COMEDIAN and writer Paul Whitehouse is probably best known for the series of larger than life characters he portrays on screen.

But ask him whether he prefers acting or writing and, after admitting he enjoys both, he does conclude: "I particularly love writing comedy."

And he modestly explains: "With writing, you get to laugh at it first."

Whitehouse first came to national prominence with Harry Enfield.

He and The Fast Show collaborator, Charlie Higson, wrote for Enfield, before progressing onto the screen and performing a range of characters.

He and Higson then went on to gain plaudits and awards for The Fast Show, which created a series of eccentric -- and just plain daft -- characters in a variety of improbable situations.

Now, The Fast Show has taken to the road for its first live UK tour. It visits Manchester this week, before next month returning to the region in Blackpool.

Most of the team from the television series has been reassembled, and, says Whitehouse, it is proving great fun to do. He said: "We are basically middle-aged children out on the road."

The "children" appearing with Whitehouse and Higson are Mark Williams, Simon Day and Arabella Weir.

Between them they manage to recreate 50 characters in the show.

But, says Whitehouse, keeping so busy on the quick changes has one drawback -- "we don't have chance to watch any of the show ourselves".

Whitehouse may well have chosen to not write any more Fast Show television series, but his enthusiasm for the live show is still as strong as ever.

He said: "It is great fun to do, particularly having been away from it for a while.

"It has been totally reinvented as a piece for theatre. The television show can be quiet at times -- for example there are quieter moments between Ralph and Ted.

"So we decided to turn those sketches into a musical. In fact there are about three or four big musical numbers. We have to reach people in the back -- we cannot just keep coming out on stage relying entirely on our catchphrases.

"Although having said that people would be disappointed if we did not come out doing our catchphrases . . ."

Whitehouse pauses: "In fact we probably could get away with just going backwards and forwards doing them.

"But we haven't done that. Instead, we have worked hard to reinvent the show for theatre. It has musical numbers, catchphrases and Channel Nine style pantomime.

"We all run around like idiots, and to get into all the characters and keep the pace up. We have to keep to a tight schedule. We try to also include local banter, and when we make the odd mistake it really is a treat for the audience.

"We were terrified because we had rewritten almost the entire show, but as it turns out the audience loves it when we muck up."

But which are Whitehouse's own favourite characters?

He said: "Of the ones I do, I like appearing as Ted with Ralph on stage. In the television series he can be quite boring because he doesn't say too much, but the piece we have written for stage is lovely.

"I also enjoy Rowley Birkin and there are others I enjoy like the bloke who comes on stage and shouts 'arse' a lot."

Inspiration, says Whitehouse, comes from "many sources", but he unashamedly admits Rowley Birkin was inspired by someone he met on a week long fishing trip in Iceland.

He said: "We were all thrown together for a week and there was one old boy who no one could understand. But he would occasionally slip in the odd phrase that we would suddenly all recognise. He would mumble away and suddenly say '. . .and the girl was badly burned . . .' then return to mumbling. It was very strange."

Unlike the others in the show, Whitehouse began as a writer and had never appeared live as a stand up comic. So did he ever envisage ending up on stage or appearing in front of the cameras?

He said: "I had always been a show-off. I was always involved in groups and things. Then one day in the pub someone suggested I try comedy. So I did. Harry (Enfield) also encouraged me."

Whitehouse has also appeared in several straight acting roles, including David Copperfield and Randall and Hopkirk Deceased. He says: "It has been nice to do occasionally, but I would much prefer to be writing something rather than doing someone else's work."

Once the tour has finished Whitehouse says he would like to write a comedy film with Higson. But, he adds: "If we can not come up with any ideas, we won't bother."

In the meantime find out if Ralph will be able to finally admit his true feelings to Ted, whether Competitive Dad gets his comeuppance, whether the 13th Duke of Wybourne ends his philandering ways, and if Swiss Toni ever gets to sell a car.

The Fast Show comes to the Apollo, Manchester on Friday and returns to the area, at the Opera house, Blackpool, on November 23 and 24. For tickets telephone 0870 011 2626.