Series One 1993 (four programmes)
Series Two 1994 (six programmes)
Series Three 1995 (six programmes)
Series Four 1997 (six programmes)
One of the longest-lived radio comedies of recent years, and also one of the most reassuringly strange. If there is such a thing as a unique brand of comedy, then Harry Hill certainly possesses one: his material and style of presentation bear little comparison to anything else on earth.
Hill, a former doctor, originally became known for a stand-up act in which he developed a famously individual delivery style, suddenly breaking off in mid-flow to sing a line of verse or make an obscure reference back to an earlier routine, or presenting ludicrous stories as typical observations on life with an engaging “Have you ever noticed how… Mmm? Mmm?” The radio show, like the stage show which grew out of his original act, coupled this performance style with an array of bizarre characters and features. It wasn’t sketch-based, it wasn’t character-based and it wasn’t monologue-driven. At the beginning of each show, Harry would sing a few lines from “Welcome to my World”, and it was exactly that — a world of his own, utterly defying classification.
The original concept — if there was a concept — was that the show would “put the family back into family entertainment”. This was interpreted rather literally in that Harry would be joined each week by what he described as his “fictional family”: fictional Mum and Dad, Janet and Tony Hill; fictional brother Alan, eight-year-old fictional adopted son Little Alan (who, as everybody must know by now, can only communicate by tapping: “That’s one tap for ‘yes’ — two taps for ‘no’ — and a fast rhumba beat to signal mild consternation”) and the show’s most popular character, 82-year-old Nana Hill, who would appear in a blaze of glory to dispense the wisdom of her advanced years, demonstrate her uncannily powerful kissing powers, and test-drive an unusual vehicle such as a combine-harvester or the Dagenham Girl Pipers.
The early shows were supposedly based around themes (“monks and nuns”, “dog and bone”, etc), and featured a succession of ‘guests’, leading up to a genuine celebrity guest (Bernard Bresslaw, Ronnie Corbett…) who would appear towards the end of the programme and solemnly testify to always having been “a big fan of the show, Harry”. The celebrity guests continued as a feature when the themes (which were, needless to say, always almost totally irrelevent) had been dropped. The show displayed a gradual evolution over its four series: the ‘family’ element was cut back, the fictitious guests disappeared, and more space was given over to regular characters such as James Horn, Harry’s corrupt accountant, and Chief Scientist Finsbury Park (“That’s an odd sort of name for a chap, isn’t it?”), who was employed to run tests on Little Alan, in the hope of diagnosing the source of his tapping problem. Finsbury was paid handsomely for his services, in chops: he was offered the choice of pork or lamb, and each week the wildly enthusiastic studio audience would bay for their preferred meat as he made up his mind.
Harry had already had a television series — a bizarre collection of black-and-white short films on BBC2, entitled Harry Hill’s Fruit Fancies — but it was not until 1997 that a show based on Fruit Corner made its way to TV, appearing on Channel 4 under the simple title Harry Hill. The recycled radio material was mainly drawn from the later series, with regular features including the Little Orphan Boy and the Badger Parade; the redoubtable 82-year-old Nana Hill, needless to say, was present as always.
The core supporting cast for Harry Hill’s Fruit Corner consisted of Al Murray, Martin Hyder and Matt Bradstock, with Edna Doré as Nana, plus Phill Jupitus and Soo Drouet in the first series; Phil Nice and Brenda Gilhooley in the first and second; Joanna Brookes in the second, and Peter Serafinowicz in the fourth. Also a permanent fixture in Series Three and Four was Bert Kwuok, who played Cato in the Pink Panther films — he’d appeared as a guest in Series Two, and liked it so much that he came back on a regular basis, regaling Harry each week with tales of his attempts to catch a chicken and exhibiting a systematic confusion between Tenko and the Beatles. Also appearing regularly were the Cliff Ranger Singers, who served as a kind of surreal chorus, expressing the show themes in song and providing a splendid musical accompaniment to Little Alan’s tapping.