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Harry Enfield on scraping a living when he was starting out in comedy

The Conversation

By Oscar Quine

The 54-year-old comic actor and writer on what sort of car he'd be, scraping a living when he was starting out, and the truth about Virginia Woolf and his grandparents.

Q: You're involved in this campaign for Vauxhall, 'Great British Legends'

A: Yes. That's it. I'm a legend. Me and Vauxhall Astras. We're legends.

Q: Is it one of your favourite cars?

A: No. If you were going to compare me to a car, I'd be very flattered to be compared to a Vauxhall Astra. Rowan Atkinson would be a Ferrari, I suppose. Or maybe that's Steve Coogan. And Rowan would be an Aston Martin. He's a bit classier than a Ferrari. Or Hugh Grant would be a Ferrari. And I'd be a Vauxhall Astra. That suits me down to the ground.

Q: What would Stephen Fry be?

A: He'd be an old Wolseley, wouldn't he? That's what he would like to be. Something very old and leathery.

Q: Ben Elton?

A: Ben would be something quite noisy. Do they do loud Minis? I don't know. Very chirpy.

Q: Did you ever think to follow Ben's lead and write a novel?

A: Certainly not, I'm virtually illiterate. Writing scripts is fine because you get through a page quickly. But writing words just reminds me of school. To me a novel would be like writing a 300-page essay. Ugh, no fear.

Q: Have you written a book?

A: No, no.

Q: Would you like to?

A: Yes, but I think it's more about finding the time and the headspace.

Yes, headspace. Although, most people write the best works when they're young. But then, maybe in the old days life was just more boring.

Q: How about you? How is it that you were you so clear-sighted to get into comedy straight from university?

A: Well, we didn't have that much money. So we didn't go out every night. We lived in Hackney. Paul Whitehouse was up the road. He worked for Hackney Council and then he was a plasterer. So it was either stay in or go out and do gigs. The more gigs you did, the more money you got. And we were in the midst of a bad recession, so it wasn't that much fun. We'd go to the Wag Club once a week.

Q: Where was that?

A: The Wag Club, the Whiskey a Go Go, at the bottom end of Wardour Street.

Q: Is it still there?

A: I don't know. But everyone went to the Wag Club. The Wag and The Limelight. Those were the two clubs. Then there was this place in Brixton called The Fridge. That became a gay club. But when it started, it was just a white room. It was amazing. We'd go down and scamper around to Wham! It didn't seem to have any sexuality then. But I went to it when it was a gay club, too. It was a right laugh.

Q: You must have seen London change a lot. Have you been back to Hackney lately?

A: Yes, well it always had all those lovely Victorian houses. And it always had Christopher Biggins, and he's still there. You'd literally go, "Oh, look, there's Biggins", and he'd be there with his flowery shirt or something. About a year ago I went for a meal there, in some super-groovy concrete place and guess who was in there. Biggins.

Q: I read that Virginia Woolf said of your grandparents, 'I'd rather be dead in a field than have tea with the Enfields.' Were they not nice people?

A: Yes. My grandmother had a couple of strange books published by the Woolfs. I didn't know her - she was dead by the time I was born. But I knew my grandfather. He was lovely. And I knew my grandmother's sisters. Aunt Margaret was terribly strict, not very nice. Then Aunt Nancy was lovely. So who knows?

Q: Do you still get your catchphrases shouted at you in the street?

A: Still "Loadsamoney", yes. But more than anything now I get, "You're that bloke, aren't you?"

The plug

Harry Enfield, is a comedian best known for his BBC sketch show ‘Harry Enfield and Chums’, which ran from 1990 to 1998. He is married and has a son and two daughters. He lives in London and is currently involved in the Great British Legends series celebrating 35 years of the Vauxhall Astra.

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