Comedian Harry Hill has come a long way since his days as a hospital doctor. He talks to Roz Laws about giving up TV, writing a musical and how he has forgotten all of his medical training.
As Harry Hill drove around the corner, a dramatic scene revealed itself.
Lying, apparently lifeless, in the middle of the road was a man. Next to him was a bicycle and an agitated woman standing by a car.
This was no slapstick sketch. This was a real drama and one which Harry instinctively wanted to get involved in.
Before he became one of TV’s favourite comedians, Harry was junior hospital doctor Dr Matthew Hall.
But now, as Harry Hill, he suddenly had second thoughts about using his medical expertise.
“It’s been so long, 20-odd years, since I stopped practising medicine,” admits Harry.
“So as I got out of my car to help, I suddenly thought ‘What are you doing? You don’t know what to do!’
“I went up to the bloke and it turned out he was drunk and had fallen off his bike. The woman had found him in the road, she hadn’t knocked him off.
“It wasn’t as bad as I feared and they thankfully didn’t need my help. I realised then that I shouldn’t stop for accidents because I’m so out of practice.
“In an emergency I’d probably be more use than most other people, but not as good as a trained first aider, to be honest.”
If there’s one thing that doesn’t need resuscitation, it’s Harry’s comedy career, which is healthier than ever.
From the days of his own Channel 4 sketch show 15 years ago to You’ve Been Framed and 11 series of Harry Hill’s TV Burp, picking up Baftas and British Comedy Awards along the way, he’s gone from strength to strength.
But now he’s said goodbye to TV Burp to embark on new projects, including writing X Factor: The Musical and heading out on his first tour in six years, taking in Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre and Coventry’s Warwick Arts Centre.
Called Sausage Time, it’s “a load of silly stuff” including Harry’s many puppet friends, such as Gary, his son from his first marriage who played Alan Sugar on TV Burp.
There’s also, naturally, a giant sausage. So just how big is it, Harry?
“Twenty foot,” he says, proudly. “It’s fantastic and quite intimidating in smaller venues.”
The controversial news is that, although he is billed as part of the show, Harry’s longtime sidekick Stouffer the Cat might not appear.
“It’s up in the air for him,” admits Harry. “I already have a lot of puppets – there’s Gary’s girlfriend and his son, too.
“I thought people had forgotten about Stouffer, but at warm-up gigs I was surprised when a couple of people asked where he was. It was quite touching.
“Maybe I’ll have him on stand-by.”
Also absent will be Gareth Southgate Badger, named after the footballer while he was with Aston Villa.
“He’s lying low because of the badger cull scare,” reveals Harry, 48. “He’s been staying with Brian May.”
The show is advertised as for age 12 and above, but that doesn’t mean there’s going to be anything rude in it.
“If you put 12, you get 10-year-olds, and that’s fine. But a lot of kids like TV Burp and we don’t want toddlers in – it’s not a panto.”
What father-of-three Harry can’t be doing when he’s on stage is watching TV – but he couldn’t be happier that he no longer has to sit through up to 10 hours of programmes every day, looking for things to make fun of for TV Burp.
“That did become really stressful and I don’t miss it in the slightest,” he insists.
“I did the right thing by stopping, I didn’t want it to get ropey.
“It was up and down and it never felt like we did a really bad one but it was getting harder – with on-going series you keep seeing the same things.
“When it came down to the last recording, I wondered how I was going to feel, but I felt great.
“That’s not to say I don’t sometimes think ‘We could have done something with that’. I was watching the first episode of Mr Selfridge when the showgirl took delivery of a box containing a fur coat. On TV Burp, it would have had a 12 inch pizza.
“But TV Burp did spoil my enjoyment of telly and I hardly watch at all these days.”
One series he does make time for is the X Factor. He’s such a fan that he’s written a musical based on the ITV talent show, due to be staged in a West End theatre in spring 2014.
“We’re about to start two weeks of workshops, at the end of which Simon Cowell will come along and tell us what he thinks,” says Harry.
“It celebrates the show but also makes fun of it. It’s a new world for me, I flippantly said ‘Yes, I’ll write a musical!” but it’s a lot harder than it looks.
“Simon, of course, wants to play Simon. We need a name, but they need to be able to sing well – there’s a couple of great songs – and be short. Answers on a postcard, please.”
So what did Harry make of the last X Factor series, which suffered a dip in ratings and media criticism?
“I enjoyed it, the talent was good. I can understand people’s fatigue and familiarity with it, that’s inevitable. It happened with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which used to be a must-see programme. All these shows become fixtures and less exciting.
“The X Factor producers realise they have to change it and I know they have plans for the new series because they don’t want another slating.
“What’s impressive is that they really put on a show, the production values are amazing. I’ve been to a few recordings and it’s a great night out. That’s what we have to capture in the musical, while also being funny.”
If this all sounds a bit too serious, it’s good to know that one of Harry’s hobbies seems as daft as his comedy persona. He does oil paintings of celebrities like Phillip Schofield and Bruce Forsyth.
“I do them from photos in Hello magazine,” he explains. “It was therapy for when I did TV Burp, to wind down after watching so much TV.
“I’m working on a big diorama at the moment, which I’ll keep doing until it’s about 20ft long. So far it features Paul McCartney, Ronnie Wood, Neil Armstrong, a horse and two bears fighting.”
Of course. We wouldn’t expect anything else.
* Harry Hill: Sausage Time comes to Warwick Arts Centre on February 13-14 and Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre on February 26-27. For tickets ring 0844 248 5199 or to go www.harryhilllive.com