Working on houses gave birth to comedy

"You only live thrice" doesn't quite apply to James Bond but it does to the author whose latest Puffin chronicles the spy's youthful escapades. Charlie Higson's media career represents his third line of business. In his last year at university he formed a band known eventually as The Higsons (after Charlie).

For the next six years, the band provided a living for the lads, largely because of the free sandwiches and beer at gigs. "We were a very entertaining live act," says Charlie, "but technically I was a poor singer, which was a stumbling block. We drifted apart and realised that we hadn't played together for a while, so we must have split up."

Meanwhile Colin, the bass player, had started painting and decorating on the side, and asked Charlie to help out with a house in Chelsea. "I claimed I could do paper-hanging," recalls Higson - and so he could, once he had studied a book on the subject. Friends put work their way: "We rapidly had the jobs stacking up." Their old mate Paul Whitehouse left his job as a Hackney Council clerk to become a plasterer and they put work each other's way.

Certainly there has always been a lot of work, declares Charlie. There can't be many houses whose owners can truthfully assert that nothing at all needs decorating. He is amazed that there aren't more of the better type of decorators around; there is a lucrative gap in the market waiting to be filled. It helped that he, Colin and Paul were middle-class: "There were a lot of posh people around who would rather have a team of posh decorators. We did bigger and bigger jobs: whole buildings with a team of 15". Paul and Charlie were getting something else out of working together: jokes. They kept each other amused with funny voices and sketches, which soon became scripts for their housemate, Harry Enfield.

Whitehouse had acquired his "suits you sir" Fast Show character from a Hackney council porter and now "Loadsamoney" was mined from people on the building sites. Charlie, who used his decorating as financial support for his novel-writing, drew on it artistically too: "The first book I wrote was about a decorator living in a flat like mine; the difference was that he ends up killing people, which I managed to avoid. I'm in a position now where I haven't done any decorating for years; I get a man in." But he has to bite his tongue if he finds himself about to snap, like Competitive Dad in The Fast Show: "That's not the way to do it!"

'Double or Die' (Puffin Books, £6.99) came out this month