Comedy: Run to the Hills

Harry Hill London Palladium

A visitor from Mars might have had all his worst fears about the insanity of earthlings confirmed if by chance he'd popped into the London Palladium last Sunday. As the curtain went up, a voice over the public-address system boomed out: "We regret to announce that due to industrial action, there will be no badger parade tonight". As one, the audience let out a big "aaah" of disappointment.

Of course, any clued-up earthling could have told our Martian friend that he had nothing to be alarmed about; he'd just stumbled into a Harry Hill show.

For some, Hill is just too damned culty by half. It's all just "in" references to pork chops and chickens and Zeinab Badawi, they say, and camp followers dressed up in the last word in trendiness - a T-shirt bearing the legend "Warning! Savlon"

But if you give in to Hill's peculiar tidal wave of daftness, you quickly find yourself being swept along by it. As much as anything else, you are won over by the sheer panache with which he weaves together his bizarre tapestry of catchphrases. In the Premiership of performers who sweat for their art, Hill is perhaps only headed by Lee Evans.

At his Palladium show, "First Class Scamp", Hill expended pints of perspiration as he bantered with Bert Kwouk, Stouffer the Cat and a bat (don't ask) and ran through several spoof songs - in one, he sang the names of all the people he'd met on a chat-line. All the while, he was inflicting a terrible pounding on his trademark black suit whose top-pocket overflows with unnecessary pens and the white shirt with collars so huge he'd take off in a high wind. I wouldn't fancy being his dry-cleaner.

Hill is not above tossing out the odd 24-carat one-liner, albeit edged with the sort of surrealism rarely seen outside 1920s Paris. At one point, he wondered, "what kind of bird Humpty Dumpty would have hatched if he'd lived?". He is also more than capable of seeing off any potential trouble- makers in the audience. "Would I be right in thinking, sir, that it's your first day out of prison?" he asked one heckler. "You'll soon get used to the bright lights and the high beer prices."

His most mesmerising attribute, however, is his ability to set up a gag and keep returning to it several minutes later like a playground game of tag. He establishes early on that he is baffled by the tiny holes in the top of biscuits, say, or the fact that shoe repairers often double as key-cutters and then repeatedly revisits the subject with a new spin. The more he hits an innocent-sounding phrase - like "a choice of preserves" - the funnier it begins to sound.

Just to flummox our Martian visitors completely, the industrial action was eventually lifted and the show closed with a badger parade. As Bobby Robson once said of the benighted Gazza: daft as a brush.

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