Harry Hill’s Professor Branestawm is back for a second Christmas and he’s funnier, sharper and even sillier

Preview: The show is cheesy, corny but winningly charming as Charlie Higson packs his script with all the silliness he can muster

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Branestawm is back. After last year’s The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm, Harry Hill’s madcap inventor is returning for another Yuletide caper and, I am glad to report, it’s got a lot better.

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The first outing in 2014 was bold, fun and rather enjoyable. But it wasn’t quite funny enough. This time around, writer Charlie Higson has tightened the script, toned down on the CGI and focused on more and much better wordplay and visual gags. At times I was howling with laughter.

The show finds us back in pretty Pagwell with the Prof facing an inventing contest which he needs to win to pay off money he owes the council. As luck would have it, the sum on offer is exactly the amount he needs to pay, down to the last thrupence.

Into the mix come a series of rival inventors – Matt Berry’s Professor Awfulshirt and an eccentric spinster Mary Oxford (from Cambridge) played by Rosie Cavaliero.

It doesn’t take long for them to (literally) disappear, leaving the way open for Steve Pemberton’s ”inwentor” Professor Algebrain, a cartoonish baddie from an “unspecified European country“ (OK, Germany, let’s be honest) who wants to steal Branestawm’s ideas…and prize money.

Will Branestawm save the day? Mmm… unlikely. It’s wiser to place more trust in Madeline Holliday’s Connie, the smart young scientist who looks up to Branestawm even though she is clearly far more thoughtful, considered and competent than he will ever be.

It’s cheesy, corny but winningly charming as Higson packs his script with all the silliness he can muster. There’s a brilliant sequence in which Branestawm tries to literally shrink his mounting bills, with the inevitably disastrous consequences.

But the highlight is an old-fashioned cycle race involving a policeman, nuns and a river. It’s a delicious evocation of the best of vintage silent comedy and is all perfectly executed by director Sandy Johnson.

Also, my advice would be to not miss a second of this. The opening few minutes has Diana Rigg putting in a masterly appearance as the batty Lady Pagwell in a fabulous deathbed scene involving the always reliable Adrian Scarborough’s toothsome vicar. It gets a fabulous hour off to a dazzling start.

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Harry Hill in Professor Branestawm Returns is on BBC1 on Christmas Eve at 5:20pm