Comedian Harry Enfield has revealed how he feared Ricky Gervais had killed off his TV career.
The comic, whose characters have included Kevin the Teenager, Loadsamoney and Tim Nice-But-Dim, said Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s documentary spoof 'The Office' made him feel “past it”, and sounded the death knell for sketch shows.
But Enfield said he was given fresh hope with the rise of David Walliams and Matt Lucas’ 'Little Britain' in 2003 which encouraged him to continue.
The 49-year-old, back on TV this week with comedy partner Paul Whitehouse for BBC2’s 'Harry and Paul', said: “I love Little Britain, I wouldn’t have started doing all this again if it wasn’t for Little Britain.
“I thought we were past it, because everything was so cool. With Ricky coming up with his amazing, just so well-observed, comedy. I think what we did was well-observed too – but he got the ultimate thing to observe, an office, that I just thought it was much cleverer.
“It didn’t have any jokes, it was just painfully truthful and embarrassing and really really funny so I thought ’that’s it, I’m over’.”
Enfield added: “Then Little Britain came along and that was fantastically uncool and everyone loved it so I thought ’oh good’, so we got back into it.”
Enfield found fame in the 1980s doing stints on Channel 4’s 'Saturday Live' and then wrote and starred in 'Harry Enfield’s Television Show', which went on to be called 'Harry Enfield and Chums'.
In 2000 Enfield left the BBC – his home for many years – to make a sketch show with Sky, 'Harry Enfield’s Brand Spanking New Show', without Whitehouse or his other leading collaborator Kathy Burke. It was not well-received by critics and got poor viewing figures.
He relaunched on the BBC in 2007 with 'Harry And Paul', which begins its third series on Tuesday.
New characters in the third series include a thinly-veiled parody of Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi. Tiger Aspect, the production company which makes 'Harry and Paul', is owned by Endemol, of which Berlusconi himself has a stake.
But Enfield shrugged of the matter, saying: “I think he might be [offended], I hope so. It’s not really offensive, it’s very tongue in cheek.
“It’s like something we haven’t done before, we do old people and cockney people, and here’s something that’s completely different and Paul looks so sleazy (in the part).”
His characters have caused controversy in the past. A 2008 sketch in which a man ordered his “pet Geordie” to “mount” a neighbour’s Filipino maid sparked a furore.
A protest by members of the Philippine community was held outside the BBC, and the country’s embassy waded in to the row to admonish the programme.
Enfield dismissed the incident as “hilarious”, saying: “It was so obviously inoffensive, and so obviously nothing to do with Filipinos and so obviously everything to do with how people treat their servants.”
:: 'Harry and Paul' begins on BBC Two on September 27.