Kirke University, home to Channel 4’s new comedy series from the makers of Green Wing, is possibly the crudest college of higher education since the Central University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, its staff a collection of grotesque super-stereotypes whose self-absorption is matched only by their ability to break into verbosely obscene soliloquy at will.
Vice-chancellor Jonty De Wolfe (Andy Nyman, looking more like a cross-breeding of Ricky Gervais and Derren Brown than ever), is a disturbed, bigoted narcissist with vaguely magical powers and a habit of declaring even his darkest and most perverse inner monologues (sometimes through a megaphone) to anyone within earshot: ‘Matthew Beer is a queer, if he’s not published soon, the end is near.’
De Wolfe is obsessed with making money for the university; a desire exacerbated by the university accountant Will Adamsdale’s (Jason Armitage) inadvertently paying all 300+ staff members their salaries twice. Thus he is banking on the aforementioned Professor Beer (Joseph Millson) – the lazy, Lotharian English tutor who has slept with all but five of the female staff – writing a bestselling book about his subject, just as mousy mathematics lecturer Imogen Moffat (Lisa Jackson) has done with her tome ‘The Joy Of Zero’.
As a plot, it’s wafer-thin – particularly considering the hour-long format of the show – but as a clothes-line upon which to hang a laundry basket’s worth of unconscionable and frequently surreal filth, it’s perfect. ‘Don’t be afraid to use vaginal discourse in front of me,’ De Wolfe says at one point, and neither he nor his colleagues are. Campus is the most profligately profane comedy of recent times and uses the word ‘vagina’ and derivatives (including the C-bomb and the more amusing ‘bunty’) more often than any in living memory.
The swearing adds to the high quotability factor, making the show a lexicon of lewdness to be recited endlessly after viewing. Of particular note are the bizarre flights of fantasy of De Wolfe – especially his conversation about prostitutes with one of the richer students (played by Ahir Shah) – and the ramblings of mechanical engineering lecturer Lydia Tennant (Dolly Wells), who eats cigarettes, pees standing up and seems to operate on a higher plane of psychosis to even the most disturbed of her colleagues. Notably enjoyable observations of hers include: ‘At school, they nicknamed me “the big shit” because I was a big shit and I did big shits.’ and ‘My bank account, like my fanny, works like a lobster pot – once something’s trapped in there, it won’t come out again until I say so.’
If Campus can maintain this opening episode’s level of screaming eloquence and surreal excursions into dark whimsy – it’s like The Thick Of It adapted by The League Of Gentlemen – then there’s every chance that the series will be graduating with honours come the end of its run.
Airs at 10pm on Tuesday 5th April 2011 on Channel 4.