Like fish and chips, salt and pepper, gin and tonic, it’s impossible to think of Gareth Hale without Norman Pace. They even struggle themselves.

Despite pursuing separate acting careers for the past decade, the double act has never been parted – not really. The comics live a quarter of a mile apart from each other in a Kent village and play golf together on the weekends.

This year marks the 40th year of their partnership and they’re already making plans for celebrating their “ruby anniversary”. They even finish each other’s sentences.

It’s been a while since the glory days of the Eighties and Nineties however; the last time most of us will have seen the pair as “Hale and Pace”

was on the 2007 Christmas special of Ricky Gervais sitcom Extras when they gamely played themselves attempting – and failing – to get a table at exclusive London restaurant The Ivy. “We are The Management!” Hale twinkles encouragingly, assuming the stance of their well-known nightclub bouncer characters. “The Stonk!” Pace pleads, referring to their 1991 hit single for Comic Relief.

“Is that a restaurant?” the maitre d’ asks blankly.

The episode is a fine example of Gervais’s talent for close-to-the-bone humour – it’s funny because we suspect that’s exactly what would happen if Hale and Pace tried to wangle a table at The Ivy.

They were happy to be the butt of that joke. “We thought it was a really good idea.”

As it turned out, it paid off with delicious irony. “I had to phone The Ivy for a table a while ago,” begins Pace (the slimmer, non-bearded one), “and the guy came back to me and said they didn’t have any. I said ‘Have you ever seen an episode of Extras where two people can’t get a table at The Ivy?’ He said, ‘I haven’t seen it myself but everyone here talks about it all the time!’ I said, ‘Well, I’m one of those two people. Don’t you think it’s quite ironic I can’t get one?’ He said ‘Just one moment... would that be eight o’clock for two?” He laughs: “That’s where Ricky and Stephen (Merchant, series co-creator) live – right on the edge of reality, art imitating life and vice versa. It’s a brilliant place to be.”

The pair are professionally reunited once more – albeit as actors – in Edward Taylor’s Murder By Misadventure, Eastbourne Theatres’ summer production about a successful TV crime writer who wishes to dissolve his association with his writing partner by fair means or foul.

Taylor apparently thought it would be interesting to cast two people who were creatively involved in real-life, the better for the plausibility of the characters’ relationship.

Neither Hale nor Pace has ever been tempted to go as far as bumping off the other – “just mildly maim” – but there are other similarities between their on and off-stage personas.

“In Hale and Pace I do the notes and typing up and so it is in the script,” says Pace. “Gareth’s job, both as his character Paul Riggs and as Gareth Hale, is to lie on the sofa in the recumbent position and be a genius.”

The dynamic is obvious even during our interview; Pace taking on the admin of speaking to me, with Hale interjecting only when the mood takes him.

Their relationship has changed little in the four decades they’ve known each other. At 58, Hale says they’re still puerile at heart. “But I feel quite different in myself,” adds Pace. “Since working separately and learning to be an actor, I’ve learnt to be very seriously afraid.

“About six years ago, I got stage fright for the first time ever. Gareth and I spent 30 years sharing a car, sharing a dressing room, writing and learning scripts together, performing together… then suddenly you’re on your own with a group of strangers. Gareth and I had been each other’s safety net for years.”

They met at teacher training college in Eltham, south east London, in 1971, thrown together as roommates to their mutual horror.

“I didn’t even know I was going to have a roommate,” Pace says, looking at his partner with a mixture of fondness and mischief. “Then I walked in and saw this guy entirely dressed in denim with one exception – half of his mother’s curtains had been sewn into his jeans to make the bell-bottoms bigger. He had sort of… pubic hair all over his chin and I thought, why have they put me in a room with a third year? I asked him his name and he said Gareth. I said, ‘Is that Gary?’ and he said ‘No. It’s never Gary. You can call me Garth if you like.’ “Then a third guy came in, looking like he was in Crosby, Stills and Nash, and told us there were seven women to every man at the college.

He threw a packet of Durex on the table and said, ‘I’m ready!’. Gareth and I caught each other’s eye, both thinking ‘what a d***’, and I knew we were going to be all right.” “And he still had those Durex three years later!” guffaws Hale.

They discovered they could make each other laugh and then, miraculously, that other people seemed to find them funny too. “We’ve both got quite a black sense of humour,“ says Pace, “But can you think of any British comedians who haven’t?” Hale suggests Ken Dodd, prompting more guffaws.

The pair were at the centre of some controversy on more than one occasion for their material – not least the infamous “cat-in-a-microwave” incident, broadcast as part of their first appearance on ITV in 1987 – but conclude even that was pretty tame by modern standards.

They think they went too far on occasion however. “We did a couple of sketches that weren’t transmitted and there was one called The Gawpers with people using CB radios to find out where crashes had happened. The idea was the phone would ring and they’d say they’d got one out on the A14 and everyone would rush out and have a picnic as they watched people being cut out of a smashed-up car. It was a bit like what happened with [the 1988 Lockerbie bombing] – people rubbernecking at horrific accidents. We wanted to make a point, but it was too much in the end.”

They will celebrate their 40-year anniversary in September on a farewell tour of Australia, where their comedy has continued to be a draw. Hale thinks they’ll probably go for a curry (a ‘Ruby Murray’, geddit?) to mark the milestone.

What do they think is the biggest lesson they’ve learned about each other over the decades?

“Never trust him, not a word he says!” Pace offers. “There’s no one thing,” says his partner. “It’s just a permanent cycle of disappointment really. Actually, I’m constantly surprised we still get on as well as we do. We make each other laugh, don’t we?”

* Murder By Misadventure opens at the Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne, on Thursday and runs until August 13. For tickets, call 01323 412000.