Paul Whitehouse interview

The talented Mr Whitehouse made his name alongside Harry Enfield before lending his remarkable comedy gifts to the groundbreaking Fast Show. We caught up with the actor, writer and comedian, most recently seen with Bob Mortimer in the brilliant Mortimer and Whitehouse: Gone Fishing and the musical version of Only Fools and Horses.

Paul Whitehouse interview

Did you enjoy getting the band back together again?

Yes, it was lovely. But in fact, we keep in touch all the time, anyway. I see Charlie and Simon on a very regular basis. Arabella, I'm in contact with all the time. John and I always meet up whenever I'm in Manchester or he's in London. Mark came to see me in Only Fools and Horses (the musical), and we text each other every week as well.

Why do you think the bond between you all is still so strong?

I think it's still a bit of a mutual appreciation society, like it was at the very beginning. We all annoyed each other, I'm sure. They probably had more of a case to be annoyed with Charlie and me because we were the final arbiters, and that was probably quite annoying at times! But I think everybody knew that the brief was to produce the best programme we could and nothing else. And at the heart of it was a real belief in what we were doing. We all made each other laugh all the time.

How did you feel seeing the characters return to life for The Fast Show: Just A Load Of Blooming Catchphrases?

It was really quite moving watching some of the characters come to life again. For example, I loved seeing John as Denzel Dexter. If you asked me for a list of my favourite Fast Show characters, I wouldn't put Denzel in the top three. But I got really quite touched when I saw him turn up in all his gear. There was something about the look. Perhaps it's because he looked very similar. He didn't look like he had aged much with his hair and his beard. It was almost like being transported back in time. It all came flooding back to me, that joyous Fast Show rollercoaster ride.

Why did you decide to utilise the device of having the characters as talking heads commenting on their old selves?

I'm glad we found this way of doing it because I think it suits the characters and the piece a lot more than having, say, the "Suit You" men back in their shop. I don't think the characters would sit very well in a sketch show series now. It would be hard to do it without being unfavourably compared to the old days. It would be also be difficult to try to find relevant scenarios for actors who don't look like they did when they were fixed in people's minds. That's the reason why David Jason can't play Del Boy now. And that is also why the way we use the characters in this - as talking heads looking back on their career - is a more imaginative and probably less jarring way of employing them. Rowley Birkin, who was always my favourite to play, worked very well in that format because he's doing what he's always done, which is sit in a chair and talk nonsense!

Which character did you relish playing again?

I personally really enjoyed doing Ron Manager again just because it's fun working with Mark and Simon. Ron Manager is someone you can do now and still be entirely relevant. Or irrelevant! There are still Ron Managers in football. They're everywhere. We are all a bit Ron Manager, saying that everything is killing the game. Meanwhile, the game is the most successful game in the world!

Any other characters you enjoyed going back and rewatching?

It was very nice seeing "Brilliant" again. What was good about him was that he did what the title suggested. He never outstayed his welcome, and he certainly didn't outstay his welcome in one particular place. He was always on the move. Maybe he was not the funniest character, but every now and then there were some really funny bits. He took you along and kept that pace up, and that made him dramatic and interesting. I love "Competitive Dad", too. And one of my absolute favourites is Arabella's "Does my bum look big in this?"

Do you think one of the reasons why The Fast Show is still so popular is because a lot of these characters are timeless?

Yes. I remember Bob Mortimer had to do a list of sketches that he liked for (Gold's) My Favourite Sketch. He talked through The Fast Show and it must have stuck in his throat, but he said, "It stands up really well, you know." The fact is that he didn't need to say that about The Fast Show, but he did.

So the show hasn't dated?

No. It's funny because the show does stand up, weirdly. A woman being ignored by a group of men? That hasn't gone out of date. You still meet people like Swiss Toni, too, and you will always see "Competitive Dads" and "Brilliants".

What made The Fast Show different from other sketch shows?

I don't claim that we were that innovative. Unlike, say, Spike Milligan and Monty Python, we didn't necessarily have to have a theme for each show. But one of the things we did very well is that we were short and sharp. We would also very quickly go from knockabout comedy to something very poignant. Maybe that hadn't been seen in the sketch show before. If you look at "Competitive Dad", you can laugh at it - for instance, the sketch where he whacks his son's bowling for six - and then you can lift up the veneer and go, "Oh my God, this is borderline abuse. This is leading to a lifetime of therapy!"

What was it like working with the late, great Caroline Aherne?

She was a wonderful person, and what she did in a brief, but brilliant career was incredible. She played the spoof nun, Sister Mary Immaculate, and stunned people on stage with her rhetoric there. That led to Mrs Merton, and then The Royle Family. So she dominated three areas of comedy - sketch show, character comedy and then a beautiful sitcom/comedy drama whatever you want to call it. She paved the way with The Royle Family. She was quite extraordinary.

Do people still come up and say Fast Show catchphrases to you?

Yes. I get "Suit You" from time to time, and some "A little bit werrr!" "Scorchio" has stuck in a kind of ironic way, too. People don't even know that it is related to The Fast Show, but it's used all the time. You'll always see it on the front of tabloid newspapers whenever the weather is hot.

Did you take pleasure in watching The Fast Show: Just A Load Of Blooming Catchphrases?

Yes. Without blowing my own trumpet, I did enjoy watching it. There is such a warm, nostalgic feeling about the show. I hope it will be a real tonic for people to watch this in lockdown. I felt a real sense of emotion watching it. It brings back very fond memories of fun times. And that's really important at the moment.