Rob Gilroy

Harry Enfield & Paul Whitehouse: My 10 Favourite Sketches

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There seems to have been a lot of new comedies over the last few weeks and I have to admit, I haven’t watched much of it yet.

When you’re juggling all manner of Netflixes and Amazons, while dipping in and out of iPlayer and No Longer 4OD – not to mention catching up on The National Cake Baking Show – it leaves precious little time for new comedy.

That said, I’m not here to champion the new breed. The other week, the BBC in its infinite, self-defeating wisdom, put out a little gem and didn’t really tell anyone. It was An Evening with Harry Enfield & Paul Whitehouse.

If you missed it, it’s still available, here.

While on the face of it, the show was just an excuse to parade out an assortment of old clips – the sheer level of invention in the copious amounts of new material was just staggering. And it served to confirm something I’ve always known – I love Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse with all my heart.

I’ve always been a fan, from …And Chums through to Ruddy Hell, it’s… I’ve always loved them. But increasingly over the last few years, certainly with The Story of the Twos and the later series of Harry & Paul, I’ve come to realise they’re better than they’ve ever been.

Sketch comedy is hard to keep consistent, as every broadsheet review is quick to tell us, but harder still is staying fresh during a career that spans twenty odd years. But actually, Harry and Paul not only manage to stay fresh, but their particular flavour is richer and more potent than ever, like a fine cheddar that’s fallen out of a shopping bag and nestled itself in the foot well of a car.

Even though they’ve created many incredible characters, from Stavros and Tim Nice But Dim, through to Rowley Birkin QC and Unlucky Alf, I want to celebrate some of their later victories. For me, Harry & Paul feels like an overlooked gem.

When everyone is quick to call time of death on the sketch show, the self same people didn’t even realise that H&P (not Hale & Pace) were keeping the medium firing on all cylinders.

So, here are my top 10 Harry & Paul sketches.

10. Football Manager

This is a great example of how, throughout their career, Harry and Paul continue to take well-worn ideas and do something fresh with them. Football managers have always been a strong source of comedy for the two, from Julio Gordio to living legend, Ron Manager; but this idea feels fresh and, most importantly, funny.

9. Van Drivers Lament

The reason I love this sketch is because there’s a certain old school charm to it. One of the things I most love about the Harry & Paul series is its willingness to do silly things for the sake of it, and this is a great example.

8. Nelson Mandela

It’s hard to know where the inspiration for this sketch came from, but it remains a favourite. Enfield is on fine form with a barefaced impression that shamelessly revels in the ridiculousness of the idea. (As a side note, hunt out the VHS Harry Enfield Undressed for a great Nelson Mandela anecdote – as well as a brilliant insight into Enfield’s creative process.)

7. The Harley Street Surgeons

Two of the regular characters that popped up across the series, the surgeons are excellent creations. I love the sheer repetitiveness of the 40/45 years line. Harry and Paul are always brilliant at finding verbal nuggets that create unexpected catchphrases – see ‘Quare’ – catchphrase comedy often comes under fire but when it’s this silly, it can’t be beaten.

6. American Tourists

I love this. Credit must be shared by the always-brilliant Morwenna Banks who nails it, here. The accents and make up are incredible, but what I really love is the fact that the characters are relentlessly nice. Obnoxious characters are relatively easy to do, but making nice people funny, and not boring, is a real skill.

5. I Curse You

It seems like Harry and Paul full embraced the tradition of cross-dressing in their later series, in a way I don’t quite remember them doing the first time round. And this sketch has the added advantage of a knockout Whitehouse accent.

4. Parking Pataweyo

Everything about this makes me smile, from the music to Daniel Kaluuya’s cheeky chappie face.

3. Dragons’ Den

This became one of the most famous of their later sketches, and it’s easy to see why. The sheer audacity of the impressions is brilliant, but for me, it will always be Ken and Brian and their cripplingly sweaty terror who steal the show.

2. Arabic Celebrations

I feel like this needs more of an explanation, but I can’t think of one. It just remains a brilliantly daft idea, handled perfectly.

1. Quare

To be honest, this sketch doesn’t just top this list; it’s possibly my favourite sketch of the last ten years. Again, it’s an inexplicably silly idea – with such specifically precise targets – and even line of it is brilliantly delivered.  It remains, quite simply, probable funniest Harry & Paul sketch, ever.

Harry & Paul are on tour later this year. Tickets are here.