Think toast is just a breakfast vehicle for delicious toppings? Think again, says Lucy Reynolds, who can’t get enough of Matt Berry’s sitcom vehicle for delicious laughs.
“Hello Steven. It’s Clem Fandango – can you hear me?”
If you don’t recognise this quote, you are currently living without the joy of Matt Berry’s bizarre and brilliant comedy series Toast of London in your life.
I feel for you, I really do. For there was a time, not that long ago, that I thought toast was just a crunchy breakfast vehicle for copious amounts of jam or, for the hipster twats out there, ‘smashed’ avocado. It’s only now I realise I was living half a life, because these days my world is full of Toast, the exploits of ageing actor Steven Toast who, in every episode, manages to get himself into some ridiculous and hilarious scrapes, usually instigated by his boundless arrogance.
Written by Berry, along with Father Ted creator Arthur Mathews, Toast feels like the show which has, at last, brought critical acclaim to its main actor, one of the most ubiquitous faces (and voices) in modern British comedy. It’s racked up several awards, including the prestigious Golden Rose award for a sitcom at the Rose d’Or awards, and Berry bagging Best Male Comedy Performance at the Baftas in 2015.
“The rivalry between Purchase and Toast is consistently entertaining, with neither really ever winning. Watching two middle-aged men bicker and bitch about each other in increasingly surreal settings is a joy to behold.”
Not sure who Matt Berry is? Chances are you’ve seen him in many guises over the years, starring in shows including Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, House of Fools, The IT Crowd, the underrated Snuff Box and bit parts in US shows Portlandia and Community.
Berry is also an accomplished musician, composing all of the music in Toast, and has several solo albums of his own music available on iTunes.
And if his face doesn’t ring a bell, his voice will. Berry is blessed with probably the most entertaining vocal chords in Christendom, the kind of tones that make Morgan Freeman sound like he smokes 60 a day.
Berry’s vocal talent is playfully ribbed in the show, with Toast spending most of his time in the Scramble studios in Soho, working as a voiceover artist.
Antagonised by the two work-experience staff, Clem Fandango (Shazad Latif) and Danny Bear (Tim Downie), who wear increasingly ridiculously hip outfits, a curmudgeonly Toast finds himself doing bizarre voiceovers for random clients.
My opening quote comes from every episode, where Clem asks Toast if he can hear him, even though Danny just spoke to him through the same microphone. It’s a subtle irritant that becomes a beloved catchphrase over the course of three series, along with the wonderfully RP way that Jane Plough (a brilliant Doon Mackichan) says “Toast” and the strange and elongated enunciations of Berry himself.
Ah, Mackichan. She revels in the role of the elegant and commanding Acting Agent, who knows everyone in the know and gives Toast a roasting on several occasions. Possibly my favourite episode is when Jane is “back on the acid”, meaning that the majority of the show is snippets of her off her tits while her clients desperately try to get her to attend a celebration of her many years in the industry.
Just watch the first episode of Toast (Addictive Personality) to see why this series is head and shoulders above the rest. It follows Toast as he navigates his way through the heady news he’s been bestowed with an acting award. His housemate Ed Howzer-Black (Robert Bathurst) helps out the daughter of a Nigerian ambassador who has fallen foul of unscrupulous plastic surgeons and now looks the spitting image of Bruce Forsyth. She stays with the jobbing actors, becoming romantically entangled with Ed who admits, when confronted by an outraged Toast, that he “always had a thing for Brucie”. Luckily the Forsyth lookalike comes in useful when the reality of Toast’s award comes to light.
Toast is endlessly silly, with a cast of fantastic characters who all have their own bizarre storylines. One of my favourite characters is Ray Purchase (Harry Peacock), the wonderful moustache-twirling villain who gets cast in the same plays as his arch-enemy Toast and who is painfully aware of the blatant affair said enemy is conducting with his seductive wife (Tracy-Ann Oberman).
The rivalry between Purchase and Toast is consistently entertaining, with neither really ever winning. Watching two middle-aged men bicker and bitch about each other in increasingly surreal settings is a joy to behold. As joyful as the episode where Toast takes part in a charity ‘celebrities and prostitutes blow football tournament’. Or the one where he is threatened by Michael Ball, who puts in a great stint as a psycho debt enforcer of Andrew Lloyd Webber.
“Matt Berry is blessed with probably the most entertaining vocal chords in Christendom, the kind of tones that make Morgan Freeman sound like he smokes 60 a day.”
What about when he gets cast as a dog in a Shakespearean play and ends up burning down the Globe theatre, resulting in all the acting world up in arms, including a news report where award-winning director Sam Mendes calls Toast “a colossal twat!”? Yeah, that’s mint.
There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the guest cameos: John Nettles, who has fallen on hard times in acting and has to hunt wildlife in order to earn cash; Peter Davison, who flat shares with Ed and Toast, and gets a young northern girlfriend (an excellently obnoxious and wide-eyed Morgana Robinson). Vic Reeves pops up in series three. As do Paul Whitehouse, Timothy West and Brian Blessed.
Yet nothing rivals the cameo of all cameos: Jon Hamm. In the aptly titled Hamm on Toast, our egotistical hero meets the Mad Men actor and, unlike his normal attitude of ignoring anyone who is more successful than him, falls in love with him and embarks on a torrid and unrequited bromance. Let’s just say Jon Hamm is forced to wear an Ian McShane as Lovejoy mask. You’re buying it now, right?
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Lucy is a teacher whose dream as a child was to be WWE Wrestling Champion. That dream is still alive.