Written by Alison James
It’s something of a surreal experience sitting across from Harry Hill wearing his Professor Branestawm costume. Although the tweed-clad Professor is bulkier than Harry, boasts mutton-chop side-burns and balances three pairs of specs on his head, he and the real-life Harry are definitely cut from the same cloth.
“Playing The Professor isn’t a huge stretch for me,” Harry smiles, eyes a-twinkling.
“I was a huge fan of the Professor Branestawm books when I was growing up so when the producers first asked me to play him, although I wasn’t actively looking for an acting role I said yes. I didn’t want anyone else to be him.”
Like the Professor, Harry is certainly no stranger to carrying out weird experiments and inventing crazy contraptions – he spent his childhood years doing just that.
“I was a scientist as a kid and very interested in experiments and inventions,” he says. “I had a massive chemistry set that probably wouldn’t be allowed now. These days, kids sit in front of a computer or swipe an iPad to discover how things work, but youngsters of my generation got out there and found out for ourselves. It was a physical thing and sparked the kind of fascination I just don’t know if kids necessarily experience these days – and that’s a shame.
“Growing up in the Seventies meant you were free to experiment yourself, which was brilliant. Back then, everything could be solved with string, pullies and electric motors!”
So what kind of experiments and inventions did Harry Hill – or rather Matthew Hall as he’s really called – attempt as a youth? “A friend and I tried to make a potter’s wheel one time,” he recalls.
“I don’t know why, as we didn’t have access to clay or a kiln, but that’s what we decided to do. We took this Flymo mower that belonged to my friend’s grandad, broke it down and took the engine out. We used a circular piece of wood as an axle and put it inside a washing-up bowl. When we turned it on, it went at about a million revs and was completely impractical but we loved doing it.
These days kids use a computer to discover how things work, but my generation found out for ourselves
“When we were about 13 or 14 we started making home-made wine from blackberries and potatoes. We felt we were being refined, young gentlemen with a nose for wine! I don’t really remember my parents objecting but maybe they didn’t know much about it. Back then you were left to get on with stuff. Anyway, the wine was horrible and undrinkable so we made a still in which to distill it. That was like a big old-fashioned urn in which nappies used to be boiled. We also made fireworks which we used to sell at school!” It all sounds rather dangerous!
“It probably was,” agrees Harry, “but it was also very good fun. Messing about in sheds, making stuff and experimenting... that was our social life.
“It was incredible what we got up to, looking back. The aunt of one friend was a chemistry teacher and she used to send us the potassium nitrate for our home-made fireworks through the post.”
If he could make or invent anything now, what would it be? Harry doesn’t hesitate. “A machine to help you learn lines. That’s the hardest thing about acting. On ‘TV Burp’, for instance, I read the lines off an autocue but they were also my own words, which always makes it easier.”
Harry has a number of new projects on the go in 2016, including developing a new panel show for ITV.
“They haven’t had one in while,” he says. “I’m working on ideas for it at the moment, and will be trying out formats in pubs and clubs in the New Year.”
Having trained and worked as a doctor before coming to comedy, Harry’s also desperate to appear in Holby! “I really am,” he enthuses. “I’ve said so a few times but they never get back to me! I wouldn’t want to be in it for months on end, but it would be great to do a guest spot as a visiting consultant for a few weeks. Perhaps the kind of consultant who specialises in finishing off his patients. A kind of Dr Death!”
One last question we must ask Harry before he’s due back on set. At home, does he answer to Matthew or Harry?
“That’s an odd one because I do now think of myself as Harry and so do most people,” he says, “but at home, I am Matthew. My wife only calls me Harry when she’s taking the mickey!”
- There's more celebrity chat in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.