As part of Channel 4‘s Funny Fortnight, Harry Hill has made a retrospective documentary, Whatever Happened to Harry Hill? (Documentary in the loosest possible sense of the word, in that it’s all entirely made up, a tissue of lies, half-truths and nonsense. Much as you’d expect from Harry.) Here he reveals more, and looks back on his hugely successful career so far.
KingLoaf: What was the show’s premise? Where did you get the idea from?
Harry Hill: They asked me to do a kind of compilation type show. And I thought that might be a bit straightforward. I remembered watching ‘Steps Reunion‘ whilst I was doing TV Burp. It was a brilliant show. The surviving members of Steps were all interviewed separately. They were saying ‘I fell out with him and she fell out with me.’ Can they get together for one last show and all the rest of it. So I thought I could do a spoof documentary. I would do a spoof of the Steps thing where the idea was all four had fallen out – Big Brother Alan, Bert Kwouk and all the rest of the original cast. The show was cancelled amidst scandal. Can we get together for one last reunion?
KingLoaf: Was it easy getting everyone back together?
Harry Hill: Well, two of the original cast members had died sadly. Otherwise everyone was really keen. It was a lot of fun to do. It’s all been a real laugh, and we’ve kept in contact. I’d never watched the old shows since and it was a lot of fun watching back all the old clips.
KingLoaf: Did you feel quite nostalgic making this show?
Harry Hill: Yeah, I’d forgotten how much was in it. I was watching it thinking I can’t remember what happens next. I don’t even remember filming those bits. It’s not like it was 100 years ago, you just kind of move on. It didn’t come out on DVD and it wasn’t really repeated. It was a bit of a footnote.
KingLoaf: Do you have a favourite episode or is there anything that now stands out for you?
Harry Hill: The dancing. There was a lot of singing and dancing in it which you don’t really see on Channel 4. You don’t see many comedy shows that do that. I remember it being a real drag at the time because I had to learn all these routines. We had this choreographer who taught me (you know, I’m not a natural dancer!) But actually it was really good fun to watch. There was me dancing with a giant Stouffer. Each show we had a finale song where we’d have some sort of dancing – very basic stuff.
KingLoaf: Did you pick all of the songs?
Harry Hill: Yeah, I always picked them. It’s a very odd mix of songs really. They were songs that were in the charts at the time. Like Supergrass, a bit of Pulp. It was the Brit Pop era so there was a lot of that. But then there’d be a Fleetwood Mac song and god knows what, really odd choices looking back.
KingLoaf: What extent did the C4 series help shape your career?
Harry Hill: I don’t know about shaping it, I learnt how to do TV on Channel 4. The director of the Harry Hill Show was this old guy Robin Nash who had directed The Two Ronnie’s and Top of The Pops was his big thing. So I learnt a hell of a lot from him, just on how to use the cameras, and about talking direct down the camera. I learnt a hell of a lot in a very condensed amount of time. It was too much for one person to do really, I wrote it all myself. It’s a lot of stuff to come up with. That’s why some of it isn’t great if I’m honest.
KingLoaf: Do you prefer TV to stand-up?
Harry Hill: I’m going through a stand-up phase at the moment. What I always thought was great when I left medicine and went into so-called show business, was that hopefully you’ve got various options. Variety. I wouldn’t want to tour all year round. I look at other stand ups that do that and think it would drive me mad. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to do TV all the time. I got a bit fed up of doing it. What you want is to do a bit of both. So I’m doing stand-up now, I’m going on tour for the first time for ages.
KingLoaf: Are you looking forward to it?
Harry Hill: Yeah I am, you know there’s a bit of trepidation. A lot of people don’t know I used to do stand up. A lot of people just know me for TV Burp and the stand-up is quite different. Not hugely different but it’s a bit different to the TV Burp.
KingLoaf: Do you think comedy has changed over the years?
Harry Hill: Comedy is a victim of fashion and trends as much as any art form or popular culture. So you’ll always have perceived trends but fundamentally I don’t think comedy has ever changed for hundreds of years. You always have types. A camp comic – so you’ve got Alan Carr, previously it would have been Julian Clary, before that it would have been Frankie Howerd. You’d have a blue comic or a cheeky chappie type; at the moment it’s probably Lee Mack, before that it was Max Miller. Then you get the silly bloke… so me at one time, now it’s probably Keith Lemon. There are always types. I’m not really on top of it but it seems to me it’s never been more populist. Millions of people wanting to be comedians and there’s never been more variety. It’s enormously popular – people like Michael McIntyre, John Bishop – they’re going out and playing to hundreds of thousands of people. The question is can it last, I suppose? Let’s hope so. Let’s hope it lasts until I do my tour anyway. That would be ironic wouldn’t it?
