20 greatest Harry Enfield characters

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Harry Enfield. Funnier even than Enfield itself. Seriously, I went there once and it's a laugh riot. Anyway, it's hard to imagine a time when character-based sketch comedy wasn't the norm, but back in 1990 the alternative comedy movement had all but done away with it.

Then Harry Enfield & Chums reintroduced us to recurring comedy characters and catchphrases, paving the way for The Fast Show and Little Britain. Here's 20 of the best characters they came up with. It was originally 19, then someone told me I didn't wanna do it like that.

 

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Enfield based this teenaged Conservative on the younger William Hague, who famously made a speech at the 1977 Tory party conference aged just 16. At 16 I was quoting Harry Enfield at people in the sixth-form common room. William Hague went on to be the Foreign Secretary, and I went on to write a short paragraph about a fictionalised version of him. Ha! I know who I'd rather be. (Him, obviously.)

 

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OK, not a character per se, but when Enfield and Paul Whitehouse noticed that everyone on BBC Three had started to sound like Ricky Gervais, they parodied it with a sketch in which they both did spot-on impersonations. Then Nigel Farage turned up and ruined it, proving as effective a comic actor as he'd be a marriage guidance counsellor.

 

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Enfield and Whitehouse's later series "Harry and Paul" introduced us to the Posh Scaffolders, who conversed at length and with erudition about intellectual subjects such as opera and Stephen Fry's latest book. Then when a woman walked past they'd yell sexually suggestive remarks to her, before resuming their discourse on Keats.

 

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There is very little crime in the Netherlands, you know: largely because pretty much everything's legal. The Dutch Policemen's jobs seemed redundant as a result, and instead of fighting crime they happily informed us through the squad car window of their liberal sexual attitudes and fondness for soft drugs. This is, of course, an unfair and reductive stereotype of the Dutch. Very few of them are policemen.

 

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Bribery will get you everywhere, thought Bob, even when the person you're bribing has no power at all to give you what you want. Cue a church confessional box in which Bob wants to buy a car. "I think you're mistaken, my son," says the priest. "This is a confessional." "Oh, I getcha," comes the reply, followed by a tenner through the slot.

 

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Did people used to say "peeps" before Stavros? It's impossible to remember, but if we could we might be able to nail down the culprit responsible for the habit of referring to your Twitter followers as "tweeps". Which will inevitably lead to the downfall of all mankind, if you ask me. Which you sort of did.

 

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Most people consider it at least a little vulgar to discuss how much money they have, but not the Herberts: they were considerably richer than you. They never tired of telling people it either, but usually got their comeuppance, such as when a Spanish waiter served them champagne he'd urinated in earlier.

 

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Alongside his cohort Grayson, Mr Cholmondeley-Warner presented helpful advice to the 1930s British public. This included information on various forms of mental instability ("being Welsh" and "causing a hullabaloo" chief amongst them) and on defending oneself against a ruffian by removing one's hat, thus forcing him to take off and wring his cloth cap in deference.

 

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"Young man, you're the spitting image of a young Bernie Winters!" "Ooh, you are, you're the spitting image of a young Frankie Vaughan." A scenario familiar to any male trapped at an extended family gathering: having your appearance praised by old ladies. Generally in real life it's less innuendo-filled and sexually charged, but hey, you take a compliment where you can get it.

 

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These days Michael Caine is widely revered for being Batman's butler, but back in the 90s he was something of a figure of fun, at least as far as Paul Whitehouse was concerned. Michael Paine spent life peering through his net curtains at his neighbours and reporting back on what he saw. He'd then get a bit angry about something and raise his voice. This would later be echoed in the great performance Caine gave in that scene where he made Batman a ham sandwich.

 

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"Now, I do not believe you wanted to do that, did you?" said everyone, ever, when you messed something up in 1995. Never got old, either. Enfield's "Only Me!" character provided apt demonstrations of just how annoying it is when someone thinks they know how to do something better than you do. You work with at least one person like this and you know it.

 

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A father eager to accept his gay son, but incapable of doing so without endless faux pas. "Awfully nice and completely normal to meet you," he says to his son's partner. "Bottoms up!" he toasts. "I am sorry: I meant 'queers' ... I mean, cheers!" And so on. The partner was played by Trainspotting's Ewen Bremner, fact fans.

 

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There was a kid at my school with a "Lotsamoney" T-shirt his mum had got him off the market. Looking back, there was probably a vast black market of knock-off Harry Enfield T-shirts doing the rounds in the 80s, in precisely the spirit of working-class entrepreneurship Thatcher's Britain sought to encourage and Loadsamoney himself lampooned.

 

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A composite character of every well-meaning upper-class simpleton who managed to score a top job because their father rowed for Oxford with the managing director, Tim thought everyone was "a thoroughly bloody nice bloke" and was hard to dislike in turn. In the 90s these guys were to be found cluttering up hedge fund offices and taking long liquid lunches. These days they do pretty much the same, only in red trousers.

 

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Schadenfreude: fun to say and the watchword of Alf and Fred Git, who enjoyed inflicting misery on everyone they met. Oh, and on each other, when the opportunity arose. Like when Fred visited a dying Alf in hospital and informed him: "I put a bet on at 5/1 at Ladbrokes two days ago that you'd be gone. I've lost fifty quid! You're so bloody selfish!"

 

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Obviously the less said about the film in which they "went large" the better, but on the small screen teenagers Kevin and Perry were a gloriously surly pair. "I HATE you! I wish I'd never been BORN!" Kevin would inform his long-suffering mother and father, before ending up a crying mess after some bigger boys came and gatecrashed his party. You imagine this probably struck a chord with a few parents at the time. Not mine, of course.

 

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The Scousers, a band of three Liverpudlian brothers who endlessly fought, reconciled and then fought again, had their basis in fact, insofar as Brookside was fact. "Ga", "Ba" and "Te" looked like the result of an experiment to clone Graeme Souness, but at heart were … well, just drunk, violent idiots, really. In shell-suits.

 

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The best thing about ageing DJs Mike Smash and Dave Nice was always the Olympic levels of passive aggression in their conversations, competing to demonstrate not only who did more work for "charidee" (but didn't like to talk about it), but also who fawningly admired the other guy more. Nowadays they both nervously await the inevitable visit of the arresting officers from Operation Yewtree.

 

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"Oi! No!" Frank and George Doberman liked putting the world to rights, so much so that they became worked up over entirely hypothetical situations that they thought demonstrated poor form on the part of a celebrity. In many ways they were an early precursor to the internet forums we know today.

 

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"He lives in a box, he looks like a corpse: he's dead, of course." I realise that Mister Dead wasn't the biggest or most quotable character Harry Enfield had in his locker, but he always tickled me. A simple Southern farmhand had a friend called Mister Dead, who was – wait for it – dead. That was pretty much it. Every now and then he'd help his friend out of a scrape in a way that could be achieved without reanimation. I forget why I liked it so much. Look, trust me, it was funny, OK?

Did we miss one? Who'e your favourite? Let us know in the comments below and don't forget that you can watch series one of Harry Enfield & Chums now via Virgin TV Anywhere.

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