Celebrities

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Johnny Vegas on the buses is an emotional journey

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Johnny Vegas on the buses is an emotional journey for us all

Johnny Vegas: Carry On Glamping 

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Unsolved: An Alibi For Omar?

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For many comedians, the bane of their lives is that no one will take them seriously. That’s no joke — it drove Tony Hancock to suicide and sent Spike Milligan into psychotic breakdowns.

Johnny Vegas appeared to be in genuine emotional distress as he struggled to set up a campsite business, converting clapped-out buses into holiday cabins on Carry On Glamping (C4).

That sounds like the set-up for a sitcom. It isn’t, though you’d be forgiven for supposing Johnny, a stand-up comedian with a drunkenly chaotic stage act, was just fooling around.

His mates all thought so, when he sounded them out. So did the fitters he approached for a quote to renovate one coach: They seemed deeply suspicious that the whole business was a leg-pull.

Johnny Vegas appeared to be in genuine emotional distress as he struggled to set up a campsite business, converting clapped-out buses into holiday cabins on Carry On Glamping (C4). Pictured: Johnny and Bev in Carry On Glamping

The film-makers were expecting it all to be a giant lark, too. Their camera trailed after Johnny, desperate for quips and ad libs. Most of the time, he looked closer to tears.

The comedian, whose real name is Michael Pennington, lost his father Lawrence in 2017. This dream of an upmarket campsite in Snowdonia, with vintage buses as bespoke chalets, is in part a tribute to his dad’s memory.

He longed for his mum’s seal of approval on the project — even naming his first vehicle Patricia in her honour. ‘What,’ she scoffed, ‘cos it’s a rusty bus that won’t go?’

As far as mum was concerned, anything he did was better than his stand-up routines. ‘All my bingo friends would appreciate your acting,’ she told him. ‘None of them would appreciate your filthy gigs.’

The comedian, whose real name is Michael Pennington, lost his father Lawrence in 2017. This dream of an upmarket campsite in Snowdonia, with vintage buses as bespoke chalets, is in part a tribute to his dad’s memory

He longed for his mum’s seal of approval on the project — even naming his first vehicle Patricia in her honour. ‘What,’ she scoffed, ‘cos it’s a rusty bus that won’t go?’

Much of Johnny’s humour has always been steeped in pathos and dipped in self-loathing. Now we can see where it came from.

His mum’s straight-talking criticism became all the more poignant when a title card at the end of the hour revealed she died while the series was still filming.

What appeared at first to be a half-baked hobby now looks like Johnny’s attempt to reinvent himself. The trouble is that, the more setbacks he suffers, the funnier it will seem — which is clearly what Channel 4 execs want.

And he does attract disasters. His first bus was stranded in Malta. He paid £5,500 for it on eBay, which sounds outrageous — and another seven grand to ship it home.

Mid-voyage, the ship bringing it to Britain caught fire. The bus arrived, looking like it had been involved in a motorway pile-up. You have to laugh . . .

Johnny’s obsession with decrepit public transport relics was dwarfed by the 20-year mission of Bournemouth woman Amie Benguit, whose brother Omar is serving a life sentence for a murder she insists he did not commit. 

The case was probed by Northern Irish journalist Bronagh Munro, revisiting a story she first covered in 2018. Unsolved: An Alibi For Omar? (BBC1) shredded the evidence of witnesses, most of them drug addicts, that sent Omar to jail.

Omar Benguit (pictured), 48, a heroin addict and petty crook, was tried three times for the killing and finally convicted in 2005 after a key prosecution witness, a prostitute and heroin addict known as BB, claimed that she had witnessed the murder

Munro believes that the police have always known about the footage which might clear him. ‘What’s shocking is that the police knew about the crucial CCTV images back in 2002 but Omar wasn’t shown them,’ she said. Pictured, Benguit at the Richmond arms and Slam Bar

South Korean student Jong-Ok Shin, 26, known as Oki, was stabbed to death in 2002 

But Munro failed to give us any sense of the woman who was murdered. 

This follow-up documentary was wholly focused on the possible miscarriage of justice, and essentially ignored the tragedy of Korean student Jong-Ok ‘Oki’ Shin, fatally stabbed in the back as she walked home.

Blurred CCTV images might give Amie the ammunition she needs to secure her brother’s release. That doesn’t alter the fact that Omar has a history of violence, including convictions for stabbing one man in the chest and threatening another with a syringe. In 1994, a judge predicted he would one day kill someone.

No one can blame Amie for trying to free her brother. Why the BBC thinks his freedom is so important is another matter.

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