Andrew Dipper

Arthur Mathews talks Toast Of London, working with Graham Linehan and Matt Berry

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Pictured: Arthur Mathews, left, with Graham Linehan.

With credits including Big Train, Brass Eye, Black Books, the Ted and Ralph sketches and the legendary Father Ted, Arthur Mathews has been involved in some of the best and most innovative television comedy of the last 20 years. His latest show, Toast of London, which he co-writes with creator and star Matt Berry, has recently won a Golden Rose for best sitcom. Previously the show has been both BAFTA and RTS-nominated.

How did you initially become involved with Toast?

Matt asked me! He had the idea for the show – Channel 4 wanted Matt to do something, and he had the idea for the character of Toast, and he just asked me to become involved. I knew Matt because I’d script-edited his show Snuff Box, so we’d worked together before.

How did Matt sell it to you? What made you say yes to it?

I think Matt’s hilarious. I’ve always thought he was really funny. I saw him in Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place about ten years ago now. I’ve always thought he was just brilliantly funny, which is always the first thing you want in a comedy programme – someone who’s really funny. So that was it, really.

Why do you think so many comedies are written in partnership?

When I started out with Graham [Linehan], because we were learning together, we could kind of encourage each other, make each other laugh, and find a way into it, really. I suppose I just met Graham, we got on well, and we had the same sense of humour. I don’t think it helps to have a chalk-and-cheese relationship. You have to find the same things funny. And you just encourage each other and make each other laugh. If you can amuse the other person, you’ll hopefully be able to make others laugh as well.

What do you think is the secret to a good writing partnership?

I don’t know that it’s the secret to it, as such, but I think that you have the same kind of sensibility regarding comedy. You have to find the same things funny. That’s it, really. There isn’t anything else.

Toast has done phenomenally well critically, and recently won a Golden Rose. How did that feel?

It’s nice. I’m not at all flippant about winning awards, or being nominated for awards. It’s great. I haven’t won anything for a long time, so it was brilliant. It was a great day in Berlin. I’m very flattered, I would never take anything like that for granted.

You’ve been involved in many of the most successful comedy shows of the last 20 years. What pieces of work are you most proud of?

Father Ted will always be the most prominent. But I liked Big Train a lot, and I’m very pleased to be working on Toast. If you see Paul McCartney interviewed, he’s always being asked about something he did 20 or 30 or 40 years ago. I bet if someone said to him “I think your new album is the best thing you’ve ever done,” he’d be thrilled. At the moment, I’m very pleased with Toast. I think it’s a funny show.

As well as writing for TV you’ve written for theatre, with the play about Roy Keane, I, Keano. Is it true the great man himself went to see it?

He did, yeah. I wasn’t there that night, but he did turn up, and was apparently very gracious, and he chatted to the cast and was very charming. He certainly went up in my estimation after that. He didn’t have to do that.

I imagine, if you’d been there, it would have been among the more unsettling evenings of your life.

Yes! Yes, it would have. I try not to think about it too much, because it would have been an astonishing and terrifying moment.

You’ve also written a book, and are a published cartoonist. Is variety in your work very important to you?

Yes. Yes it is. I actually did graphic design in college many years ago, and kind of drifted into writing, through meeting Graham and working at Hot Press magazine in Dublin. So I wasted a lot of time in my 20s, and I’m trying to keep busy these days. I’m trying to do a lot more painting and drawing, as Matt does. I discovered that he’s a big Francis Bacon fan. There’s a scene with a character who’s supposed to be Francis Bacon in the new series, and Matt painted some pictures for that, which are great. I always saw myself as someone who was good at drawing – or people told me I was – and in a way I almost see myself as someone who’s good at drawing as opposed to someone who’s good at writing.

So is that an area you want to pursue more in the future?

Well, I’ll pursue it more as a hobby. I’m not going to be the next Tracey Emin, I don’t think. It’s just something I’ve tried to do a bit more recently, because as I reach an advanced age, it’d be nice to leave a few things behind me. But it’s nice to have that freedom, you know? It’s great.

Toast of London series two begins on Channel 4 at 10.30pm tonight.