Charlie Higson Profile

He reinvented the sketch show and jazzed up James Bond. Not bad for a bloke who used to plaster walls for a living. But what's all this about Charlie Higson once being Britain's foremost funk-punk vocalist?

Charlie Higson

Funk-punk. That was apparently an actual musical genre in the early 80s, as many a crusty old ex-NME writer with Terry Nutkins hair will probably tell you. Charlie Higson can back us up on this too, because he did the stuff. He did it right out of his mouth, into a microphone, because Charlie – much like Ricky Gervais and Russell "Russ Le Roq" Crowe – had a pre-fame incarnation as a would-be pop-rock (or in his case, funk-punk) icon. And we don't mean he spent a few afternoons screaming out Who covers in a garage with his school chums. Young Mr Higson led a band called The Higsons, and they got on an album and everything.

Admittedly, it was a compilation called "Norwich – A Fine City", a fantastically Alan Partridge-ish name for an album if ever there was one. But The Higsons were also excellent lyricists ("Who stole my bongos?/Did you steal my bongos?") who were signed to the same label as The Specials and Madness for a bit. But despite all that, music wasn't to be Charlie's destiny. Though he couldn't possibly have known it, his real fate was to make comedy fresher, brasher, faster. You could almost compare it to punk music after prog-rock, if you really wanted to labour the musical connection here. Which we just very much have.

The switch from tunes to chuckles wasn't a quick one, though. There was a spell of painting and decorating that had to come first. He didn't trudge around carrying buckets on his own, though. He had help from a pal and fellow comedy wannabe, Mr Paul Whitehouse. Rumour has it they actually worked on the home of Stephen Fry – who we like to imagine stood regally in the background, in a red velvet smoking jacket, smiling fondly as the unknown Higson and unknown Whitehouse pratted about with a ladder like Laurel and Hardy. It was probably far more boring than that, though.

Fortunately, they left that behind when they started working with Harry Enfield and the demented early works of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. Indeed, and this is a particularly useless fact for you, Charlie Higson was actually a producer on The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer. The real breakthrough came completely by accident, though. In a tale that's gone down in TV lore, Higson and Whitehouse were watching a press tape of short clips from Enfield's sketch show when they realised quick-cutting comedy was the way of the future. And remember, this was way before YouTube came along and reduced the average human attention span to the size of a gnat's inside leg measurement. Charlie and Paul saw it all coming.

The Fast Show was the result of their eureka moment. For a good few years the nation was a slave to its catchphrases. In offices across the land, everyone would mostly be wearing this and mostly be eating that, and asking where their washboard was, and wondering about the relative girth of their bums. Which was nice. Despite being part of a kind of super X-Men style ensemble of brilliant comedians, Charlie managed to stand out with creations like Swiss Toni, the sex-obsessed charmer with hair like gone wrong Mr Whippy. And the actually poignant posho Ralph, pining for his gameskeeper Ted in the greatest romance ever committed to television. Ever.

The Fast Show begat Little Britain, and in fact begat every single sketch show to come since. That's how influential it was. In fact, Charlie would have been forgiven for spending every single day from then until now having the longest yet most deserved lie-in of all time. But he carried on actually working, of course, and became a bestselling writer with his Young James Bond novels. He's also written gore-splattered zombie sagas for kids too, so he's a dab hand at using mere words to warp the minds of the unsuspecting. Should make him rather perfect for Crackanory, then.

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