KingLoaf: This marks your directorial debut.
Harry Hill: Well not really no. I did a little cracker for Sky. I’ve always directed but I’ve never been credited as Director. With TV Burp I always had quite a lot to say about it, as much as that winds the Director up. I suppose it’s the first thing that I’ve put my name to. But to be honest, a lot of is just talking heads. It’s not 2001 Space Odyssey.
KingLoaf: You didn’t feel the pressure then?
Harry Hill: Not really no. There’s a slight responsibility. But actually, if you’ve got a good cameraman, and we had this great bloke Phillip, they do a lot of it really.
KingLoaf: Who were the best guests that you think you had on The Harry Hill Show?
Harry Hill: It was really, really difficult to get guests. And we very rarely got anyone we really wanted. That’s a lesson I learnt – ‘don’t make a show where you rely on celebrity guests’. Because you start with a list and a good joke for a celebrity and then the celebrity says no. You work down the list and you end up getting someone and the joke doesn’t really work but you’re kind of stuck with it. With TV Burp we always made a feature of not having celebrities as such. Just having people that we could book – some bloke in the background of a scene of EastEnders.
But, in answer to the question – Russ Abbott was good, Russ was really good fun. And Barbara Dixon.
KingLoaf: What makes you laugh?
Harry Hill: I like silly stuff I suppose. Stand-up comics – I like anyone who’s good really. People who surprise me. If you’re a comedian you look for different things. Sean Lock is one of my favourites. Stewart Lee – I remember going to see Stewart before I became a comedian and thinking he was great. Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer – I’m interested in seeing what they’re doing for Funny Fortnight. I’ve heard it’s really good. I like Spike Milligan– he was a big thing for me when I was a kid. Going back further I liked Brucie, Eric and Ernie and all those guys. Oh, and Danielle, a friend of mine. If you know someone you tend to laugh at different things
KingLoaf: Where do you get your ideas from for your comedy?
Harry Hill: Where does any idea come from? A lot of the time it’s just sitting down and thinking of ideas. That’s the boring answer. Very rarely do you walk past something in the street and something pops into your head. It’s just an imagination. It’s just the way you’re wired really. The more you do it the more weird you become in that sense.
KingLoaf: You’ve won a ton of awards over the years; does that mean a lot to you?
Harry Hill: They did at the time. When you win an award I suppose it’s great. It was nice you know. But at the same time I find it a bit intimidating. What I’m saying is I guess you can’t get too hooked on awards. If you do, if you put a lot of store by them, and one year you don’t get one or don’t get nominated, you think ‘oh dear’. I have them hidden away. One year I got two BAFTA‘s and I had them on display. I was sitting down trying to write jokes and I’m looking at these BAFTA‘s and they’re looking back at me saying ‘come on then, write something funny’. I don’t like award ceremonies, that’s my problem. I find them quite difficult so, to be honest, I can’t say I’m not pleased to be given awards but in some ways it would be easier if I wasn’t.
KingLoaf: What ambitions do you have left, what drives you? What’s next?
Harry Hill: I’ve been trying for ages to get a film off the ground. A film or films. That is what I’m doing next, making a Harry Hill film. But every comedian now is making a film. When I thought of the idea no one was. I think the bounce from The Inbetweeners film is helping a lot. Keith Lemon is making a film. Vic was saying he was going to make a film. Alan Partridge is. You’re going to have hundreds of films. One of them is going to flop and then no one will make another one for about ten years. That’s the idea. I’m going to write that in the spring. And I’m doing this musical; the X-Factor musical. I’m writing that with my friend Steve Brown who does the music. That’s a real challenge. I kind of feel that after TV Burp, TV wise I’m quite happy to just have a little rest from TV. Have a little break, just try and do some different things. And then come back with an idea. I think if I do a TV show people will be judging it and out to get you. We all know what TV’s like. The backlash.
KingLoaf: You haven’t aged much, what’s your secret?
Harry Hill: I did all my ageing when I was about 23. My hair fell out so I looked about 40 then. Everyone else has been losing their hair and have caught up with me. I think that’s what it is. It’s finally paying off.
KingLoaf: How do you stop your collars from going droopy?
Harry Hill: It’s a feet of engineering, developed by the aerospace industry. Well actually there’s a big bit of plastic in them. Two pieces of plastic that support it.
‘Whatever Happened to Harry Hill’, part of Channel 4’s Funny Fortnight, is on Thursday Aug 23 at 9pm on Channel 4.