Impressionist Harry Enfield (or at least some of his characters) is practically a household name in Britain, although he is just now being introduced to audiences in the United States, mostly through his voice overs as a gnome in ads for Travelocity. Though his Norbert Smith - A Life was shown on PBS a few years ago, it is only just now that BBC America has gotten around to showing his current series, Harry Enfield and Chums. But who is Enfield and what is he famous for?
As he says himself in his 1997 book Harry Enfield And His Humorous Chums (a collection of sketches and autobiographical anecdotes), "I'm a 'character' comedian, best known as the people I play, least known as myself." He launched his career doing voices on Spitting Image, and then in 1988 on Friday Night Live he introduced a character that instantly swept the consciousness of the nation, Loadsamoney. Many saw Loads as symbolic of the get-rich Thatcher years, boasting about his success and the heck with the rest of you. Even though the character only appeared a few minutes at a time, he became a hugely popular, so much so that Enfield killed him off a year later, worried he'd be typecast. Wanting to do other characters, he did the spoof documentary about a has-been actor, Norbert Smith - A Life, for Channel 4, which also turned up on PBS in the US. In it, Enfield played Smith throughout his career, mocking the entire history of the British film industry from "kitchen sink" dramas, to expatriates making glossy Hollywood musicals during the war while their country was being bombed.
As a straight actor, he appeared in the 1991 ITV comedy/drama Gone To The Dogs playing Jim Broadbent's son, and acting alongside Warren Clarke and Alison Steadman. He was also Martin Clunes' original flatmate in the first season of Men Behaving Badly on ITV, although (through no fault of his own) the series didn't take off until later when Neil Morrissey replaced him as co-star.
His first sketch series for the BBC was simply titled, Harry Enfield's Television Programme, which also starred Kathy Burke and Paul Whitehouse (The Fast Show). Enfield created many new characters, some of which took off, others which didn't, although he was always certain not to let any one character become too popular and overshadow the rest. His current series is Harry Enfield and Chums, written by himself and Whitehouse, although time limitations only allow for six episodes a year.
Enfield loves old movies and how mannered many of them seem today, with everyone performing in perfect BBC accents regardless of the situation. This manifests itself in sketches with black-and-white "instructional" films hosted by Mr Chomondley-Warner which are badly acted, poorly shot and edited, and with outrageously outmoded lectures like "Women! Know Your Limits!" One might almost mistake them for actual Ministry of Information films circa 1940 or so, except they are so brilliantly funny.
In 1998, he did another spoof documentary, this time about politicians who change their stripes, Norman Ormal: A Very Political Turtle. He also appears in Ian Hislop's Sermon From St. Albion's playing not only "Vicar" Tony Blair, but all the members of his cabinet.
Only 37 years old, Enfield is a talented writer and performer, who should be entertaining audiences on both sides of the Atlantic for many years to come. Be sure and catch his show if you get an opportunity.