ROUNDING up the best of the comedy talent at the Festival and having a laugh or two with them on camera doesn't sound like the toughest gig in the world, even if some of the humour is at your own expense.

Little wonder Ralf Little jumped at the chance, for, if truth be told, being a bit of a put-upon punchbag was pretty much his gauche teenager role in The Royle Family - the show that propelled the then 18-year-old to fame almost four years ago.

Not quite allowed on the sofa, the lanky-of-limb ''our Anthony'' spent a good deal of his time sulking around the the family subs' bench of life in between regular off-camera errands following lines like ''Make us a brew then, Lurch''.

Much of the show's runaway success was put down to its celebration of ordinariness and its tribute to working-class family life.

But there was little in the way of the worker about Little's upbringing. His parents are accountants living on a farm near the Lancashire town of Bury, and Little was sent to a Bolton School, one of the country's most prestigious independent establishments. He did well there, and had just started university, studying medicine, when the offer to join the show proved a Royle command.

Not that it's all been plain sailing. When Ralf was nine his 12-year-old sister Ceridwen fell from a cliff to her death while on holiday in Cornwall, leaving the young family devastated.

He says: ''I've not got much of a memory of it now. It's not part of my life any more, but that doesn't mean I don't care. It affected my mum and dad worst of all.''

Little is now understandably protective towards his younger brother Ross, who was born after the death of his sister. ''Ross was born when I was 10, so I had a major role to play in his upbringing. It awoke the paternal instinct in me, but I won't have kids for a good long while. Marriage scares the hell out of me.''

At the age of 13, young Ralf got a break in the BBC's children's drama The Sluggers. Little came of his early introduction to acting until Caroline Aherne picked him for the originally small part of Anthony. Like The Royle Family itself, it mushroomed.

''No-one had any idea how big it was going to get,'' says Little. ''Then it went crazy.''

So much so that Little has made two films this year - Al's Lads is about a Scouse sidekick of Al Capone, while Twenty Four Hour Party People recreates the music scene associated with the heyday of Manchester's Hacienda nightclub in the 1970s and 1980s. In the latter film he plays Peter Hook, the bass player in Manchester bands Joy Division and New Order and Caroline Aherne's ex-husband: a piece of casting that moved her to ask: ''Was Fred West not available?''

Little's also taken on a Royal Court role at the Jerwood Theatre in Presence, a show based on the Beatles' stint in the clubs of Hamburg, and the recent twentysomething BBC2 sitcom Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.

Then there's his recent journey to Africa for Oxfam, a trial for the MTV music video station, and now his Edinburgh Festival guide - inwhich he is often accompanied by his best girl, Channel Five presenter and London ladette Lisa Rogers, with whom he lives.

Recently quoted as saying he was pleased to get out of London to film in Runcorn, because the capital can be a ''grim place with unfriendly people'' and also ''a bit up its own a**e'', he may find that Edinburgh during the Festival provides a welcome break . . . or possibly not.

Ralf Little presents Ralf Little's Edinburgh Comedy on BBC2 at 11.35pm.