How We Met

Paul Whitehouse And Harry Enfield
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The Independent Culture
The comedy writer Paul Whitehouse, 38, was born in Wales. He has written for all Harry Enfield's television shows, including Saturday Night Live, Smashie and Nicey: The End of An Era and Harry Enfield's Television Programme. He has also starred in his own TV series, The Fast Show. Married with two children, he lives in London.

The comedian Harry Enfield, 35, was born in Surrey. He began writing comedy while studying politics at York University. His comic characters include Loadsamoney, Stavros, and Wayne and Waynetta Slob. A new series of Harry Enfield and Chums starts next month. He lives alone in London

PAUL WHITEHOUSE: I met Harry through a mutual friend in the early Eighties, when Harry used to do a passable Prince Charles impersonation over a pint in my local pub in Hackney.

Times were hard for Harry then. He was squatting in a flat which was just around the corner from me. One day he appeared, laden with suitcases, and asked in a simpering voice: "Can I stay on your floor?'' Harry did stay on my floor - but he also nicked all my jokes, and all my ideas. He then became a multi-millionaire, bought up vast tracts of Hampstead and became the advertisers' darling. I think he also runs a couple of African countries in his spare time - ruthlessly.

I blame myself. I was benign, naive, and I had a loose tongue. Harry was clocking everything I said. He's a clever bloke; and I've made it my quest to carry Harry and keep him at the pinnacle as Britain's new Dick Emery.

When Harry started his club act, I'd give him the odd line. He was always trying to persuade me to write and perform with him, but I didn't; I was much happier singing. At university, I'd been in a few groups. One terrible punk group, the Right Hand Lovers, was juvenile in the extreme. But it's good fun playing with your mates. Making it big in pop would have suited me fine, although comedy is a far better world for an older person.

Around 1981, me and Harry mucked around with a a character called Stavros down at the pub. There were two real-life Stavroses. One ran our local kebab shop; the other was a fellow I worked with at Hackney Council - and out of that combination Stavros was born. When Harry started Saturday Night Live I said I wanted to write for Stavros.

At first, I was just Harry's mate who he met down the pub, but then I got commissioned for the next series. Then I started plastering, and that's where I got the idea of Loadsamoney from. When he took off, I jacked in plastering and started writing full-time. But Harry would have been successful without me, definitely. He wouldn't have had Loadsamoney, though, which is probably the character which made him, although he hates it.

I never write alone. It's either with Charlie Higson, who I did The Fast Show with, or Harry. You have to be fairly disciplined. Harry prefers the mornings, though since I discovered fitness I'd rather go to the gym first. Round at Harry's, we shout out ideas and try to get them down quickly on his nice little laptop computer. Obviously we re-write after rehearsals, but nothing's improvised during recording. You never know what'll get a laugh. I might come in with a brilliant idea, and Harry will groan. Eventually, he'll be persuaded to do it and it'll get a good laugh. Or I might say: "I don't know about that, Harry.'' Then he performs it to rapturous applause and is hailed as a comic genius.

Every character takes a lot of work; it's a joint effort. Harry was the one who first talked about doing the Fab FM DJs Smashie and Nicey. He'd heard the word "fantabulous". I added hideously embarrassing words like "poptastical" and "megatastic".

Working together so much, we can irritate each other. I'm probably more cocky than Harry, which drives him up the wall. But he's more bad-tempered - he's a bit of a miserable git at times. He can be quite dismissive of people's ideas, while being critical of people dismissive of his ideas.

Sometimes Harry worries a bit too much. As he likes the role of being burdened with the cares of the world, I humour him. He thinks he knows best and a lot of the time, he does. We're both champagne lefties, though I hate champagne.

I can imagine a time when we wouldn't be friends. I hope we don't end up like the Old Gits, sparring away. In return for letting him sleep on the floor of my tenement flat in Hackney, Harry recently let me stay in his luxury maisonette in Primrose Hill, so I came out best of that one. But if he had his way I'd be moving in with him. He loves me, that's the problem - but he's got to realise that I'm a person in my own right.

HARRY ENFIELD: In 1977, Paul's then girlfriend Mary was at the University of East Anglia with my best friend's elder brother, and I would go and stay there. Paul had already been kicked out, but I knew of him. He and Mary were into punk, and so glamorous. I was just a 15-year-old schoolboy. When I first met Paul three years later, I was still in awe of him.

I had a holiday job as a milkman in Hackney, and I lived around the corner from Paul and Mary. When I had to leave my place, I asked them whether I could sleep on their floor. They were absolutely sweet and looked after me for eight weeks. When I came down from university and started doing cabaret, I headed back to the flat, assuming that I could live there. After two days, Paul started saying to me: "Are you still here?'' - quite naturally, because there were about five other people dossing on his floor.

I got a place near Paul on the same council estate, which was in the only bit of London that I knew. He was my base. We'd go down the pub together several times a week, and he was always funnier than anyone else who was there. He did a better Stavros than me. When I started doing Stavros on Saturday Night Live, I asked Paul whether he would write it. At first, the TV people said no, but eventually they agreed.

Then Loadsamoney came from our partnership. I went on tour and got him and Charlie Higson - who was also writing for Saturday Night Live - little walk-on parts. I'd go off after being Stavros, and Paul would come on stage in this bird costume with feathers and beak and flap around to the Birdie Song. Then I'd come on as Buggerallmoney, a Geordie version of Loadsamoney, look at the audience and say: "You looking at my bird. Outside the lot of you!'' Paul did that 35 nights running and got his Equity card.

I'm entirely responsible for his career and he's entirely responsible for mine. All my big success has happened since I worked with Paul. I've worked with other people and alone, but I've enjoyed myself more and worked best with him. If he became big-headed that would be fatal, because I'm the bighead in our relationship, and I bully him over work.

Our sense of humour is complementary. I'm populist; and Paul's more sophisticated. Someone said that the good thing about my TV programme was that it had so many tics, which I think are the subtle little touches of originality that Paul brings to it. I wrote the first two or three drafts of the DJs Smashie and Nicey. Then Paul came in, walked around the room and improved it. He put the material up an important notch. In the end, nothing of mine was left - all the good stuff was his. Sometimes I have really good ideas, but it is always Paul's language that makes them work. Without him I'd be more clinical, more mundane. What I achieve with him is different to any thing I could ever hope to achieve with any one else.

Like any couple, we've had our professional disagreements and rows. What's always been most upsetting has been the thought that if it turned into a real battle we might fall out - so we never have. We both realise that the friendship is more important than the work.

If he decided not to work with me any more I'd understand, but I'd hate it if we weren't always friends. I'm very protective of him, but would never give him advice unless he asked. Our relationship has changed: I was a kid when we first met, and Paul used to be fatherly to me, really help me out. Then I became the boss. But we're both still cynical lefties. He may be a champagne socialist, but I'm a Bollinger bolshevik - I don't like cheap champagne or working- class socialists.

Paul's abiding passion is fishing. For three years I've constantly tried to make him take me. I'd love to be able to sit on the riverbank with no one around. But he won't. It's always yeah, yeah, one day. We don't socialise much while we're working together. If I was a woman, I'd probably want to marry Paul. He'll be so embarrassed, but I've always thought that his wife Fiona is a very lucky woman. He's warm, friendly, fair and nice. He enjoys life and he hasn't got an ego. That's rare in this business. If you're looking for an ideal man it would have to be Paul. The only bad thing is that he's as ugly as sin. !

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