To begin with, let me just say that I like Al Murray. I think that the Pub Landlord is a superb character, and a wonderful comic grotesque. 'Happy Hour' was a delightful demolition and reconstruction of the chat show format. If nothing else, 'Fact Hunt' deserves respect for putting something very close to obscenity into continuity announcers' mouths. Before he crossed most comedy lovers' radar by winning the Perrier, I remember him writing funny articles about drumming (he's rather good on the tubs, I'm led to believe) in 'Rhythm' magazine back in the early 1990s.
However, despite having these many points in his favour, I don't understand why he was considered worthy of the 'Audience With...' treatment again last night. When I watched his first stab at the show, back in March 2005, I thought it lost the chummy banter of the original 'Audience With' shows, slightly missing the point of the format. In place of questions from the star-studded audience, Murray asked them questions, many rhetorical, and pulled a few out from their comfy seats to participate in funny, but vaguely humiliating stunts - a trend started on the show by Freddie Starr, when he taunted his show business peers with a bucket of maggots. Of course the questions and responses in the old-style show were rehearsed, but the McGuffin was that the star was being forced to think on their feet. With people like Billy Connolly, Kenneth Williams and Bob Monkhouse, all known for sawing off comedy gold by the yard, the illusion was perfect. In Murray's version, the tables were turned. While thinking that it wasn't really what 'An Audience With' should be about, I enjoyed it a lot, so was prepared to forgive ITV as long as it was a temporary deviation from the original format.
Then, with indecent haste, along comes 'Another Audience With...', the audience being suspiciously full of personalities with soon-come ITV1 vehicles to promote. Yes, the business with Holly Willoughby was amusing, but it was hard to escape the feeling that this was an hour-long trailer for 'Dancing on Ice'. By all means, have a series called 'Al Murray Humiliates the Stars' (hang on, isn't that 'Happy Hour'?), but don't devalue the currency of 'An Audience With...' any further.