They are the best thing on television even when they are crap
- Paul Whitehouse
Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer are arguably two of the most important comedians currently on the British scene. Their influences range from Monty Python through punk rock to Belgian artist Marcel Brutheyers, who creates statues from eggs and mussels.
In turn, Reeves and Mortimer have influenced such modern comedians as Harry Hill and Adam and Joe. Both from the north-east of England, both 42 (at the time of writing), their partnership creates a hilarious chemistry which is difficult to describe, let alone define.
James Roderick Moir was born in Leeds on the 24 January, 1959, the same date as his father and grandfather (he describes this as 'precision grinding'). He grew up in Darlington, where he was often beaten up for having unusual hair, or wearing drainpipe trousers. After working as a pig farmer and a factory inspector, he moved to London in 1979. Along with performing in bands such as Dig Me I'm Django and putting on art exhibitions, he also became involved in the alternative comedy scene. He got a regular Thursday night gig at Goldsmith's Tavern, which became known as Vic Reeves' Big Night Out - a title they retained for their first TV show. It was here, in 1986, that he first met Bob.
Robert Renwick Mortimer was born at home in Middlesborough on the 23 May, 1959, the youngest of four brothers. His father died when he was nine. He was and is a keen Middlesborough supporter, though he lost a tooth when a rival fan threw a can at him. He gained three A-levels and went on to study law at university1. In the mid-eighties he moved to London and worked as a solicitor, helping people whose flats were infested with cockroaches. One evening he returned to the Peckham hostel where he was living, only to find his girlfriend in bed with a Hell's Angel. He allowed his friend Alan King to drag him along to Goldsmith's Tavern and the rest, as they say, is history.
Once Bob became a regular cast member, the Big Night Out grew bigger and more popular, despite some setbacks (such as being glassed off stage in The Tunnel Club). Jim was also getting involved in the world of television, working with Jonathan Ross and Jools Holland. The shows at the Albany impressed Channel 4, and in 1990 their first TV show was aired.
Vic Reeves' Big Night Out (1990, 1991)
Vic Reeves' Big Night Out was filmed on a stage framed with curtains, to give it the feel of the live shows. Vic was very much the central figure, a Machiavellian character controlling events from his desk. Guests included the mute Les, who loved spirit levels but hated chives, and the Man with the Stick, whose head was concealed by a paper helmet. Audience participation was much encouraged, as was the shouting of catchphrases. Despite relatively low viewing figures, a second series was made, which featured a soap-like subplot involving Man With The Stick's addiction to hair restoring pills. He pawned his children to Vic in order to maintain his supply, and his subsequent unhappiness slowly drove him to drink. On discovering that Vic had sold the kids' souls to the Devil, he shot him and then committed suicide, providing a spectacular, if gory, end to Reeves and Mortimer's first show.
The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer (1993, 1995)
The Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer saw Bob's first appearance as Vic's equal rather than his sidekick. Les was gone, replaced with the terrifying Uncle Peter2. The 'stage show' format was replaced with a slightly more conventional sketch show set-up, with filmed inserts allowing both Vic and Bob to play a host of bizarre characters, rather than Bob needing to make an excuse to leave the stage in order to change his costume. Despite the changes, the desk still remained. Each show was opened with a mind-twisting recorded intro on subjects as diverse as the soft fruit industry, drying trousers, or the invention of water. Shows were concluded with songs praising the smell of various objects. If you look carefully, you can see that the lighting in the studio changes from dawn to evening as the show progresses.
Shooting Stars (1996, 1997, 1998)
This is generally held by fans to be their weakest show. Starting out as a spoof celebrity game show, it ended up dangerously close to being a celebrity game show. Vic's habit of rubbing his thighs at the most attractive female guest was funny as part of his 'mating ritual', but it was soon taken over by sexual harassers everywhere. Rounds included Club Singer Round (where Vic would sing in an unintelligible style, and the contestants had to guess the song), Dove from Above (where categories of questions were displayed on the side of a giant dove), and the Quickfire Round at the end. A member of the losing team (teams were captained by Mark Lamarr and Ulrika Johnson) had to perform an amusing forfeit. Finally, the general public had a Reeves and Mortimer show they could understand. Vic and Bob were unhappy with this show, but due to the ratings they were pressured to continue it for three seasons, with the possibility of a fourth in 2002.
Bang Bang, It's Reeves and Mortimer (1999)
For this show, Vic and Bob returned to their weird, brilliant roots. There was a darker edge, characterised by the desk, which was translucent and contained a trapped naked man. Frying pan fighting was again included and raised to a new level, incorporating violent set-pieces in which Vic's head was boiled, and Bob's inserted into a washing machine. After any death in the show, a boiled egg emerged from the mouth of the deceased. The egg is a symbol of the soul in some religions, reflecting Vic's interest in Buddhism. A major feature of the show was spoof docu-soap The Club, in which the aging Paul Baron and his Chinese half-brother Tony attempted to run a club. Bob's accent was superb, although nothing like Chinese. Compère Kinky John provided the terror.
Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (2000)
Vic and Bob starred in the remake of the classic '60s series Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). Bob played Jeff Randall, a private detective in love with his assistant Jeannie. Vic played Marty Hopkirk, his best friend and Jeannie's fiancé. This is more of a 'Vic and Bob-like' show than it sounds, mainly because Marty is a ghost that only Jeff can see. Directed by Charlie 'Fast Show' Higson, the show was a ratings success, and a second series, at the time of writing, has just finished filming. At the end of the first, Jeff's and Jeannie's memories of Marty were erased, so it will be interesting to see how the next series picks up.
Vic Reeves Examines (2000)
This bizarre series was only aired on Play UK. As the name suggests, it featured only Vic, who would discuss with his guests issues ranging from birds to night farts. Each theme would be illustrated with a painting by Vic (he's very good) and a selection of music videos.
Vic and Bob's love of music is shown in the constant use of songs in their shows. Their love of singing and performing stems from growing up in the punk era, when everyone was in a band, or wanted to be. They both attended an early Sex Pistols gig, but didn't manage to meet up at that time. In 1991, Vic (with Bob assisting on the mandolin) released an album, I Will Cure You, on the back of Big Night Out. It spawned three singles: 'Born Free', 'Abide With Me', and the number one hit 'Dizzy' sung alongside much-loved Black Country stompers, The Wonderstuff. As well as featuring on Vic's album, Bob released 'Let's Dance with Middlesborough FC' for the 1995 FA cup final. It didn't stop them losing. Also, in 1995, the duo released a cover of the Monkees' hit, 'I'm a Believer'.
What with age and family responsibilities, Vic and Bob have started to relax a bit, so there probably won't be a Bang Bang tour (Big Night Out, Smell of... and Shooting Stars were all toured, the Brown, Puce and Weathercock tours respectively). However, there's the second series of Randall and Hopkirk to look forward to, as well as this possible fourth series of Shooting Stars. After, and indeed before that, who knows? You never know what to expect with these guys!
- Reeves and Mortimer: A Biography by Bruce Dessau
- Cable Guide magazine
- Later magazine
- Heat magazine