Following a conversation with comedy pals Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse can prove tricky.
As well as the tangents, there are impersonations to contend with, and very few sentences pass Whitehouse’s lips without at least one send-up.
Today, there plenty of voices peppering the conversation between the pair, who met during the early Eighties through mutual friends, sparking the start of more than three decades of on-screen collaborations. The duo are pairing up once again for Harry And Paul’s Story Of The 2s, their affectionate swipe at BBC Two’s 50-year history.
In the one-off programme, Enfield and Whitehouse chart the story of the channel and parody its highs and lows, from World War One to The Great British Bake Off - which required 56-year-old Whitehouse to dress up as much-loved food writer and grandmother Mary Berry, a judge on the hit show.
“I’m a professional. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it [dressing up as Berry], I enjoyed being [Alan] Yentob more,” recalls the father-of-three, who breaks into a purr and adopts a plummy tone at his mention of the TV producer and presenter.
“It was fun running around the BBC’s Television Centre as Yentob. That was more fun than being Mary Berry.” Although Whitehouse insists he’s “not a mimic”, and that those “funny voices” just slide into his speech, it’s clear that he and Enfield are on comfortable ground impersonating others.
As 52-year-old Enfield points out, he was given his “big break” from the channel in the form of Harry Enfield’s Television Programme, which was first shown in 1990 and featured sketches of his well-loved characters including Kevin The Teenager, The Old Gits, The Randy Old Ladies, Smashie And Nicey and Tim Nice But Dim.
This was followed by Harry Enfield And Chums, which ran from 1993 until 1997, and Ruddy Hell! It’s Harry And Paul, as well as Kevin & Perry Go Large, the 2000 big-screen adventure which Whitehouse ranks as his second favourite movie of all time, “behind Apocalypse Now”.
While the two are comfortable enough offering up their take on people in the public eye and giving life to their much loved characters, they admit that if the tables were turned, they wouldn’t be so relaxed.
“I’d probably be slightly hurt if I was watching something and saw myself [being mimicked],” explains father-of three Enfield, adding that if he was portrayed as being “bland” then he’d “probably be hurt, because I’m quite vain”.
Keen to expand on this point, Whitehouse takes up the discussion. “Comedians are great at laughing at themselves, we really are. We mock everyone else and we can take it as well,” he deadpans teasingly.
The pair readily point out that their impressions are not meant to be excruciating for the recipient.
“Genuinely, it is done with a level of affection, I think,” says Whitehouse, who is also celebrated for his BBC Two sketch series The Fast Show.
“There’s not a single person or programme in there that we don’t like or love,” adds Enfield.
Having worked together for more than three decades, during conversation, the pair often chip in, almost finishing each other’s sentences or following the other’s lead. But after all that time, what is it that they enjoy most about teaming up? “It’s a difficult question,” begins Enfield.
“No, it’s not,” chimes in Whitehouse, “It’s very simple. We make each other laugh and we enjoy writing together.”
“We have a very good way of writing,” explains Enfield. “We get together and then about 10 minutes later Paul says, ‘Shall we go to lunch?’ So I’m like, ‘Yes. Let’s go and have lunch’.”
“But that 10 minutes is astounding,” pipes up Whitehouse. “Comedy gold. Television history.”
But as for sitting down for their allotted 10 minutes and striking comedy gold with a new sitcom, they’re unsure.
“If we can think of anything funny [we’d do it],” says Whitehouse, before laughing and asking his co-star: “Can we?”
To which Enfield replies with a chuckle: “I hope not!”
HARRY AND PAUL’S STORY OF THE 2S, BBC2, SUNDAY, 9PM