Johnny Vegas is suffering from ennui. Comedy doesn’t do it for him any more, he says, which seems fair enough in the circumstances. Most people would feel close to despair at the thought of dressing in a rabbit suit and appearing on Celebrity Juice (this is an ITV2 show, presented by Keith Lemon, and – life is short – that’s all I’m going to say about it). “I used to be cutting edge!” he wails, backstage, waggling his bunny ears. But alas, his solution to lassitude and despondency isn’t to look for more serious acting work. (Remember how marvellous he was as Krook in Andrew Davies’s 2005 adaptation of Bleak House?) No. His dream now is to own… a glamping site.
I’ve always had weirdly tender feelings for Vegas. Long ago, I heard him talking of his love of pots – he has a degree in ceramics – and my eyes pricked with tears. Inside the grotty T-shirt lurks a passionate aesthete. But I was utterly unprepared for his bizarre new series, in which he rescues ancient buses and other old vehicles, the better to make them over as accommodation for paying guests. Is this project for real, or is it just the result of a particularly desperate meeting down at Hat Trick Productions? (Johnny Vegas: Carry on Glamping – 5 May, 10pm – has a powerful whiff of Alan Partridge’s “Monkey Tennis” about it.)
Unable to work it out, I turned to Google, and thus I can now report that – crikey – it is all in earnest. Field of Dreams, in Nidderdale, North Yorkshire, is fully up and running. From what I can tell, “Patricia”, a Maltese bus, is booked out for weeks, but it might be possible to bag a couple of nights in the Morris caravanette – it is called Billy the Snail, I suppose because in profile it vaguely resembles a gastropod – before May is out.
The first episode – unbelievably, there are four – was devoted mostly to the saga of the aforementioned bus, purchased by a tipsy Vegas on eBay in the small hours of the morning. He didn’t realise his seller was in Malta, but this didn’t put him off. Soon, he and Bev, his long-suffering assistant, were en route to see it – and five months later (don’t ask!) it finally arrived on these shores. Vegas was ecstatic at the reunion; it was true love between him and this little yellow rust bucket. But the cool guy who was going to renovate it soon burst his bubble. With his bare hands, he bent one of its panels back, revealing that it could be peeled like a banana. It would need a new roof, floor and sides, for which the bill would be £35,000. Crushed, Vegas went home to his mother (Patricia, after whom he’d named the bus). She was delighted he might be giving up “filthy” comedy; she, too, wants him to act, a change her bingo friends would appreciate. But if his heart was set on this camping thing, well, he could always come and live with her when he went bust…
Will he go bust? No, obviously not. But he’s hardly what you’d call a natural entrepreneur, either. By the end of part one, his original site, in Wales, had fallen through. Something to do with planning permission. More alarmingly, he had purchased a German fire truck and its trailer, in which several rubber hoses were still coiled. The trailer, he believed, would make a good bedroom. Eh? I tried hard to imagine holidaying in this windowless metal box, whose dimensions looked to be about the same as those of a washing machine (or a coffin). Ditto the caravanette – picture a Morris Minor with a large bread bin stuck on its back – that he later leased from a woman with whom he gently flirted in her garage. But it was no good. Only a family of gnomes could do it, I reckon – a single-parent family of gnomes, with only one child, no luggage and all Smurf hats removed in advance.
Still, my fondness for Vegas appears, for the time being, to be undimmed. The dafter and sweeter and more sentimental he is, the more I seem to like him. Somehow, he adds – just as this loopy series adds – to the gaiety of life. There is a strange but unfeigned generosity in his bunk bed fantasies. Does Jimmy Carr dream of horse box bathrooms? Does David Mitchell, or Rob Brydon?
Johnny Vegas: Carry on Glamping
This article appears in the 05 May 2021 issue of the New Statesman, If not now, when?