Time to laugh at the louche lives of the Edwardians
Comedy duo Armstrong and Miller tell James Rampton about their new TV satire
Monday 26 December 2011
Alexander Armstrong and Ben Miller only had one problem when making Felix and Murdo, their new Channel 4 comedy about two Edwardian gentlemen of leisure: a national shortage of the correct period costumes. Armstrong takes up the story: "There are so many dramas about that era being made at the moment, from Downton Abbey to Titanic, that trying to hire costumes for Felix and Murdo was a nightmare!"
The popularity of that period with TV writers, however, indicates that it's asking to be satirised. The world is absolutely ready for its first "Edwardi-com". "If ever there was an era ripe for a piss-take, this is it," says Armstrong, 41. "The Edwardian era was the last cough of the leisured, post-Victorian upper class, and we get as much comic mileage as we possibly can from it."
As we have already seen with their most famous comic creations, the chavvy, modern-jargon-spouting World War II pilots, from their BBC1 sketch programme, The Armstrong and Miller Show, the duo delight in extracting maximum comic value from the absurdities of a bygone era.
In Felix and Murdo, a promising new comedy written by Simon Nye, previously best known for another sparky male double act, Men Behaving Badly, Felix (played by Miller) and Murdo (Armstrong) are two moneyed Edwardians with far too much time on their hands. They lounge around all day consuming cocktails and drugs, and reading newspapers with all the depressing bits thoughtfully snipped out by their long-suffering butler, Archie (Marek Larwood).
If this is an era just begging to be parodied, then Armstrong and Miller are just the pair to do it. Miller, who has been Armstrong's comedy partner since they first crossed paths at Cambridge almost two decades ago, confirms that, "This plays to our strengths. It is slap bang in the middle of our comfort zone. The Edwardians are a great untapped comic area. It was like an endless summer's afternoon, a time when everything was perfect in Britain. There was nothing finer than being an English gentleman of leisure in 1908."
Armstrong and Miller mine the rich comic potential of the relationship between Felix and Murdo. Armstrong explains that, "Felix and Murdo are old pals from university. There's a touch of Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte about them." The show goes against the modern trend for "cruel-com". Miller, 45, comments that, "Bizarrely for comedy characters, Felix and Murdo are very happy and contented."
The other fertile comic ground in Felix and Murdo is the 1908 London Olympics. Miller observes that, "There are some parallels between then and now. There is a joke that the newspapers are complaining that, 'The cost of the Olympics has soared to 12 guineas'."
Armstrong and Miller are among our finest comedy double acts. Perhaps one of the reasons they work so well together is that they do not live in each other's pockets. As well as starring in dramas such as Micro Men and Mutual Friends, Armstrong has carved out a second career as a presenter of game shows such as Have I Got News For You, Pointless and Epic Win.
Miller, meanwhile, has just directed his first feature film, Huge, and is currently winning good reviews as one of the cast in the West End production of The Ladykillers. In the past, he has starred in TV dramas such as Primeval, Moving Wallpaper, and recently in BBC1's Death in Paradise.
Finally, the duo conclude that the characters of best friends Felix and Murdo are a very good match for their pre-existing comic personae. Armstrong muses that, "Felix and Murdo play on the great relationship that Ben and I have. After knowing each other slightly too well for the past 18 years, we have a terrific shorthand and a great chemistry."
'Felix and Murdo' is on Wednesday at 10.35pm on Channel 4
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