Sanjeev Bhaskar appears as Ray - an ex-weatherman who's struggling to move on with his life - and comedy legend Mark Heap turns up as the opinionated Norris. Digital Spy caught up with Heap to chat about his Outnumbered role and the highlights of his long and distinguished comic career.
What can you reveal about your character in the Outnumbered Christmas special?
"I play a very dull man called Norris who's a bit of a banging-on bore - sexist, UKIP-y veering chap. He's a neighbour up the road who's got a wife in tow and a Russian neighbour. Something is revealed in the course of the evening with regard to that trio of characters! It might be a bit spoilerish if I tell you any more than that."
What attracted you to this role? Were you a fan of the show?
"Well... I was offered the job, which as an actor who likes to work is always nice. But also luckily in our house, we are avid viewers of Outnumbered and have been all the way through.
"It's a great cast, under-played comedic acting, it's very good. The kids are great - watching them grow up has been interesting. I was shocked by how much bigger they were this year - but it still totally works."
You've often played outsiders and oddball characters in the past - is Norris in that mold?
"No, he's a bit more ordinary, I guess. He's not a weird man. I hope I can play ordinary as well - it's not my fault that they make me do nutters!"
D'you enjoy playing the nutters?
"Erm… yeah. In this industry, when you start out, it's all… 'Oh, I can play Hamlet, I can play everything', and then gradually you get whittled down to what you can do that no-one else does. That seems to be the way it goes, which is fair enough - whatever your quality is, that's your thing, I guess.
"So inevitably there's going to be similarities in what you do, but I've been very lucky to have a stab at various things. And Outnumbered is fantastic - apart from being two of the nicest people on Earth, [creators] Guy Jenkins and Andy Hamilton are like a well-oiled machine. They know exactly what they're doing. And there's absolutely delightful people as well, which makes the whole experience so much nicer!"
You've had an amazing career in comedy - which shows are you most proud of?
"Oh crikey, I don't know - anything that anybody likes, really. If people don't like something, then I'm full of shame. Y'know, you just do what you do and hopefully people like it. And the people who don't like it are wrong!"
Do you still hear from fans of Spaced and Green Wing?
"Yeah, those probably come up most with people. When you're doing them, you're not aware of it being anything… Spaced was just a small, quiet little comedy on Channel 4 that got snuck under the net, it went out and no-one really paid that much attention. But since [then], it's become quite well-appreciated.
"I think Green Wing [was a highlight] in terms of the time and space and freedom that we had to muck about, which just wouldn't happen anymore, I don't think, in the current climate. We had so much space and freedom creatively… so that was very enjoyable to do. But they all are - all the work with Chris Morris was great. I've been lucky."
You don't think a show like Green Wing would happen today then?
"Well, just in terms of the time that was given. Before we even started, we had pretty much two months of just mucking about - trying scripts out, practicing characters and researching.
"Even when we were shooting, we had two weeks of filming followed by one week of rehearsal - now the money isn't there to do that kind of thing anymore. But that's not to say that something like Green Wing couldn't happen again in a different environment. Who knows?"
You've also tackled a few straight roles in recent years. Would you like to do more drama?
"Yeah, well I go up for things, and occasionally get the odd little bit of this and that, and get close to a few other things. Yeah, of course - comedy and drama are not so different really. It's all lying, isn't it? It's just pretending."
You're also going to be in the Friday Night Dinner Christmas special this year…
"Yeah, there's one of those. I love Robert Popper's writing - he's a very silly man, but I like silly. And there's also Spy on Sky1 - I'm in that Christmas special. Hopefully people won't say, 'Oh, not him again - get out of it!'"
Do you know if there will be a third series of Friday Night Dinner?
"Yeah, I think so. That's theoretically in the pipeline. We've got to make Robert sit down in his little shed and write. But yeah, let's hope so - if everybody's up for it. They're a lovely bunch - I like watching the others very much. I like the show."
There was talk of a US remake of that show - do you think the humour would translate?
"I've got no idea. It would be totally different. Why can't they have our programmes without the mucking about? We have theirs! It'd be good for Robert obviously, but I feel a bit protective - I think, 'No, it's ours - watch ours!'
"The different thing they would do - and maybe we should take a leaf out of their book - is they make more episodes. The downside of that is it becomes a bit factory-farmed, but the other side is that once you've got an idea up and running, you do a good 12 to 20 episodes in a series and there's a team of writers. But that's not our way, I suppose - we have our own quiet little way of doing things."
Do you have any idea who could play an American version of your character Jim?
"Yes - Robert De Niro. That just popped into my head. I think he could do something with that role!"
The Outnumbered Christmas special airs on Christmas Eve at 9.35pm on BBC One.