Is Harry over the Hill? Will Watts reviews a recent show at Headliners

Forthcoming shows

Jeff Green has been rescheduled for two weeks time and is replaced by John Maloney (Jan 25th)



All shows start at 8.30 ( doors open 7.30 ).
Entry is £10 pay on the door

You can reserve seats on 020 8566 4067

Headliners is at George IV, 185 Chiswick High Rd, London W4

Note - Acts at Headliners can be subject to last minute changes. Call the number above on the day of the event to confirm the final programme

Half an hour to go, and the club was packed to the gunwales (whatever they are) on the promise of Harry Hill. The George IV’s frenetic bar staff seemed to be turning American with the pressure (‘Hi. My name is Katie and I am your waitress for the evening’), but still there was a nagging anxiety among experienced Headliners attendees: would the great man show up? There would surely be a riot if he didn’t, with a mob of enraged Hill-billies overturning and torching the Police Portakabin, and possibly even snapping the remaining brushes off the Hogarth statue. Then, phew, Mike noticed the Great Man at the bar. Disaster was averted and the evening secured.

If there was a theme, it was that the physiognomy of the comics accurately predicted the type of material that they performed. Keith Dover’s boat race – as I suppose he would put it, for he is an emphatic Cockney who boasts of East End roots – has a well-fed and slightly dissipated look making one think of a pub landlord, a black cab driver, Richard Littlejohn. It was therefore unsurprising to find that Mr Dover’s concerns were Ken Livingstone (‘what a tosser!’), the police handling of the Hackney siege (‘they just kept it going for the overtime’) and mini-cab drivers who require direction from their fare (‘Right… Left here… third gear… clutch…’). Mr Dover had some good material, but his comic persona was so briskly and consistently foul-mouthed and bigoted that it was too much like being on a building site during the lunch hour to be very funny.

Sean Lock is visually the favourite NHS dentist onto whose list you can’t get: the one that combines a distracted air with professional competence and being good with children. Sure enough, Mr Lock turned out to be interested in biting and chewing. He worried about the fate of the blue whale, the largest animal in existence that, famously in an Attenborough-dominated age, feeds exclusively on microscopic krill. ‘The poor things, never get a proper mouthful of food… never get to eat something satisfying… it’s like being Geoff Capes and living off hundreds-and-thousands…’ After ruminations on the fate of the Senegalese, who apparently have no word for tangerine – ‘not hilarious, just worth mentioning’ – and a lecturette on the necessity of swearing – ‘well “Flip off you Mother-Flipper” doesn’t work, does it?’ – he rounded off his set with an analysis of Bernard Manning’s technique which was shrewd, skilful and not in the least repeatable here.

Now it was time for Harry Hill, who only looks like Harry Hill. I would claim that he is an acquired taste. After watching his rather feeble TV Burp series on the telly, I had very much not acquired it. Instead I had noticed that his surname lends itself to scornful, punning headlines: ‘Over the Harry Hill’, ‘Hill Street Blues’, ‘Hill-man Limp’.

In the event, he was fine. His hesitating, twitchy flights of fancy – the ones that are irritating and unfocussed when seen on the small screen – work much better as part of a live act. As he bounced around the little stage, pretending to introduce himself to the front row, his whimsical patter was strangely compelling: ‘Hmmm… hmmm… what’s your name, what’s your star sign? Hmm… what’s your name, what’s your star sign? Hmm… What’s your – ooh! A beard! A filthy beard! I thought I said no beards. If you want to keep your teeth warm, get a scarf! Hmm… Acupuncture, acupuncture – good for many things but not for pins and needles… Hmm… The dachshund, the stretched limousine of the dog world…’ I admit I’m still not a big fan, but I would go again, which is surely the crucial test. Not over the Hill.

The last performer, and the unanimous favourite of the evening among all six at our table, had the aristocratic, hawkish features of a successful general or the lead in a superior production of Sherlock Holmes and the Speckled Band. Simon Evans, for it was he, talks proper – it’s definitely Newcahstle not Newcassle – and makes a virtue of it. (He’s that posh, I bet he can even make ‘forehead’ rhyme with ‘horrid’, as it does in the old children’s ditty about the little girl with the little curl.)

Mr Evans presented a sort of nob’s eye view of life. He had suggestions on what to do when confronted with street beggars: ‘Why give them money when you can give them good advice?’ He hinted at royal connections: ‘The Queen has the knees of a twelve-year-old girl. They were the gift of the grateful people of Tonga.’ He had a shark-proof watchstrap ‘although if all a shark wants is your watch, I say give it up’. All standard-if-good material, which reviewed by daylight doesn’t by itself explain his popularity. I think it was his timing that was absolutely on: both in the telling of jokes, and in coming on as the last act, when the alcohol was further loosening a well-warmed-up audience.

Will Watts

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