British As Folk: three comedians in a campervan have fun with history
Hard to like a TV show with a terrible name, isn’t it? Let’s run over it again: British As Folk (Monday, 10pm, Dave). So it’s supposed to sound like swearing, right? Which I guess is quite punk – but it’s not a real phrase. And what they’ve done is turn the would-be rude bit into “folk”. So now it’s just: British As Folk. Because the show is about Britain (the place) and meets a lot of the folk (people) within it. I just feel … Listen, I just feel like there was at least one other option on the whiteboard that they could’ve gone with.
But I have to tell you The Show I Shall Not Name Any More is actually a lot better than both name and premise suggest. Yes: following in the footsteps of Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood in a Mini (ITV), and Paul Merton and Suki Webster in a motorhome (Channel 5), Dave has sent the comedians Darren Harriott, Fern Brady and Ivo Graham around Britain in an Elgrand camper. I mean what would you do, if you were in charge of a TV channel? “There’s no new TV this year because of the worst virus in a generation and it’s basically impossible to get a flight to go anywhere fun anyway. Shall we put three comedians and four camerapersons in a couple of vans and send them around somewhere?” Yeah, all right, go on then. It’ll cost about 10 grand all in. Start them off in Leicester.
Which is how we find ourselves in the car park where they unearthed Richard III, which works as a delightful early chemistry test for the trio. Easing out of the Elgrand, Graham – Eton then Oxford, as all good comedians should be – tries to explain at great sixth-form-holding-a-special-assembly length why they are there. Brady – visibly less up for it than the other two, always holding a big coat and squinting at the harsh light of the sun – immediately interjects. “Is this where they found the gay king?” “You’ve pretty much got to the heart of it, Fern, though I’m sure others will fill in the details.” “But was he gay, though? Why was he in a car park?” Darren Harriott, full seconds later: “Wait: what king?”
It is a nice preview of things to come. Once the three ease into it, this is class traveloguing: they actually talk to the people they have been set up to meet (kudos to the researcher, they keep the inventory double-stacked with interesting people throughout: the king of the egg-boiling factory and the Muslim former hooligan who found religion but still loves Stone Island were my personal favourites), cracking jokes and making them laugh instead of doing the more traditional nod-at-them-and-be-polite-while-they-boringly-tell-their-little-story bit pioneered by Palin.
They are put in uncomfortable situations – Brady selling fruit at a market stall; Harriott being viciously bowled out at cricket – and at no point is the show set up to embarrass them or make them look cool. Basically: it’s nice to see a channel dip into the amazing British standup scene and give airtime to some new people, and it’s even nicer to see those comedians actually be comedians about it, not makeshift hosts. I might get bored of the format over the next two or three van-based “Let’s discover real Britain!” hour-long capers I will be forced to watch, but for now, despite everything, British As Folk is the best of the lot.