rival Ray Purchase (a marvellously scene-chewing turn by Bad Education‘s Harry Peacock), Toast’s either scrounging work from his agent Jane Plough (pronounced like the ‘Clough’ in Brian Clough, and played by Doon Mackichan) or stuck in a recording booth reciting dialogue for Clem Fandango, a character so keenly observed that most of the recording studios north of the the Thames must be cringing over their Chai and mixing desks.

There’s no doubt that much of Toast’s charm hangs on Berry’s trademark intonation. No one can roll the names ‘Bonjovi’, ‘Madame Gaga’ or ‘The Coldplay’ out of their mouth-hole like ‘Martt Berray’. But it’s not a one trick pony of a show. As befits Berry’s style there’s a strong absurdist streak running through it, both visually and in plotting. One episode in series 1 sees the Nigerian ambassador’s daughter end up looking like Bruce Forsyth after botched plastic surgery. No, of course that doesn’t sound funny when I say it. Explaining funny things is like autopsying a whoopee-cushion. Have a look for yourself and judge…

Toast Of London is one of comedy’s rolling stones. The more you watch it, the better it gets. In isolation the line ‘Yes I can hear you, Clem Fandango!’ is meaningless. But by the fifth time it barrels from underneath Toast’s moustache it feels like a joke we’re all in on. Right now, tucked away in the schedules, the show also feels like a joke precious few are in on. And while there’s something nice about watching a cult comedy, it really would be better for the show (not to mention my personal life) if more people knew what you were on about when you mention Michael Ball’s astonishing quantities of blood.

Should you give Toast Of London a go? The answer is yes. Yes. But I’ll let Steven Toast himself have the last word. Repeatedly…

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