It’s Harry Hill, but not as you’ve seen him before. Up until a couple of years ago, the comedian had spent more than a decade presenting Harry Hill’s TV Burp and for a while it seemed he was destined to remain behind that desk forever.
However, in 2012 the last series was screened, with Hill apparently keen to try his hand at other things. His first foray onto the big screen wasn’t loved by the critics. In fact it was almost universally panned, but the signs are much better as Hill makes his acting debut on BBC1 this Christmas.
Adapted by author and actor Charlie Higson from Norman Hunter’s classic children’s books, Harry will portray Professor Branestawm, the original mad inventor, who is oblivious to the chaos his harebrained creations cause when they go wrong – as they always do.
The professor would have blown himself to smithereens long ago had it not been for the efforts of his long suffering housekeeper, Mrs Flittersnoop (Vicki Pepperdine) and his dim-but-loyal best friend, Colonel Dedshott (Simon Day).
Set in the picturesque English village of Great Pagwell of days gone by, the hour-long special sees local schoolgirl Connie (Madeline Holiday) come to the professor’s rescue when evil businessman Mr Bullimore (Ben Miller) and local councillor Harold Haggerstone (David Mitchell) unite to have Branestawn kicked out of the village as a dangerous menace.
Hunter wrote the first two Professor Branestawm stories in the 1930s, but he didn’t complete the 13 book series until the 1970s. Given the authors’ description of the inventor, it’s easy to see why Higson thought of Hill.
“His coat was simply fastened with safety pins because the buttons had simply fallen off,” wrote Hunter. “His head was simply bald and it simply shone like anything when the sun caught it.”
“Harry’s persona is just right for this part because, like Branestawm, his character lives in his own world and his doesn’t mind if he upsets people,” says Higson, who also plays the mayor. “There is something anarchic and chaotic about him. It’s the perfect fit.
“It’s very satisfying bringing to life a book that you love. You do worry about not doing it justice, but hopefully it will help revive people’s interest in Norman Hunter’s wonderful books.
“Christmas is the one moment in the year when you all sit down together as a family and watch something together. Last Christmas, I sat down with my three sons and my dad, who is in his 80s to watch Catherine Tate’s Nan. That was good family entertainment which we could all enjoy together.
“I hope that this has a similar effect and that people end up repeating the catchphrase, ‘We want to build a munitions factory right in the middle of town. What’s wrong with that?’”
Professor Branestawm, December 24, BBC1, 8.30pm